Teaching white South African literature in high school: The legacy of apartheid in the 21st century

Date of Completion

January 2008


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Literature, Comparative|Literature, African|Education, Secondary




Studies based on the concept of cultural differences make the assumption that students coming from culturally diverse backgrounds will achieve academic excellence if classroom instruction is conducted in a manner responsive to the students' home culture. In order to establish knowledge base which would improve student performance, various modifications in classroom teaching need to be used; these have become known as "culturally compatible," "culturally relevant," "culturally congruent," or "culturally responsive" (Nawang 1). Considering that the dramatic shift in the demographic makeup of the United States population is more pronounced in public education, educators have been faced with the need to respond to the needs of students coming from various backgrounds. Today's most important challenge in education is to create learning environments that would maximize educational success and performance for all students, by using culturally responsive pedagogy. The purpose of this work is not to propose canon changes, but rather, to develop a repertoire of ideas for teaching world literature in the culturally diverse student environments of the nation's high schools by using effective pedagogical practices. The need for a culturally congruent English curriculum arises from the way we regard texts. The structuralist notion that the author's voice is as important as that of the reader, resulting in the diminishing of the authorial voice and perspective, can be seen in postmodern discourse flows such as the Internet and television. Young people's natural curiosities along with the newly developed literacies and competences in the fields of science and technology, and the new modes of communication, have made a culturally relevant curriculum a priority today. The curricular change will not result in decanonization, but rather in the gradual expansion of the existing body of literature. We need canons; they are necessary as they preserve important contributions to the historical dialogue and dialectic. A canon gives us an invaluable access to the ideas and problems that form in regard to our lived experience. However, a culturally inclusive curriculum provides a balanced application of the progressive, child-centered educational practices. ^ As a complement to the already existing information on the teaching of South African literature to high school students, this document will offer suggestions for teaching white South African fiction by using the methodology of postcolonial theory and Whiteness Studies. What will be examined is the way literary practitioners have participated, from their own social, racial, and political positions, in the construction and reconstruction of South African society during and after apartheid. The introduction will give an overview of the past and current situations in South African postcolonial discourse and will point out what problem areas still exist. An overview of Whiteness Studies will also be presented and its attempt to examine and understand why white people have viewed themselves they way they have. The post colonial theory and Whiteness Studies will be used as lenses through which the chosen literature will be examined. A discussion of South African history and the country's specific place on the African continent will follow, as well as a brief comparison to the situations in the United States and Australia as examples of postcolonial societies. In addition, the rationale will be given which explains why the writers in this study have been chosen and how their writing complicates the issues of identity and legacy of apartheid. After an introduction which explains the relevant literary and historical paradigms each of the proposed pieces of literature rests upon, a variety of different activities that can be used in the classroom will be presented. This project has proceeded on the assumption that a literary anthology cannot provide the entire cognitive content necessary to understand the literature under consideration, only entice the reader to research more. The activities for students will address various pedagogical needs and provide students with an opportunity to reflect on and extend their knowledge of the reading material. We will conclude by exploring how politics have affected the development of South African nationalism, its arenas of power and public discourse, and issues inherent in the process of integration into the world economy. This document aims to provide enough depth and historical information to help students understand what has been taking place in the social and cultural fabric of South Africa, what modes of expression have been appropriated by South African writers, to what effect, and how they can help us understand patterns of identity, migration, oppression, economics, and global communication in the new millennium. ^