By Bonny Ibhawoh,
I have just finished reading an interesting and compelling essay by a graduate student on the link between the challenges in public education and the prospects for reconstruction in post-conflict societies. Focusing on post-genocide Rwanda, the essay sought to answer questions about the causes of identity-based violence, the role of historical narratives in producing identities, and the role that schooling can play in mitigating the power of divisive identities and narratives in post-conflict societies. The student argues that exposure to multiple historical narratives and the teaching of critical thinking skills is essential to mitigating the power of any single historical narrative. One part of the essay in particular caught my eye:
Schools have been sites for the dissemination of propaganda, for the cementing of divisive identities and politics, for the repression of dissent and for the carrying out of atrocities. Before the 1994 Rwandan genocide, for example, it was common for students to learn about ethnic divisions from their teachers. Many children arrived at school not knowing their ethnicity, but, because the government collected data on this through the schools, children were required to know and state their ethnicity in front of the class: “The teacher told us we were not the same: he compared our heights and noses. Then our class was divided: long noses on one side, flat noses on the other. We had not been aware of our ethnic identity… but after this incident we no longer played together with banana leaf footballs” (in Hodgkin, “Reconciliation in Rwanda: Education, History and the Stat,” Journal of International Affairs, p.201).
It is, for me, a reminder that schools and institutions of learning have historically been complicit in genocides and mass murderer. The more reasons why we much all pay to close attention not only to school curricula but also to the agendas and orientations of those who teach in our schools.