It has been over a week since Nelson Mandela’s passing, and the world continues to mourn and pay tribute to the man who fought to end apartheid in South Africa. Of course, Mandela’s legacy will be defined by the values that his life embodied: promoting social justice and eradicating racism. However, it struck me that there are three valuable lessons that we in particular, as school administrators and teachers, can draw from this man and his life.
First, unfortunately the battle against racism is far from over. We are all aware that despite the great strides made, this moral plague continues to infect our society. Sadly, the world of education is not immune. Whether it is on the personal or institutional level, school racism continues to rear its ugly head from time to time. On the personal level, our schools need to maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards any racism in our classrooms. No student should be subjected to physical or verbal mistreatment of any kind, whether it is from a teacher or a fellow classmate. Moreover, instead of just reacting to incidents of racism when they arise, we ought to continue reinforcing the message of racial equality proactively, by creating engaging educational programming. As far as we’ve come, there is still room for improvement in this area.
Institutionally, we must constantly reevaluate our policies to ensure that they reflect a firm commitment to racial equality. This is true on the federal, state, and local level. Are resources allocated with equity? How do decisions get made regarding which districts receive the newest technology, where the best teachers are placed, and which students are offered the most enriching opportunities? Are our educational materials inclusive and accessible to all students? Each community should generate its own checklist to guarantee that it is doing all that it can on the broader, institutional level.
Second, a critical piece of Nelson Mandela’s biography offers valuable guidance to educators, as well. Nelson Mandela sat in prison for nearly thirty years, patiently waiting to realize his dream of ending apartheid. And, upon his release from prison, he continued his life mission, and successfully achieved his goal. We as teachers must be no less patient and no less persistent in pursuing our own educational dreams. Whatever our goals might be for our students, we do them a disservice by looking for the quick-fix. Change is gradual; institutions change slowly, cultures change slowly, and people change slowly. Rather than investing in purported over-night fixes, our time is much better spent analyzing problems with the long term perspective in mind. We must be patient and committed to the long haul if we want to see our vision become a reality.
Finally, the following brief remark of Nelson Mandela should be seared into our consciousness:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Educators carry a weighty burden: caring for the children of our society. It is so easy, even understandable, to get caught up in the bureaucracy of education, the infinite logistical responsibilities that come along with running a classroom. But let us never forget that the manner in which we treat our students reflects our collective and personal values. At the end of the day, our mission is clear: to nurture our children. Our task is to motivate and challenge children, while simultaneously being kind and compassionate.
Ending school racism, holding on to our educational dreams, and caring for our students: this is Nelson Mandela’s legacy for educators. What lessons have you learned from Nelson Mandela and his life? Please share below and join the conversation.