Friday, November 28, 2014

final academic thoughts

Last week we listened to Anastasia tell her story as an active member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), Mandela's armed resistance when she was a teenage girl. Eloquent, articulate, she spoke of how growing up in the 1980's meant knowing how to strip, clean, and put together an AK-47 blindfolded in 30 seconds, and how to create and throw Molotov cocktails, without being equipped for the peaceful democracy for which fought.

Yesterday we watched a film called 'Promised Land', which opened up controversial discussions about whose responsibility it is to address historical injustices. The topic was land reform. The current situation in South Africa is often likened to land issues in the U.S. around Native American reservations, and students had much to say on the issue. We also encountered a guest speaker named Peter, an Afrikaner who spoke of apartheid as 'separate development'. Students understood the subtleties of language and how obscure language can mask racism.

As we move into Swaziland, students will create a permanent record of their journey in the form of an historical map, outlining their internal transformations overlaid by historical events.

Mathematical Concepts
MC students just finished a debate on the World Trade Organization. What are the arguments for the organization? What are the arguments against? Should there be international rules of trade?  How should they function?

Claudia just finished her economic indicator map for South Africa, delineating the country's mineral wealth. Moving into Swaziland we will learn about the lilangeni, a new currency tied to the Rand. How does an absolute monarchy affect the economy? What is the economics of happiness?

The course will culminate in a sit-down exam outlining topics such as the differences between the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, and the benefits and drawbacks of 'free trade'.

Literature & Composition
The final book of the semester is July's People, by South African author Nadine Gordimer. Written in the 1980's, the novel envisions a post-Apartheid future, turning traditional black/white, servant/employer roles upside down. The third major writing assignment, an analytic essay, involves a thesis workshop, outline class, and extensive peer-editing sessions. To lighten the writing mood, we recently created haikus using the novel as inspiration, digging into the text. Soon we will read short stories aloud to sink into the magic of literature. The semester will end with the Drabble project, a story written in 100 words, no more, no less.

Global Studies
One of the last Global Reflections consisted of an 'apology letter'. Students were able to choose the perspective they were apologizing from, what they were apologizing for, and who they were apologizing to. Below are two letters - one from Hannah L, (Junior, California) writing from herself and the second by Maris B (Junior, Wisconsin) writing as a mother to a daughter.

Dear Africa,

I would like to address the misconceptions I have formed of you, which have stemmed from my former blindness towards the continent. I am sorry that I viewed you as a whole, and did not recognize the individual countries you hold, each unique and rich in culture. "Be prepared to meet many who still see Africa as one large amorphous mass: the Dark Continent..." children have been warned. And that is precisely how I viewed you. I did not consider your complexities, your strengths, or the struggles your people faced. I assumed that you were one extended savannah running from Cape to Cairo, a home to the variety of animals ranging from Morocco to Madagascar, and a stage for the barefoot men in tribal, feathered outfits who chant and stomp their feet to the harsh beat of cow-hide drums.

Your history of hardship, and of perseverance, failed to cross my mind when the topic of "Africa" appeared in conversation or in academia. I have proven the words, "History is simply the events as seen by a particular group, usually the ones with the mightiest pens and the most indelible ink," to be true. I failed to see your side of the story that dates back to the beginning of humankind.

I thought nothing of the effect that colonialism had on you, although it shaped present-day Africa and caused Africans to "cease to dream, to have [their] own vision of happiness and success."

I underestimated the violence that occurred within you; the violence that cut deep into the rough, dark skin of the oppressed. The violence that came out of the mouths of the ignorant, and seeped into the ears of those who were used to the harsh words that were thrown at them. And the violence which blinded those consumed by the idea that the color of skin determined superiority. The violence that was not necessarily seen or heard, yet it existed, and it continues to exist to this day. Although the obstacle of violence stood in their way, your people fought for what they believed was theirs, and never lost hope. Yet I failed to notice as my inexperienced lens white-washed my vision.

Until I studied your history and witnessed the effects of it in everyday life, I was blind. I am sorry that I allowed my preconceived notions to blur out your beauty, and I am sorry that there are people out there who still see you as one large, dark amorphous mass.

Africa, I have one question for you:
What influences a person to form false, preconceived notions?

With love and remorse,


by Maris B, junior, Wisconsin
based on “Bedlam in the Blood” (National Geographic - 07/07) article on malaria in science textbook 

My darling Sofie,

Never has despair gripped my bones the way it does as I watch your little hand twitch and clench beneath the IV's tubes and needle. In the hospital, time seems to come to a stop. Sounds echo off its cavernous white walls and ceilings: ceilings that seem to be made to accommodate beasts much larger than ourselves. You have a window next to your bed with a plastic shade that you can pull up and down with a blue cord. I haven't mastered the contraption, though I yanked at it until a young nurse easily retracted it. I only wanted my girl to see the sinking orange sun. I tried to explain. Grandmother sits in the corner, wordlessly pinning sharp stitches into your loved teddy's leg. I know her heart goes numb. I know her heart grows numb. I have languished at your bedside for five long days. I won't let papa near you. The minute he started using your bednet for catching the slippery silver in the stream, I knew it would bring trouble to our doorstep. But no matter, this is not a letter of excuses, but a letter of apology. Apology for the awful pricks in your blue veins. Apology for the uncomfortable starch sheets, for the putrid smell of vinegar used on the floors, for the coma too.

The only thing I can think is: at least your arms don't ache from holding your panting baby brother at night. At least your legs aren't bruised from struggling with the cast iron pot of water. At least you can sigh into a cotton pillow and let your small body melt into the nested mattress like the lark on the wall paper around the headboard.

I write this letter so when you can't stir up dust with the other children, kicking around the ball, because your foot drags on the grass... when you are denied school because your eyes can't make meaning out of letters, you will still feel the sun on your face and the dirt in your toes. You will still wonder at the Mhbizi roaming the grasslands, the eagle in the sky, the darting fish in the stream, and life will still be large and brilliant and bright.

This is why, my Sofie, I watch the sun setting, knowing one day, if you open your eyes and rise from this bed, you may hear my apology, and in your heart, forgive me.


We pushed our earplugs into our ears, anticipating the grueling noise of rock grinding against rock. Pebbles poured in a stream from one level to the next. Our fluorescent yellow safety vests stood out in contrast to the graphite colored tubes and the cloudy sky, and our breath felt hot against the face masks we donned at the start of the tour. We ascended stairs to become mesmerized by monstrous vats of steaming gray liquid, bubbling and gurgling as it spilled over the edges.

Our science studies most recently took us to Nkomati mine, South Africa's only primary nickel producer. The mining consisted of underground and open field operations; we had the privilege to visit the open field – Pit B. Before the tour, the mining communications director organized presentations for our students about geology, rock engineering, and metallurgy. A fantastic opportunity to learn from our experiences, students grilled the scientists about geothermal gradients, physical stress on rocks, and the societal effects of mining on the surrounding population.

Meanwhile, in “official science class,” our theme song continues, and we have opened our investigation of water issues to problems of water scarcity. Students completed personal water use audits, comparing their water usage in their homestays, at TTS in general, and at home – this activity generated a fruitful discussion. After a brainstorm of all water usage, we ranked the importance of these needs and tried to clarify the relevance of these rankings. As we move into the final part of the semester, we are working to categorize all issues related to water based on their scope and duration – who does this issue affect and why? How long has this issue lasted? How realistic and costly is a solution? Whose responsibility is it to solve the problem?

Adventures in iLife continued: Students examined the quality and worth of active listening skills. An essential part of re-engaging with their lives at home, we practiced listening under various circumstances and challenged ourselves to become increasingly aware of the speaker. This focus on a dedication to hearing others will aid us in sharing our experience with our friends and family at home, by facilitating the sharing of stories, instead of merely the one-sided explanation of the trip. Currently, we are diving into an on-going discussion regarding the maintenance of healthy relationships and setting intentions for the last two weeks of the semester. iLife will take center stage in the last week of the semester, as we open up topics such as reverse culture shock, transitions, searching for passion, and processing the semester as a whole.

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