Educational change for queer youth in South African schools

“There is a structural oppression that privileges some and marginalises others. Some people in the education system that are queer, face more problems than society realises,” Francis explained.

Professor Dennis Francis spoke out about the way queer youth are experiencing education in schools.

The Professor in social science at Stellenbosch University and a former Dean of education at the University of Free State focused on the visibility and invisibility of gender sexuality and diversity in South African education.

“The education system doesn’t allow teachers and students to engage on the topic of LGBTQ students in schools.

Teachers are in denial that there are queer students in their schools but cannot speak of it because that is not how they grew up,” said Francis.

“The way the education system is formed within itself is troubling,” said Francis.

He added that what we need is not more knowledge, “what we need is destructive knowledge, what we need is discomforting knowledge and the understanding to put uncertainties and crisis at the center of the learning process.”

 

Prof Dennis Francis speaks about the issues in South African schools affecting queer youth. PHOTO: Marsha Leitch

Prof Dennis Francis speaks about the issues in South African schools affecting queer youth. PHOTO: Marsha Leitch

Francis challenged anti-oppressive education in schools. He wanted people to acknowledge that when they learn something, it becomes difficult to unlearn. “In order to move ahead, we need to recognize where and how they learnt it, change this and unlearn it.

“People perform the knowledge that they were taught and carry that out in their daily lives,” said Francis.

“How do we tell the difference of teaching and learning in higher education and teaching pre-school learners?” he asked. Some of the characteristics were that teachers would be prepared and communicate well but where is the destructive knowledge in all of this, he said.

“Heterosexuality is normalized and made compulsory in schools.” Students today are not taught to be open about who they are when they’re in a school environment.

He referred to gender neutral bathrooms for men and women as an example. He studies this because “it’s really where oppression becomes invisible. Men’s and women’s bathrooms are the same size but men have cubicles and urinals to use whereas women have cubicles with doors they can lock.

He expresses how young queer students in schools should “walk in their truth.”

Prof Dennis Francis answering questions from the audience on his study. PHOTO: Marsha Leitch

Prof Dennis Francis answering questions from the audience on his study. PHOTO: Marsha Leitch

Blaine Van Wyk (25) from Paarl, a masters student in political science at Stellenbosch University said: “How do the parents get involved with something such as education for queer students as they also have a part to play in this?”

Francis said: “Parents are part of the whole spectrum of change. It is important for them to understand what destructive knowledge means so that they too, can engage with their children.”

Adrian Bothma (23) from Mitchell’s Plain, a post-graduate education student said: “I thoroughly enjoyed this discussion. Working in a school at the moment in an environment where LGBTQ students are not spoken of, makes it challenging to teach sometimes. This lecture has opened my mind on the notion destructive knowledge.”

Francis said that schools should undergo training for the improvement of the education for queer students in schools. “Teaching about gender and sexuality in schools will be the destructive knowledge acquired to teach students,” said Francis.

His lecture was based on his book called Troubling the Teaching and Learning of Gender and Sexuality Diversity in South African Education.Marsha Leitch

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