Right of reply: Try this for meaning, Prof Jansen - Timeslive

14 February 2022 - In his article “Read this for meaning, Institute of Race Relations” (10 February), Professor Jonathan Jansen levels certain accusations against the Institute of Race Relations, suggesting that “(bodies) such as the IRR should assist in achieving education goals instead of peddling right-wing fluff”.

Sara Gon

In his article “Read this for meaning, Institute of Race Relations” (10 February), Professor Jonathan Jansen levels certain accusations against the Institute of Race Relations, suggesting that “(bodies) such as the IRR should assist in achieving education goals instead of peddling right-wing fluff”.

He says: ‘The 2030 read for meaning goal is within our reach, but we are distracted by government criminality and moral panics by the IRR. We have a choice to focus on nonsense or the debilitating crisis that faces our nation’s schools.

‘This week a brainless report from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) resurfaced online, with the heading “Educate, don’t indoctrinate”, a supposed call to resist children being indoctrinated with critical race theory in SA’s schools. Joining its right-wing ideological friends in American schools, the IRR clearly seeks to piggyback on the reactionary lies of zealots on the other side of the Atlantic.’

The IRR has always been concerned with the state of education in our schools, particularly as it affects the poorest children, and has devoted considerable time, energy and resources to investigating the quality of schooling, and devising strategies to raise standards, and improve outcomes.

We have research that shows that matric results are artificially enhanced by a department-enforced drop-out rate. Consequently, weaker students leave school before their matric year, ensuring that already questionable results aren’t further diminished.

The IRR has done research on what makes some poor schools sites of academic excellence. We have also proposed the creation of a voucher system for parents to use to enable them to choose the schools they’d like their children to attend.

We also run one of the oldest and highly respected tertiary education bursary scheme, whose recipients include Nelson Mandela.

Our resource website “Educate don’t Indoctrinate” came into being in response to parents’ anguish, and I do not use the term lightly, to the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) or “transformation” teaching in their children’s schools. It is, or is founded upon, Critical Race Theory (CRT).

The initiative started in response to CRT praxis (the blending of theory and practice ) appearing in private schools, but it is already being introduced in public schools, and the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, has endorsed its implementation publicly.

Basically, children are taught that black students are victims and white students oppressors. This is the basis for “anti-racism” which is the opposing of racism against blacks. It is not non-racism.

The criticisms of CRT, aside from the above, include that white children are taught that the colour of their skin forever marks them as oppressors, and for black students that the colour of their skin forever labels them as victims. All in society are harmed by these lines of reasoning.

CRT is mentioned explicitly in school documents and policies (including education department documents). For example, one well-known private school has, in terms of implementing a Social Justice Curriculum for 2021, stated: ‘Our intention is to underpin the curriculum with the (sic) critical race theory.’

Also: ‘Work has to move beyond the lived experience and sharing of stories towards a deeper academic level linked to knowledge structures and critical theory. The use of language, terminology and phrase needs to be critically interrogated and understood from this premise.’

Another school document contained in a newsletter sent to the school community observed that ‘…white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of colour as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and "undeserving." Drawing from critical race theory, the term "white supremacy" also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.’

There is no redemption under CRT: the only way that white students can overcome their “white supremacy” stigma is to submit to conceding “their” ancestral culpability, irrespective of the fact that the child is in no way culpable.

The consequences are the opposite of what one would think DEI should achieve: race relations deteriorate, white students stop asking questions in class in case they say “the wrong thing”, and teachers lose authority over their students because they are often called out for something they say. Once a teacher has lost authority, her effectiveness diminishes.

But the most disturbing aspect of CRT is that it has a political end goal: the upending of society for the establishment of a socialist utopia. CRT is a political ideology and it is completely inappropriate to indoctrinate school children into a particular political philosophy. Schools can teach about ideologies such as CRT, fascism, marxism, capitalism, liberalism and so on, but they are not entitled to educate through the practice of CRT.

The IRR has no problem in principle with teaching about how systemic racism may manifest in society, but we are concerned about how it is taught. When viewed through the lens of CRT, it does involve shaming, alienating, and dividing, based on its core claims.

Parents who would like to see their children learn tolerance, non-racism and respect for people's innate qualities, are horrified at what they see children being exposed to and the damage that it can do.

Of course children must learn about colonialism and apartheid and the terrible deprivations that resulted. A knowledge and understanding of history informs how we respond to the present and plan our future.

Nobody at the IRR would ever claim, or has ever claimed, teaching about race and racism, slavery and white supremacy constitutes critical race theory – because it doesn’t. Jansen says that ‘some’ schools teach these things. The IRR would certainly advocate for all schools to teach these topics. The question is how they are taught, not whether they are taught.

Judging people by the colour of their skin is to judge people by an innate, immutable characteristic that says nothing about the human being and over which the individual has no control.

CRT is being taught widely in America and to a lesser extent in South Africa. It is a backlash to it by parents in America that Prof. Jansen dismissively refers to as ‘reactionary lies of zealots’.

He runs the risk, here, of being as guilty as American social justice activists, who label anybody disagreeing with them as ‘right-wingers’ in the hope that their concerns are more easily dismissed.

It has also become a feature of those that support CRT to deny that it is being taught; one has to wonder why. It doesn’t matter whether one calls it “CRT”, “DEI” or “transformation” if what is being taught is what we refer to as CRT.

Perhaps if schools took a fraction of what they are paying diversity consultants, they could make a real difference when it comes to social justice by reinvesting that money into bursary schemes, teacher training and other meaningful educational objectives.

As for what happens in the classroom, children should be taught history in all its glory and shame, and they should be taught to respect each other for who they are not what they look like. 

Sara Gon is head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR)