S. Africans on Write Track
US program teaches black teachers how to encourage self-expression
'WRITE from your heart," Bernadette Mosala told her high school students on her first day back in Johannesburg. "Write about your experience because there is no point in writing what you do not know about."And that is exactly what they did. The students wrote about their personal lives, families, and tribes. One student footnoted his essay: "This material has not been processed. It is from my own personal experience as a member of the tribe." Ms. Mosala hopes to liberate and enliven her classroom by allowing her students to tell their own stories on paper. She told her students, "You don't come up with your best art if you are intellectualizing." Along with nine other South African teachers and 12 American teachers, Mosala learned her new teaching philosophy this past July while participating in the Andover-Bread Loaf Urban Teachers Writing Workshop at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. The Andover-Bread Loaf program emerged from the Bread Loaf School of English, a graduate division of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt. Louis Bernieri, chairman of the Phillips Academy English department and a 1980 Bread Loaf graduate, founded the summer program five years ago. He says the Bread Loaf program focuses on writing because it is the core of all education. The Andover program was originally for inner-city teachers and is based on a concept of "democracy in the classroom." "What we are doing is getting away from the idea that curriculum should be handed down from the top," Mr. Bernieri says. "Our whole idea is that the teachers themselves and the students should work together to construct curriculum." The first few days of the program are spent giving the teachers confidence as writers. "When you get people - adults or kids - to believe that they are writers there is a transformation, and they won't stop writing," Bernieri says. "It is infectious both to the person and the group." And the confidence to write is exactly what black South Africans need, according to Temba Maqubela, a Phillips Academy teacher who is originally from South Africa. Mr. Maqubela says he and his wife, Vuyelwa, headed the campaign to get South African teachers to participate in the program because the educational system for black South Africans does not give them a voice to share their experiences. "Our history has to be written by our people.... We have gone through so much pain and have had so much history, but all the historians are white South Africans. The reason for that is the type of education our people receive does not give them the confidence to feel that they have a story to share." The classroom has traditionally been far removed from a black South African's daily life, Mrs. Maqubela says, but these teachers now have a way of tying in the children's experiences with learning. "The kids are now going to write about their lives and what has touched them." Mrs. Maqubela says she was educated in South Africa in a "very textbook style" and later taught 12th-grade English in Johannesburg with the same "rigid" teaching format, because she did not know there was another way. "Basically what has been happening in South Africa, up till now, is kids have to memorize and reproduce, memorize and reproduce," Mrs. Maqubela says. South African classrooms are visited by education officials in the government, who ensure the teachers are "doing it right." THE Maqubelas were introduced to the Bread Loaf program three summers ago after Mr. Maqubela came to Phillips Academy to teach science. The first time they were exposed to the program they decided, "This has to go home." She says, "We felt this workshop was key for South Africans, because they have to know there is another way of effective learning." She wanted to bring American and South African teachers together to give South African teachers "a chance to go out and experience something different than the oppressive state in South Africa." "The changes that have happened are lip service; a political freedom is not freedom at all. I came to grasp skills to be able to implement them back home," says Deborah Pelle, a high school English teacher from Johannesburg. Her reformed approach to teaching includes reclaiming the classroom by allowing her students to be creative and express their views, something Ms. Pelle says is not normally done in black South African schools. Noleen Kgosikoma teaches her native tongue, Setswana, to 10th- and 12th-graders in Bophutatswana. She says Bread Loaf taught her a new method of teaching that stresses valuable writing skills and how to encourage people to write for themselves. The teachers spent the month listening to presentations given by Andover-Bread Loaf faculty and guest speakers. The talks addressed a number of topics, including South African and black American literature and acting as a means for understanding Shakespeare. They also met a few times a week with students from the Lawrence (Mass.) High School, who were at the Andover program for a summer writing workshop, to write and read their work aloud. THE South African teachers were chosen and funded by the United States South Africa Leadership Exchange Program (USSALEP), an organization aimed at helping black South Africans. USSALEP representative Lynnette Soudien says Phillips Academy approached the group about working collaboratively in raising funds and acting as the initial contact point with their Johannesburg office. Ms. Soudien says USSALEP felt the program is "exceptionally worthwhile." "If it has worked here with inner-city children who have had no hope of ever breaking through that barrier of learning, then it will work in South Africa," Soudien says. The Andover-Bread Loaf program is "highly replicable; it's a grass-roots kind of education that can go through institutions," Bernieri says. He hopes the South African teachers will start their own institution where they can train their teachers and students. Ten more teachers will attend the program next year, and in 1993 a conference is planned in Johannesburg for all the South African teachers who have attended the Andover program, along with the teachers they have passed the Bread Loaf philosophy on to in South Africa. Mosala, Pelle, and several other teachers have already begun workshops with their colleagues. The teachers will need support from their administrators back in South Africa, Mrs. Maqubela says. "The timing is just right," she says. "If the government is committed like they say they are to effecting some changes and programs in the black community ... then they should support this." "It is an exciting time because they [the teachers] have a chance to forge a new educational vision and agenda," Bernieri says.