Academic journal article International Journal of Multicultural Education

Fostering Movements or Silencing Voices: School Principals in Egypt and South Africa

Academic journal article International Journal of Multicultural Education

Fostering Movements or Silencing Voices: School Principals in Egypt and South Africa

Article excerpt

Today Mabizela, whose parents named him as an answer to the then present-day apartheid policies in South Africa, sent the second author a rare email message on the passing of Nelson Mandela. The principal of a large township high school outside of Cape Town, Mabizela wanted to celebrate the arrival of his grandson, born on the day of Mandela's passing. His real message was of his grandson's namesake, "Tomorrow":

   We need hope now than ever we have before. May Tomorrow take us to
   where we have been unable to take South Africa. May Tomorrow create
   a new vision, a new day for schools, where all of our children,
   Black and Coloured and White and Indian, Muslim and Christian, can
   learn how to live together. May Tomorrow remind our continent that
   our work is ever growing because our poverty is ever increasing and
   our schools are ever more exclusive.

While his own prayer mirrored Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech (Carson & Shepard, 2001), Mabizela linked Dr. King to Mandela in a shared struggle against what Mabizela called the "vast global machine of Western philanthropy and multinational Western-based education companies that have not realized that the icons they name schools after resisted their products." When I called Mabizela later that month, he told me he no longer had faith that schools would be South Africa's answer. As Mandela's life had been turned into a fictive image of success over the forces of racism and imperialism, Mabizela argued over the phone, South African schools "do the same as what the United States has done to Dr. Martin Luther King," and the "happy, less critical version [South Africa] buys from US or EU-based curriculum companies" hides the reality that "resistance [to white-supremacy] is treated as terrorism."

This paper begins with the assumption that education in South Africa and Egypt, despite recent political revolutions, has remained a false beacon of hope for the majority of poor youth. This false beacon exists, in part, because schooling has been organized, defined, and measured by Western-framed notions of knowledge and associated approaches to reform (Brock-Utne, 2000; Dixon, 2010; Holdstock, 1987; Said, 1993). Despite growing structural disparities in part due to Western political and imperial relationships, South Africa and Egypt have maintained the exclusionary educational structures that led to the protests both countries are well known for (Herrera & Torres, 2006; Marsh, 2014).

Combining the personal experience of a Black American school principal in Egypt with interviews of two Black South African school principals taken from a larger study on post-apartheid leadership, this paper synthesizes two projects to explore the context of critical multicultural and anti-racist leadership. As a result of dialogue based on our experiences, observations, and work as educators, we situate both nations as having similarly adopted Western approaches to education reform, which has resulted in the reification of education policies and practices that entrench inequities across boundaries of race and class. We argue that an adherence to Western notions of how schools should be organized and led creates a problematic leadership context. We begin by clarifying how Western-framed reform efforts have served and continue to serve as the foundation and benchmark for the national education systems of both nations. Employing a conceptual approach, we place critical multiculturalism in conversation with the concept of interest convergence, ultimately suggesting that anti-racist educational leaders in Egypt and South Africa face contradictory, challenging patterns that limit their perceived efficacy.

In relation to Egypt, we discuss how the defunding and privatization of schooling has resulted in two separate systems that limit the educational opportunities for youth across lines of class. In South Africa, we explore the role that Western-framed reforms have played in stifling the continued struggle against racial and economic apartheid. …

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