Ignoring real issues causes school chaos

MAYBE like me you have heard the phrase "schools are a microcosm of their society" a thousand times before.

MAYBE like me you have heard the phrase "schools are a microcosm of their society" a thousand times before.

Usually this line is bandied about each time there is some schoolyard bloodletting or drug usage.

Given how violent and drug-riddled societies tend to produce violent and drug-riddled schools, the truth of this truism seems self-evident.

So it is dishonest or wishful to expect communities that churn out teenage girls who will not finish their schooling because they fell pregnant, young men who will be drawn into the life of crime and family structures that cannot hold for a myriad reasons, from migratory labour to hopelessness, to produce schools that are outlets of extraordinary young citizens.

For it is those teens left to the margins of society that we each year end feign outrage for because they have failed and whom we accuse of not being serious about their education or future. Now, as we did during apartheid, we are making mere children bear the burden of circumstances created by so-called leaders.

Maybe, had we created a society in which we did not feel they needed to be politically connected to have a fair chance at what South Africa has to offer, would they take education a bit more seriously than we think they do.

Maybe if they saw more of their siblings who "finish" school get a quality higher education and jobs afterwards, they would work harder than we give them credit for.

Maybe if they heard the ANC Youth League make the Freedom Charter's promise of a "free, compulsory, universal and equal for all" education and State support for those who want to access higher education and technical training, being the basis of who the league would support for the leadership of the party they would get "serious".

Alas, the youth says willingness to bail out fat catmine-owners would be criteria for leadership.

Having said this, there is no excuse for personal inaction. There is no justification for the indifference of many of the teenagers and parents who treat schools as nurseries for children above the age of six. All of us must do what we can with what we have regardless of our circumstances, especially in an uncaring society.

But dealing with schools without dealing with the structural problems in the societies in which those schools operate will keep returning us to the same conclusions. It is like eradicating Bantu Education but leaving apartheid intact.

It is treating symptoms rather than the disease.

We need to get rid of a system that keeps fattening a few politically connected individuals or the historically privileged while impoverishing the rest and then blaming the marginalised for their circumstances.

Tough talk by the president and the various national and provincial ministers of education has failed to improve things and will not do so in the future.

The chattering classes will continue with their delusion that "bad parents" - meaning those who spend their days and nights taking care of middle class homes and children or in the factories - are not showing sufficient interest in the education of their children, hence the yearly mourning ritual.

That some of us defy circumstances and get good jobs inside newsrooms does not mean those who only get to sell the paper in the streets are lazy or stupid.

Even in the darkest days of apartheid many defied the fatalist trap set for them and went on to achieve great things despite apartheid's best intentions. It never meant that apartheid did not need overthrowing.

Unless of course, there are exceptions to the truism that schools are a microcosm of our society.