Celebrating and Teaching the Life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Posted by Dylan Wray on December 6, 2013

Yesterday we said goodbye to a great teacher.

He never stood in front of a class of children with his hands dusty and white from chalk, probing deeper into the answers offered amidst a sea of upstretched hands. He never walked down the corridors of schools in between children running, bustling to make it to class on time. He never sat with a parent trying to find some way of helping her child achieve the potential resting just below the surface. He never joined in the cheer and excitement as the Grade 12 learners found their names and symbols on the sheets of paper stuck up outside the principal’s office.

He was never a teacher as we know a teacher to be. But his teachings have found a way into classrooms, through streets, into homes, offices, police stations, fields, mines, and the benches of parliament.

He has taught us all what it means to make choices, to sacrifice for something greater than oneself, to work hard, to laugh and dance, to love our children, to love our land and find love for each other. He has taught us to forgive where we can and be humble in asking for forgiveness when we need to. He has taught us to belong, accept, and include. He has taught us to cherish this democracy, not to take for granted what has taken so long to build. He has taught us to share and to be kind. And he has taught us that in teaching, we can give all of South Africa’s young children hope, opportunity, and the courage to build on what he began.

Goodbye President, Tata, Teacher Nelson Mandela.

How does one explain the deep sense of personal loss that so many South Africans are feeling today?

Why is Mandela’s death so personal at this particular moment of loss?

What will be Mandela’s legacy?

How will you discuss the history of apartheid and the legacy of Nelson Mandela in the classroom? Here are a few resources to consider:

  • Download a free PDF of our study guide to Facing the Truth with Bill Moyers, a documentary about the efforts of South Africans to deal with their past – specifically the years of apartheid.
  • Watch this video of Nelson Mandela discussing the strength he derived from Anne Frank's diary when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
  • Read the graphic novel Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul by Lewis Helfand and Sankha Banerjee.

We’d love to hear your thoughts – what are you using in the classroom? What are your memories of Mandela? How has his legacy affected you? Comment below.

Topics: Facing History Resources, History, Memorial, In the news


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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