Monday, May 9, 2011

Learning lessons

There are a group of students studying my blog this week, I’m told.  They’re in the USA so that could mean they’re in school, in the South African/British sense of the word, as in High School, or at University or College, which is also called school in the US.  I don’t know, I didn’t think to ask.  Twitter is limited like that.

I don’t know why they’ve chosen my blog over the thousands of others.  I don’t think it’s because it’s a bad example.  I don’t believe that to be so.  What I do feel is honoured that they are taking the time.  And I hope they learn something from it.  By learning, of course, I don’t mean what the teacher hopes they learn, which in itself may also be worthwhile, but something that they will remember and use in life.  One of those lessons that was all too rare in my own schooling – and here I refer particularly to High School, that apartheid state controlled institution that was so narrow and conservative and tried to ingrain the doctrines and prejudices of that regime into our young minds.  There were teachers, sometimes quite brave, who planted seeds of questioning and thinking in us.  Those are the teachers and lessons I remember to this day.

I’m writing this because I found myself wondering about the students so far away on another continent.  And I wondered: “What would I want them to learn from reading my blog?”  Of course, I’d never be so presumptuous to think that they’ll learn any of this;  it is, of course, an entirely hypothetical question.  Here are some of the things I wished I’d learned at school:

  • Read, read, read.  It was the advice given to me by a concerned teacher when she knew I was going into the army (thank you Helen Robinson).  I did, and it helped me keep perspective when the military was trying to brainwash me.  I read books they disapproved of, and they called me a kaffir-lover. I read them anyway.  I read any newspaper I could get my hands on and read Time magazine even when the South African censors had blacked out passages they didn’t want us to read.
  • If you read widely, seek out views you don’t agree with, that challenge you as well as those that back up your beliefs, you’ll keep balanced.  It helped me survive the intellectual wilderness that was the SADF.  It helped me survive its aftermath.
  • Know that you have prejudices and know that you probably don’t know what most of them are.  Sometimes it hurts to find out.  We all have them, and we are better people when we accept that we have them.  We grow by both that acceptance and by working to overcome them.  My own journey in this regard continues, and will do so until I die.
  • War is never good.  Ever.  The scars are always deep and effects prolonged.
  • Life is a journey and journeys can be hard work.  The most rewarding, exciting and often difficult journey is the inner journey of self discovery.
  • All people are trying to get through their lives the best way they can.  Even the ones shooting at you.  I’ve met the enemy recently or rather the ex-enemy, in the form of an ex-Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier (ANC’s military wing).  We like each other.

As I read this back I realise that this is really a little bit about what I’ve learned so far – and I hope a bit more too! 

To the students in the States: My apologies if this reads like a sermon!  I wish you well for your studies and your lives.


Dustin said...

Thank you, Paul, for your wise words. A bit of info about our class. We are two classes of 9th grade high school students. Our class motto has been, "Step your game up." We try to use media tools and technology to find our global voice as we strive to take an ordinary school year and transform it into a formative journey. People like Mr. Morris are inspiring us to expand our world view and learn what it means to share in the human experience.

Paul said...

Hi Dustin,

I think what you and your students are doing is wonderful. I wonder what my education would have been like with the technology available to you guys?

I feel privileged to contribute in some small way to your learning (and hopefully to learn something myself!).

Warm wishes