Soudien talks on the city, good citizenship and education

23 September 2002
PROFESSOR Crain Soudien of the School of Education brought together his academic interests in the history of Cape Town, the sociology of education, race, class and gender, and policy shifts in education to talk on The city, citizenship and education in his inaugural lecture in September.

Casting aside the idea of the "perfect city" – a once popular motif in literature and philosophy – he opted for the city "in its messy, fetid and combustive guise". He looked specifically at the place of education within the city, and at how it produces a sense of place and belonging in young people.

The city is the pre-eminent space around which the modern struggle for survival and for self-fulfilment is unfolding, even for the rural young, Soudien said. Education in the city allocates to people their social positions as "gendered, racialised and classed subjects", he added. Soudien argued that education is not only important in the making of social class within the city, but is also critical to the way it works. "It is the essential commodity for obtaining economic, political and social advantage."

Education, it has been argued, serves a number of purposes, he continued. It can either be seen as a period of preparation for young people taking up their rightful places as citizens within a democracy or, self-contradictory, places where the dominant messages of the society are often confirmed and reproduced but sometimes also challenged. Soudien pointed out that during the long years of the disenfranchisement of people classified as coloured and African in Cape Town, it was the teaching community that strove to teach the ideals of civic-mindedness and citizenship. He noted that many organisations and individuals – like the Teachers' League of South Africa and IB Tabata of the Non-European Unity Movement – developed a range of formal and non-formal educational initiatives that "sought to promote a counter-official consciousness and understanding of what it meant to be a citizen of Cape Town".

Of concern today is what schools and universities should be teaching young people to enable them to live productive and fulfilled lives in the new city, he posed. "Should their education be about rights and duties, or in its more sophisticated form, as feminism and radical multiculturalism is telling us, about how power works in society? Or should they rather learn the skills, or as people like Bell Hooks* say, the "master's tools", which will enable them to operate within the corridors of power?

"To do both – teaching on the one hand, that which is important for young people's dignity, and, on the other, high-skills knowledge – we need to teach in such a way that our children understand the politics of the knowledges which we are holding up as important," he noted in closing. "We need them to understand that all knowledge, even that which we believe to be crucial for their feelings of self-worth, is open to critique."
* She prefers her name without capitals, but for the sake of clarity, we have used the standard capitals for the proper nouns.

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