Free­dom of thought can’t be dis­ci­plined

Sunday Tribune - - OPINION -

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.


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