[lg policy] Language used as a barrier?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sun Jan 21 16:06:41 EST 2018

 Language used as a barrier 2018-01-21 05:43

Panyaza Lesufi
- <https://www.news24.com/City-Press>
[image: Police use rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of
protesters outside Hoërskool Overvaal. Police said the protesters were
burning tyres. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla]

Police use rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a crowd of
protesters outside Hoërskool Overvaal. Police said the protesters were
burning tyres. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

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One of the basic tenets of racism is the notion that an individual is
meaningless and that membership in a collective, particularly race, culture
and even language, is the source of identity and value. To the racist, an
individual’s moral and intellectual character is the product, not of his
own choices, but of the genes he or she shares with all others of their
race, language and culture.

This philosophy of racial division, cultural and language individualism
remains entrenched in our education system. That is why Hoërskool
Overvaal’s legal victory – in keeping out 55 Grade 8 English pupils from
the Afrikaans school in Vereeniging – was a major setback for
transformation and the struggle for a nonracial society, and should be

The Gauteng education department believes that to promote and encourage a
true multicultural diverse education, the public education system must
advocate: an authentic multilingual curriculum with competent instructors
and administrators committed to the agenda; an ethnic self-identification
process that goes beyond the use of appropriate ethnic labels, but one that
explores intrinsic idiosyncrasies of a nonracial society and a genuine
multicultural education that promotes ethnic constancy.

What our rainbow nation needs is a ruling that recognises a language policy
for what it is: a malignant policy that harms everyone and is the very
essence of racism. Unlike the policy of racial integration, some language
policies propagate all the evils inherent in racism.

The advocates of language policies believe that admitting other language
groups creates a diversity of viewpoints in schools, a major reason racial
division remains entrenched in society.

The value of racially integrated schools lies entirely in the individualism
it implies: that the pupils were chosen objectively, with skin colour,
language or culture ignored in favour of the standard of individual merit.

But that is not what diversity advocates of language policies want. They
sneer at the principle of colour-blindness. They use language as a proxy of
racism. They want admissions to some schools to be made exactly as the
vilest of racists make them: by bloodline. They insist that whatever is a
result of your own choices – your ideas, your character, your
accomplishments – is to be dismissed, while that which is outside one’s
control – the accident of skin colour – is to define your life.

It is time for our society to identify language policies as nothing more
than crude forms of racism: pernicious behaviour which some might like to
dress up as language policy but is, in fact, too low to be accorded that
degree of respectability.

*An inclusive ethos and practice*

On the one hand, multilingualism is seen as an asset for educators and
business people. On the other, second-language education has been
systematically suppressed by some school governing bodies in favour of
monolingual education.

So, in the light of the recent Hoërskool Overvaal’s ruling, it seems
appropriate to ask what our schools can do to ensure a more stable,
inclusive and diverse society.

Our schools need an inclusive ethos and practice in their programmes – a
real inclusive practice as part of the school’s culture in all activities,
such as informal and formal programmes, including sports games, clubs and
other extracurricular activities.

As role models, teachers should be involved in mentoring through open
relationships between teachers and pupils. Teachers need to continue
professional development, particularly in cultural and linguistic knowledge.

Pupils should be given the opportunity to socialise and learn in an open,
tolerant and supportive environment in which high standards are set and
expected for all and everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

Language cannot be viewed as an isolated construct but must be analysed as
an extension of culture.

In this global world the idea supporting the total suppression of one
language over another is inconsistent with and detrimental to a nonracial

That is why no school should exclude a pupil on the basis of language.

The right to education is one of the most fundamental rights in the
Constitution and if any school, in applying its language and admissions
policy, acts contrary to the Constitution, that policy must be disregarded.

The Hoërskool Overvaal and other cases before have actually disregarded
language rights. Language rights are protected in the Constitution and will
be respected by the department, as they have in the past.

The issue is about access to education and the question of language is
being used as a false shield to exclude those who are entitled to education
at a school in which they qualify, in terms of the legislation.

At the centre of our nonracial crusade is how much equal opportunity we as
a nation are willing to sacrifice as we pursue diversity and a nonracial

The point is, if we want the virtue of our kids being exposed to kids of
different races and backgrounds, then we have to be willing to accommodate
any pupils, irrespective of language, culture and race.

Protecting a language, such as Afrikaans, as the sole basis of
communicating will not only hinder progress, but place this country in
jeopardy of losing its justified title as an emerging economic giant.

Few people of open minds and good hearts would deny that social cohesion
and nonracialism are not just an admirable goal but a necessary one for
schools that aim to prepare pupils for life in the real world.

*Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for education *


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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