Freedom of thought can’t be disciplined
There is something politically, socially and morally deeply problematic about our schools, both private and public. Our schools are increasingly becoming unsafe for pupils and teachers, but are also becoming instruments of suppression.
At Herzlia Middle School, a
Jewish school in Cape Town, two Grade 9 pupils at the school engaged in a silent protest during the singing of the Israeli national anthem during a prize-giving ceremony.
The school said the protest was “inappropriate” and was a “flagrant disregard for the ethos of the school”. The pupils face disciplinary action.
The pupils said they “took the knee” because the Israeli anthem was contrary to their principled beliefs because they “don’t support what currently Israel is doing”.
Contrary to the school’s own praise of freedom of speech, it allegedly only teaches pro-israel ideas in the classrooms. The pupils objective with the protest was to bridge the divide that exists within the Jewish community caused by pro-israel versus pro-palestine politics. They hoped the protest would get people on the extreme left and extreme right to start talking to each other.
There exists a misconception in the mind of some Jewish South Africans that all Jews are Zionist.
This is false, Zionism is a political ideology some Jews do not subscribe to. Staging a protest is not a violation of the school rules, the pupils exercised the rights endowed upon them by the Constitution. It is the school that violated the pupils’ rights to freedom of speech and protest.
On the one hand the school says that it welcomes dissenting views and beliefs, but on the other it suppresses and threatens pupils.
The school has unashamedly conferred upon itself the prerogative of deciding when and where it is “appropriate” for pupils to express their views and beliefs.
This incident is instructive and reflective of our schools. It is time we question how schools use their power to coerce pupils into conformity. It is time that we stand up for our pupils.
SHAWN XOLANI MAVUNDLA Empangeni