The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1014 Wednesday, 2 May 2001
Date: Tuesday, 01 May 2001 21:25:12 -0700
Subject: 12.0989 Re: Boring Bard Barred
Comment: Re: SHK 12.0989 Re: Boring Bard Barred
Thanks, Brian Vickers, for the article from the Independent quoting the
letter from the Press Officer of the Educational Commission.
When the Boring Bard Barred post first surfaced last week, I forwarded
it to three correspondents in South Africa and asked for their
comments. So far I have heard from only one of these folks. She has
written me three times about it, saying it has been widely reported.
She mentioned it to her son, a teacher, and "he said the group formed
that made the decision re these prescribed books for the school were
found to be totally inexperienced and has since been replaced."
Later she wrote: ". . . Accusing Nadine Gordimer I found rather
bizarre. I have not read her books but know she was/is not a racist.
Our country is going through a big transition and some go overboard to
make everything politically correct. To me it seemed small potatoes
compared to so many other tragedies that needs to be corrected so did
not give it much thought." [This woman recently posted a note on another
listserv about a woman dying of AIDS, out in the bush with only a cat
for company, having been thrown out by her family.]
Then yesterday she sent the following article:
Found this in the Sunday paper [Sunday Times, Johannesburg]
by Cornia Pretorius
To read or not to read: The question mark over textbooks is vital for
all our pupils.
The nine provincial education departments were following national
guidelines to judge textbooks. But complained publishers, they applied
these criteria in a haphazard fashion.
Publishers also raised red flags about the education authorities'
pre-occupation with books that reflected the values of the new South
Africa. Books had to be free of bias, prejudice and discrimination on
the basis of sexual orientation, language, colour, age or ability. The
problem was not the value espoused, it was that provinces were so
rigidly following these pointers that, in the end they were rejecting
good books simply on the basis that their illustrations didn't reflect
the right mix of black and white faces.
The publishing industry was dwindling as the government's expenditure
on textbooks plummeted to an all-time low. In 1995/96 it spent about
R900-million on textbooks; in 1997/98, it spent R160-million. In the
three years since publishers spoke out against nonsensical selection and
approval of schoolbooks, little has changed. Against this background,
the debacle over the selection of literature for Gauteng's matric pupils
come as no surprise.
In fact what happened in Gauteng is the tip of the iceberg. At stake
are not only the novels, short stories and poetry Gauteng's 120 000
matric pupils will study in future but the selection of all textbooks -
affecting each and everyone of SA's roughly 12 million pupils. The
selection processes appear to be a case of good intentions badly
Panels were devised. By including teachers on these panels - as they
are at the forefront of educational change. But the department forgot
that a certain level of expertise or training is crucial before panel
members can act as gatekeepers for quality. They often turned out to be
any teachers who were available on the next Saturday to look at a few
dozen books in return for a few rands.
This process for choosing books was seriously flawed by education
expert Prof. Linda Chisholm and her review panel Curriculum 2005.
The panel judged the process "unreliable", and recommended that the
Minister of Education, Kadar Asmal, appoint an advisory panel of
curriculum specialists and teachers to compile a national list of
quality materials. Schools could then use this list to choose textbooks
for themselves. The good news is that the national Department of
Education had accepted the gist of these recommendations. The bad news
is that the decision doesn't guarantee that the process of selecting
textbooks will change soon or that, when it does, it will be perfect.
The textbook budget is steadily increasing again. But unfortunately,
there is no proof that this money is being well spent.' Many people were
relived when they learned that Asmal and Ignatius Jacobs, the MEC for
education in Gauteng, had apologised and distanced themselves from the
statement made about Nadine Gordimer., Asmal phoned her from Ireland, to
say that he disagreed with the teachers' finding that her book July's
People was deeply racist, superior and patronising.
But the politicians cannot afford to distance themselves from the huge
problems in the selections of textbooks any longer. They must realise
that what is at stake are not the hurt egos of misunderstood writers but
the education of a nation's youth. An apology to pupils for failing to
ensure that they have decent books to learn from would not be out of
Nothing specifically about the Shakespeare proscriptions, but that is
not too surprising. Any newspaper is more likely to focus on items
specifically related to its own time and place -- in this case 20th
novelist Nadine Gordimer rather than WS. But come to think of it,
didn't he do something of the same with his allusions to contemporary
events veiled in thick ago so as to get by the censors?
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