The lack of educated, or even semi-skilled parents makes life difficult for many young people. they have no-one to guide them. they make their own decisions, not always good ones, and no-one seems to care. they have no real childhood
Some years ago, when i was still a fulltime journalist, the editor called me into his office. “i need a favour,” he said. “the mD wants a piece on an old couple who are to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. they are friends of his parents. Could you try and find an angle that would make the piece publishable?
I am sorry to ask this of you.” Dutifully, the photographer and i went along that afternoon to talk to the old pair. i asked them all the usual humdrum questions: how many children, grandchildren, great grandchildren did they have?” What were the highlights in their life? the old granny answered all the questions: their offspring had done well:
One was a doctor, another a teacher and so on. She had reasons to be proud—but i wasn’t getting ‘good’ copy, so i asked a provocative question: what were the downsides in their life?
Had they ever considered divorce? “not at all,” the granny replied instantly but now the old man responded for the first time: “Divorce?” he said. “never… murder often!” As the truth emerged, the old lady responded irritably.
“you have always been a bad-tempered man,” she told him. “it took me years to house train you!” i joined the laughter her response evoked.
MORE THAN “SCHOOLING”
it struck me later that education is not simply a matter of “schooling”. We learn far more about life than we do either at school or university. regardless of the path we opt to follow, give and take is an essential. those blessed with a university degree may have more options while those who do not have the same opportunities—or whose interests may be more technologically-based—will invariably find a means of earning enough to live on. i have a gardener who comes in once a week to mow the lawn and water the plants. When i needed to replace the fencing, he knew someone who could help.
He brought with him a friend and they worked together till the job was done. A neighbour down the road admired their handiwork and asked them to help him. both young men had dropped out of school at the end of grade six, bored with what they were being taught in an overcrowded classroom. their fathers passed on their skill and took them along when he got “jobs”. this way their skills were passed on to the next generation—home-based education, you might say.
Sadly, there are countless thousands of children in South Africa—the so-called street children—who have no-one who cares about them. they literally live by begging in the streets. in small villages there are beggars who survive purely on the proceeds of soliciting. i was once advised not to give them money because they invariably spend it on a drug called “tik”. in the evenings, the police at the local police station apparently round up the beggars in the main street and let them sleep in the cells at the charge office. in the mornings, they would be given a plate of porridge and a drink and released on to the streets again. What a way to survive.
If one wants to make some progress at school or in prison, one must learn some practical skills. Not everyone can have a university degree.
In the days of the old “apartheid” South Africa, i was one of a group of journalists taken on a tour of the Central Prison in Gauteng. i believe it was a “once off” experience that has never been repeated. i confess i was impressed. there were a number of different workshops where the inmates were being taught various skills: shoe-making, welding, woodwork and so on. it was hoped that when the men were released they would be in a position to earn a living, rather than steal. At the tea interval that day, we were offered refreshments with the inmates in the huge dining hall.
Chance would have it that i was seated next to two huge men: gentle souls, who asked me about myself, just as i asked them about their lives. i eventually asked them the telling question: How had they come to be inmates at Central Prison—a prison then known for hard-line criminals? the response from both was the same: “murder.” both had been found guilty and been condemned to 25 years in jail. i felt a slight chill down the back of my neck but i continued questioning them: What would they do if they were released? they did not answer but one eventually said: “i’d go out and find the second b… who raped my wife and kill him as well.” “Why don’t you try forgiving him?” i suggested. “After all, he was the one who sinned, yet now you are in jail and he is free?” He did not respond but returned to the workshop where he was learning a new trade. i often wonder what became of that man. He must have been freed long ago but our brief conversation often comes back to haunt me. i can only hope that imprisonment helped soften his wounds and that he found peace within himself. i wondered in particular about their wives and how they were coping. Were they able to feed and clothe their children without their jailed husbands’ help? Some 60 years ago, few women had jobs outside the home. their function was simple:
they stayed home to rear their children. the other option was infinitely more appealing and literally thousands of young european women—largely Catholic—fulfilled themselves by becoming religious Sisters. they were to play a vital role in schools, hospitals and social welfare work for many years until the number of vocations dropped. times have changed. the women’s “lib” movement in the early sixties made it easy for all women to find jobs with companies. i was one of them. Convent-educated, i had no difficulty. my school’s reputation preceded me. this brings me back to the question: is our education system living up to its mandate: to prepare our youth for their role in society?
I recently found a torn copy of boys town, the book that told the story of the wonderful priest, father flanagan who took in hundreds of runaway boys and provided them not only with a home—but the chance of a new start. boys town was not fenced. no boy was forced to stay but in exchange for a bed and three meals a day, they had to follow the rules. the place was always full. the youngsters were taught a trade and, at 18, they left with the certain knowledge
that they would always be able to sustain themselves. the world has changed since then and—on the face of it at any rate—every child has the right to education. not all take advantage. i know of instances here in the Karoo, of youngsters who simply drop out. no one bothers to find out why they haven’t turned up. many of the classes accommodate 40 children or more. their parents don’t appear to care. they never had an education so why should they bother? Some get part-time work when crops are sown or harvested. Some drift to locations in the cities, others go knocking at doors in the
hope of finding “a job”—or at least a meal. the lack of educated, or even semi-skilled, parents makes life difficult for many young people. they have no-one to guide them. they make their own decisions, not always good ones, and no-one seems to care. they have no real childhood. the question is: where have all the children gone? not to school, it seems, or even home.