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Education for Democratic Citizenship in Complex Times A View from


									1 Education for Democratic Citizenship in Complex Times: A View from a Global South African City Dr Aslam Fataar University of the Western Cape Email: and Presentation at the Center for Civic Education: Civitas International Programs; World Congress on Civic Education, 29 May 2009, Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town

Thank you for the privilege of addressing this conference. I attended the Civitas conference in Budapest, Hungary, 2004. I did work for Civitas, Cape Town, via the Western Cape Education Department. I acknowledge Civitas’s commitment to democratic citizenship work in education. I remember fondly the animated debates I had with American participants in Budapest about doing civic education work globally on the one hand, only to be contradicted by the brutal logics embedded in fighting an unjust war in Iraq on the other. The Americans I spoke to were disgusted at this obvious conflagration and the impact it has on democratic educational work. The war in Iraq is now drawing down, and one pleads for the ending of all unjust wars, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the killings in Darfur, Sudan, Palestine, Myanmar, Columbia and the Democratic Congo, low level wars on the streets of our cities, and the violence embedded in the exclusions that accompany the myopic politics of dominant sectors in all societies. Civic education work is work of the mind, work of connection, interaction, and dialogue. It thrives in enabling socio-cultural and political contexts, and it is to an understanding of securing such contexts to which I dedicate this presentation What are my claims in this presentation? I offer you a perspective from a global African city, a city that is busy defining its democratic character out of a history of segregation and racism and the imperfections, constraints, and creative possibilities that inhere in the current period. Cape Town, I want to suggest, is alive and on the make, chaotic and creative, always responding with energy to the complexities that it contains. Education plays a very important role in the make up of the city. It is not unlike any other global city that is characterized by urban complexity. It is not unlike global Chicago that has addressed it urban blight over the last two

2 decades, through massive gentrification, with its middle class enclaves along Lady Shore Drive, and its racialised black ghettos on the south side, out of sight Cape Town is not unlike the city of Mumbai, where the complexities of urban living space affect the school going opportunities of poor kids; where class, caste and religious affiliation determines whether you either have access to a school or have to live on its squalid streets, uneducated. Cape Town is also not unlike cities in Europe such as London’s East End, or Holland’s Amsterdam where the specter of the immigrant challenges the very definition of ‘Europeanness’, and the official approach to the ‘migrant other’ from India, Bangladesh, Turkey and Somalia, is one of alienation and marginalization, where schools are provided that cater specifically to the ‘migrant other’. Cape Town is also not unlike Cairo and Lagos where the explosions of people in these cities put the city’s resources under strain, creating widely alternative ways of making a living, of surviving, adapting to conditions of deep impoverishment. These cities, Chicago, London, Mumbai, Amsterdam, Cairo, Lagos, and Cape Town, are rapidly decomposing in light of the compressions of time and space, a key feature of globalization. People live in city contexts where the state’s power has diminished considerably. The weak state struggles to intervene in the lives of the urban poor. The middle classes jump into the gap left by a receding state. They mobilize their money to insert themselves into enclaves of the city, protected from the marauding beats at the gate, in gated communities, in military type vehicles, and in schools that find ways, supported by the state, to include and exclude. And, so the question for democratic citizenship education revolves around how we think and do education in these new exclusionary contexts. How do we challenge the way living spaces are organized and schools are used to augment these exclusions? And, how do we provide democratic pedagogical spaces to lay a foundation among young people for productive democratic living? The specificity of postapartheid Cape Town Urban life in Cape Town is characterized by the complexities associated with the onset of post apartheid democracy on the one hand and global socio-economic cultural influences on the other. People from all over Africa and the Middle and Far East have found their way into South African cities. Many of our schools are resounding with different languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and a creative mix of these as kids begin to explore linguistic and other relational interactions. But, increasingly, we also hear French, Senagalese Wolof, Portuguese, Arabic, German, Mandarin and Korean in the schoolyard.

3 The predominance of English is both strategic: every kid can or aspire to speak some English. But English as the language of modernity and schooling is also deeply exclusionary. Persistence with English as language of instruction hampers cognitive development and in some cases, as in the case of recent refugee kids at some schools in Cape Town, the kids simply don’t understand the teacher. The economic dynamics of Cape Town have been re-arranged along similar lines compared to other global cities. The clothing, fishing and construction industries have been downscaled. Formal employment has fallen rapidly and informalised economies have sprung up all over the city. Formal unemployment has reached dramatic proportions in the poorer parts of Cape Town where folks make desperate livelihoods. They eke out a living off the state’s welfare system, informal economic activity and the increase in the illicit criminal economy. The so-called de-materialization of the global city, of re-arranged work, rising unemployment, squalid working conditions associated with jobs in the tourism and services industries, has come to define life and schooling in the city. Fear of violence and crime characterizes life in the city. People live in the ‘heart of fear’. They develop vigilante structures and community policing forums to protect themselves from marauding gangs. Religion plays a powerful role in mitigating the worst consequences of social and physical violence. Schools in the poorer parts of Cape Town are caught up in these ephemeral and somewhat desperate circumstances. I have done most of my research in urban impoverished township spaces. I have come to understand how schools struggle in these spaces to establish viable educational environments. I’ve observed how teachers are mired in the social pathological spill over into schools and the difficulties associated with teaching hungry and traumatized children. One of the key conclusions I’ve come to is that the reach of the postapartheid state, via its education and other social welfare apparatuses are tenuous. Schools and teachers are overwhelmed by their contexts. They seem to be responsive to the children’s welfare concerns. Educational processes are thus tenuous and one dimensional. There are, however, well functioning schools in these townships, that have established very productive connections with the broader community, able to mobilize their physical and education resources to mitigate the worst impact of their environments. These schools hold lessons for us all. They show how to position and protect the importance of education in circumstances where their importance is not always apparent. Research has shown that progressive teachers and dynamic and engaging school leaders are the key variables that secure conditions of learning in these schools


Race and Post-race in the city’s schooling processes I want to suggest that there is a qualitative implosion at work in our understanding of the links between education and broader community development. This implosion is related to the complex and changing contexts of education, of which the African global city is an example. The Deweyan notion of education for democracy has been imploded. Gone are the days where education is tied to the village, neighborhood, or township. In other words, education has become unhinged from the locality-bounded community. Education for democratic citizenship must take into account of the very complicated citizenship processes of which it is a part. The key questions that arise are: what does democratic education mean when kids go to school outside of their communities or places of living and what does education for democratic citizenship mean in the vastly more complex world than the one Dewey lived and wrote his seminal works on education and democratic citizenship? Let me quickly sketch three markers of race that have co-constituted Cape Town’s schooling landscape. Each marker represents the outlines of a dialogical encounter with the city, of people living in and creating their lives in specific contexts. Education played a key role in these contexts. a) The first marker is what I’ll refer to as the entanglements and disentanglements of race, which took place in the middle to late 19th century. The basis of schooling in Cape Town during the colonial period around the mid 19th century was initially framed by an enlightenment approach. It was the time of the abolition of slavery, and elements in the colonial government were keen on modernizing the city though education. The colonial government then decided to subsidize education, mainly church – based schools, where the city’s kids of all races, about 20% of them, attended mission schools. The school system was racialized or segregated by the late 19th century as South Africa moved into its industrial phase. The nature of the political economy of mining had a dramatic impact on the colonial form. Schools began to take on a racial type of organization by 1890 and by 1910 the patterns of racial separation of kids in schools was secured. White kids went to better schools and Coloured kids went in much fewer numbers to poorer schools. There were very few black African kids in Cape Town’s schools at the turn of the 19th century. b) The second marker around race and schooling happened after the declaration of apartheid in 1948, but more particularly during the 1960s. As suggested earlier, racially segregated schooling was secured by 1910. The 1960s period witnessed a process of cleaning up the apartheid city from the ‘decontaminated’ black body. People who were living in and around the city, around the mountain,

5 were forcibly removed to live on the Cape Flats, a vast uninhabitable land mass beyond the mountain. Schooling for non whites was now meant to reproduce an ideology of segregation among different race groups, but far away from whites who were getting a first world quality education. This dynamic would later work decisively in on the post apartheid school landscape in Cape Town. Rigid spatial separation was secured under apartheid and schooling had a racially separatist ideological function. Life in the poor quality non white schools on the Cape Flats nonetheless found democratic expression, contradicting the belief that the ideological mal-intent of apartheid’s architects would necessarily curtail democratic expression. People found ways of establishing viable educational spaces in inhumane living conditions. The progressive improvement of communities was tied to the ways people accessed and made the apartheid school work for them, although systemic malignancy spawned a devastating educational legacy, of generally poorly resources schools, and under-educated communities, who were meant to provide the cheap labour for the city of Cape Town. Democratic intent in South Africa found resonance in the activism of black students who led concerted anti-racist campaigns during the 1970s and 1980s. In some instances young students took over schools for months, wherein they established educational experiments in alternative democratic pedagogy. Student activism was a crucial part of the anti apartheid struggle that brought the apartheid government to its knees by the late 1980s. These kids were reading radical pedagogical texts. They established dialogical educational spaces, giving birth to democratic possibility and the role of education in cultivating grassroots participative democracy. Theirs was a vision based on social justice, equality and respect. Surely, recuperating democratic educational possibility must be founded on mobilizing the vision and praxis of the young students of the 1970s and 1970s. c) The postapartheid turnover: The rigid racial boundaries began to come down at exactly the same time as the world and South Africa began to experience the impact of global developments and pressures. Rigid racial separation was now replaced by the fluidities of postracial mobility. People were now on the move and on the make. But what can we observe about people’s behaviour in the city 15 years into the postapartheid period? What democratic possibilities inhere in this period? And, how can education for democratic citizenship play a role in constructing inclusive and socially just urban experiences?

6 Students are moving across the city in search of quality schooling, on the perception that 1) the best schools are in the former white suburbs, 2) the worst schools are in the non-white parts of the city, and 3) the state has not enabled schools in the poorer areas to establish a development platform for quality schooling. Let me risk being a bit theoretical at this point: I want to suggest that the community school, the school nearby, around the corner, whether in the suburb, the inner city, or the township has taken on a repelling popular image, shunned by those who live in its immediate surrounds. In contrast, the school elsewhere has become desirable. We now know from tangential studies that about 60% of urban kids don’t attend the school nearest to them. In other words, they actively evade the school nearby, informed by the manufactured desire for the school elsewhere. What I label as ‘school choice displacement’, is a reference to the choice of school removed from the home, whether on the other side of the township a mile away, or on the other side of the city 100 miles away. This connects with an understanding of how people live in the city, how they acquire their sense of self, how institutions such as schools acquire their sense of self or institutional identities, which inform how these schools are read, understood and accessed. How people choose to access a particular school, whether in the suburbs, across town, or on the other side of a township is the function or outcome of readings of self, of what we become in the institutional environments and arrangements of the schools we choose. ‘Kids on the move’ is based on particular readings, particular scriptings encoded in the geographies of the city, it material surfaces of inscriptions, of the ways space positions and influences people’s ‘urban becoming.’ These displaced school choice patterns have been creating an affective disconnection borne of a disjuncture between the kids’ places of living and their spaces of schooling. Kids now develop the cultural literacy to navigate disjunctural spaces, i.e. in the space of the school and the space of the home, and a third, if one considers the space of traveling across the city. Families and children try to figure out all the time what subjectivities they want their kids to take on. They make highly atomised calculations in which the choice of school is paramount. I would argue that these choices must be understood in light of the post apartheid city’s unfolding schooling geography, of a city and its people on the move; searching for geographically coded positioning.

7 Once those children end up in their schools of choice, whether in the townships or the suburbs, the schools mostly work to assimilate them in their hegemonic ways of being without any substantial adjustments in their cultural repertoires. Experiences of inclusion are thus simultaneously accompanied by experiences of exclusion. By way of conclusion, it is these inclusion and exclusion cultures that a democratic educational emphasis must problematise. Teachers must be capacitated to move from a simple emphasis on quality as measured in school results, to fundamental questions about their school’s hegemonic assimilation platforms. Schools must work much harder to include the racial, ethnic, and gendered other into their school identities. Teachers must connect with the other in their classrooms, valorize and work with their identities, and provide conversational spaces for creative and productive new citizenship forms in the complex cities. Schools must establish dialogical spaces aimed at generating robust urban literacies among kids, which will arm them to live with moral purpose and productive possibilities. In stands to reason that we require a politics of challenge in the global city that targets the state and its institutions to become more responsive to the demands of ordinary people who require humanitarian conditions of living. The educational or pedagogical task is fundamental to democratic possibility. Democratic citizenship education should aim to provide the conceptual and intellectual capacities required for complex living in the 21st century.

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