Two years ago, I was offered a few teaching positions at different schools after having a number of interviews within my board. One of these was at Nelson Mandela Park PS, an inner city school in Regent Park in downtown Toronto. After a little debate and reflection, I knew in my heart, I wanted to be part of a school whose namesake was one of the greatest political leaders of our time, a man whom I regarded as one of my personal heroes. It was also a homecoming for me as I did my student teaching and also volunteered in the Regent Park community. I knew choosing to teach at a school named after Nelson Mandela was an honour, and that my teaching practice would have to reflect the values of this great man.
We knew by late spring this year that Mandela was not in good health, but his passing on December 5th still shook up the staff at my school. As one might expect, his death is striking me hard. He embodied many of the values that I value: fairness, equity, and justice. He led peacefully in the time of apartheid despite calls for a more militant approach to change. Mandela faced unbelievable obstacles including 27 years of imprisonment, yet through his leadership, integrity and diplomacy, he fought the oppressiveness of apartheid; evidence to all, that it is possible for someone to make systemic change. He led in the dismantling of the apartheid machine. No, it was not easy. And no, it did not happen immediately. But yes, it was possible. And yes, despite the odds, change did happen.
Mandela did not stand idly by while white supremacy was the rule of law. He engaged and mobilized people, he protested, he rallied, he negotiated, and he did a simple thing that we, as Canadians, take for granted and do not do enough of: he got his people out to vote. Knowing that the blacks in South Africa could not vote for decades, Mandela did not take for granted the first opportunity in 1994, and he got people who had never voted before out to polling stations.
In our world right now, it’s difficult to not be cynical of our politicians particularly when scandal, questionable integrity and corruption seems so rampant. With the death of Nelson Mandela, I also worry that currently there is not a figure of such stature that is a positive role model that students can look up to, and a living example in which teachers can reference when talking to their respective classes about someone who fought against systemic oppression.
Mandela’s famous quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” is a testament to not only the wisdom of the man, but also of his ability to see the power of teachers and of literacy. I’ve heard many say that Mandela’s legacy and spirit must live on within all of us. What does that mean to educators? Do I teach students that I should be kind and caring as Mandela was? Does this change the world? Yes, of course it does. Many teach of his legacy being about fighting for fairness and justice. Indeed, it does for it’s something that students need to think about. However, more importantly, I must move my students from not just “feeling” and “thinking”, but also move them toward DOING. I would argue that to honour Mandela’s legacy and spirit, coursing through us should be the belief that we are all agents of change! I cannot lose sight of this by just talking to my students about “feelings”; I must ignite that fire within them, to act on and root out injustice in our world.
In future blog entries, I’m hoping to share ideas and strategies to engage students in thinking about fairness and social justice, but can also be used to inspire students to take action.
If you plan on honouring Nelson Mandela by teaching about him and his legacy in your classroom, check this out:
How do you plan to honour the life and legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela? Feel free to share with us by commenting below!