During pre-service training, I remember being told that I would encounter two different elements of local culture: the culture itself and cultural excuses. Both can be excruciatingly frustrating, but I think I have managed to adapt reasonably well to the culture. I think nothing of waiting hours for anything to happen. I greet anyone and everyone within a ten-metre radius of me at all times. I sometimes even eat with my hands. The list goes on. I consider myself about as well-adjusted to local culture as any born and bred American can be. However, while I continue to grin and bear it when culture deems it necessary for me and my fellow female educators to clean up following school events while the male educators are encouraged to leave early, I am losing patience with cultural excuses.
For example, early in the school year, I had some difficulty with discipline in my classrooms. I discussed the issue with my colleagues and, after much chatter and many insights, I developed a management plan that seems to be working. Unfortunately, one insight I gained was into the rampant use of corporal punishment by some educators. I was stunned. By high school, learners should be taught better methods of conflict resolution than violence, or at least that is my line of thinking. I approached one educator to discuss the issue and, much to my shock and disbelief, his attitude was, "It's our culture. You wouldn't understand." Physical force used as a tool to dominate and belittle a young person is PART OF YOUR CULTURE? Teachers beat children in the past, so it must be acceptable today? With logic like that, we should all be living according to Hammurabi's Code.
Similar thinking was applied to a day spent working in the school garden. While dozens of learners scampered all over the garden area outside, a group of young girls stayed behind in the classroom. They were menstruating and therefore banned from entering the garden. This was not their choice. The class teacher announced that girls on their period were not to go to the garden. Thus, a targeted group of learners was denied the opportunity to partake in a valuable learning experience because of their gender. I later learned that the ban applied not only to menstruating women, but also to women who had sex in the last seven days. If these women enter the garden, the belief is that the plants will not grow. I might be able to accept this as a genuine element of Africa culture in a remote and practically inaccessible region, but hearing and seeing it enforced by an educator in South Africa was apalling. Culture makes its intangible appearance in music, dress, diet, language and ritual. Culture is not a blanket refusal to adapt to modern facts at a serious cost to the growth and well-being of actual people. At least that is how I see it.
Needless to say, this past week has been a exercise in frustration. It's over now, I'm recuperating in Kuruman with over-dose of cricket, and I hope that next week I am able to locate and tap deep well of patience and acceptance.