Neil Aggett was 28 when he was found hanging from the bars of the steel grille in his cell in Security Police headquarters in Johannesburg on 5 February 1982. He was the 51st detainee, and the first white person, to die in apartheid detention.
The death of this quiet, intense young doctor who worked as an unpaid trade unionist, provoked a huge outcry. Thousands of black workers followed his coffin through Johannesburg, declaring him a ‘man of the people’ murdered by the police.
'We read what we are' or 'we are what we read'? As readers, we come to books not as culturally neutral, but with ready-made lenses. Yet the claim is made that books can sometimes change our ways of seeing.
This is the story of a year in an English class where all the literature read by the 13/14 year old white students was written from perspectives strongly indicting racism. At the same time, the students had drama lessons, sessions with visitors - especially black artists - and exposure to social context material, all aimed at extending empathy, challenging perceptions, and stimulating critical thinking. This account of the students' responses offers new insights into education about issues of racial justice and includes questions of gender.
Beverley Naidoo's choices for the programme of study, her 'readings' of the pupils' responses and her analyses of overt and institutionalised racism make this book an illuminating contribution to that wider and more profound debate about 'reading standards' where values assert their importance over statistics. A fascinating story told with the novelist's eye for detail and in immaculate prose.
Dr Michael Benton, School of Education, University of Southampton, UK
Definitely a 'must' for secondary teachers of language, Social Studies and PSE, and for every teacher trainee...and as much for multicultural Europe as for multicultural England... The book is packed with practical and realistic suggestions for teaching about the sensitive issues of racism and for dealing with unacceptable racial bigotry in acceptable ways. It offers a wide variety of learning activities and never patronises teenagers, highlighting universal issues - and in ways that will make sense to any student.
Dr Bill Taylor, School of Education, University of Exeter, UK
Published at the same time as Journey to Jo’burg, this booklet, which you can download here, was based on a study of non-fiction books about South Africa in British schools and libraries in the early 1980s. It was a ‘revelation’, said the Education Guardian.
Censoring Reality uses a fictional schoolgirl’s search for information for a class project to analyse the image of South Africa being presented in her sources. Most of the commonly used non-fiction books were misleading. Some openly reflected racist language and perceptions. Others omitted half the picture, including encyclopaedias. The apartheid government’s propaganda was skilful and far-reaching.
With a wealth of illustrations – words and pictures from newspapers, books, government documents, interviews and advertisements – [the book] guides teacher, child, and a general reader towards a set of critical criteria we must all learn to use when judging material. The tone is calm and practical, the effect painful and shaming – but illuminating.
The word in the heart is drawn out by talking.
Occasionally I give voice to matters that concern me in articles and talks or by contributing to books with other writers. You can read a selection by clicking on the titles.
What Would Anne Frank Have Said? TES, 19 May 2000. I wrote this after a British Council author visit to the West Bank and Gaza.
‘Who Will Wake Justice Up?’ TES, 9 November 2001. My account of a British Council author visit to Jordan.
Out of Bounds: ‘Witness Literature’ and the Challenge of Crossing Racialised Boundaries. My speech at the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Congress, Cape Town, 8 September 2004.
Inside Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, The Guardian, 16 December 2009. I wrote this after meeting innocent children locked up in Britain.
Little by little, the tortoise arrived at the Indian Ocean.
Introduction to Making it Home: Real-life stories from children forced to flee. Personal stories told by children from Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Liberia, Sudan and Burundi. All royalties go to the International Rescue Committee whose workers helped to collect the stories.
‘Granny was a Gambler’ in Bonnie Christensen (compiler/illustrator) In My Grandmother’s House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers.
‘A Writer’s Journey: Retracing The Other Side of Truth’ in Heather Montgomery & Nicola J Watson Children’s Literature: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends
Introduction to Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis
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