The Elephant in the Room

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brianvds (October 26, 2019, 08:30:54 AM):
I have long wanted to write this post, and have long been reluctant to do so, for reasons that will become obvious. My trigger here is the mini-discussion in the Shoutbox about SA's educational standards.

Well, I have been a math and science teacher myself, and I can tell you why the standards have dropped so low: it's the only way these poor darlings will stand any chance at all to pass matric (and even so, they mostly fail or scrape through!) That question in which they have to use a ruler to measure a line on the paper is actually quite appropriate, because in my personal experience, a very large percentage of South Africans can not, in fact, use a ruler to measure anything. Or use one to draw a straight line, for that matter. Ask them to draw, say, a grid on a piece of paper, with cells of 1 cm square each? I bet you the bulk of our matriculants will not be able to do it. Some years ago I bought a piece of hardboard from a hardware store to use for art; I asked them to cut it exactly in half. The technician couldn't do it: he didn't know how to divide the piece of board into two sections of equal size. Ask the average South African matriculant to follow written instructions, and he cannot do it. Ask him to write a note in such a way that someone else can understand what he wrote, and he cannot do it. Ask him to neatly draw and cut some shapes out of a piece of paper with a pair of scissors, and he cannot do it either - our average matriculant can, quite literally, not pass a kindergarten test of basic skills.

It's not just STEM stuff either. Nowadays I give weekly art lessons at a local private school, and I see the same thing: fine motor skills years behind where they should be at the pupils' age, a total inability to focus, a virtual absence of the most basic decent manners or ambition or willingness to work, a complete, utter, total lack of self-confidence. It's our national matric results disaster already in the making, at primary school level.

And now for the promised elephant in this room, that nobody wants to talk about because doing so might actually earn you a prison sentence in this country. The above mentally deficient folks all have this in common: they're all black South Africans. There, I've said it. It is not that South Africans are stupid and incompetent. It's black South Africans that are stupid and incompetent.

I can forgive the reader if he now jumps to the conclusion that I must be a racist. But no, read on! Read my above paragraph carefully: I did not say blacks. Or Africans. I said, specifically, black South Africans. And I say this because every time I meet one of the many immigrants from the rest of Africa that we have here, I am struck by their intelligence, competence, literacy, knowledge, quiet confidence and industriousness. Quite frankly, they make most white South Africans look rather average by comparison. They make black South Africans look like freaking imbeciles. Remember that hardware store technicians I mentioned above? I have noticed that in the local hardware stores they nowadays mostly employ immigrants from up north: these folks have no problem at all with doing mental arithmetic, or measuring things, or neatly cutting them.

The guy who does the plumbing here where I live is an immigrant from Zimbabwe. When he started out on a few years ago, he worked alone and carried his tools by hand. Now he owns a vehicle and runs a small company, employing several people. Now go to any high school in Mamelodi, take a look at their matric classes, and ask yourself how many of those kids could even begin to duplicate this feat. For that matter, how many lily-white matriculants in Waterkloof High could do it?

So no. Whatever the Dan Roodts of this world will have us know, it has zilch to do with race as such. There is something in the culture of South Africans, but specifically black South Africans, that is sabotaging our entire future. I have some ideas as to what it is, but I'd like to get some input from other members here (particularly black ones, if we have any).

We're on a sinking ship, and I am tired of rearranging the deck chairs while trying my best to ignore the obvious. Well, who knows: perhaps I'll be arrested next week and publicly crucified, and we can go on pretending like we cannot see what is right in front of our eyes.

What say you?
Mefiante (October 26, 2019, 10:30:56 AM):
A sobering and simultaneously frightening piece, Brian.

Two thoughts:
(1) Regarding the apparently superior capabilities of black immigrants in SA, it should be borne in mind that there’s a filtering bias inherent in the situation. The people that immigrate into SA from elsewhere in Africa typically hope to improve their lot in life, and clearly have the personal drive to do so. Thus, they already have an edge on our locals in terms of potentially realising success by way of their ambition and the motivation to do what’s needed. It might be a fairer comparison to look at the local success and local competency rates between SA and, say, Nigeria with due regard for the factors that promote and/or impede success.

(2) Over the past 25 years, the ANC government has actively bred a culture of dependency in SA. Each month, almost 17-million social grants are paid out among a population of around 55-million, where the nominal income tax base numbers 21-million taxpayers but only 6.4-million exceed the tax threshold. On the surface, all those social grants look like a laudable initiative; and indeed it’s hard to argue that the principal idea behind them—i.e., to assist people in dire straits—is not an admirably humane one.

However, as with most everything the ANC government touches, the implementation is an abysmal cesspit. For one thing, there’s the patently false assumption that the situation of social grant recipients is for the most part temporary because the meagreness of the grant amounts will prompt them to seek more gainful work, at which point the grant will fall away. Almost two decades’ history puts paid to any illusions on that front.

For another, grant recipients aren’t expected to deliver any quid pro quo whatsoever for the money they are given. Where are the menial work programmes the government could have implemented to avoid inculcating the expectation that money will be dispensed for no reciprocal effort and in perpetuity? Even just a few hours of simple unskilled work a week could have two major benefits. First, basic skills training and/or further education for the neediest would be eminently easy to integrate into such programmes, and second, they would shoo away the paternalistically stultifying idea that the state will just hand out freebies with no questions asked.

I use the example of social grants as the most glaring example of how the ANC government has failed the SAn people, and also because they have a more sinister political side, namely they are—unofficially, of course—wielded as a cudgel to keep people voting for the ANC, despite its manifold, manifest failures. Several other examples where the government deliberately fosters and nurtures the public’s dependency on its purported magnanimity are not hard to find.

And this culture of dependency is diabolically insidious for the simple reason that it very quickly becomes self-sustaining: Keep foisting it on the people to the point where their capabilities are so diminished that they can’t help themselves anymore because they don’t know any different.

The gist of it is that this country’s future has been sold down the river on the back of political expediency, and I, too, doubt that it can be fixed.

brianvds (October 26, 2019, 11:39:11 AM):
(1) Regarding the apparently superior capabilities of black immigrants in SA, it should be borne in mind that there’s a filtering bias inherent in the situation.

Yes, it did occur to me, and I'm sure it plays a role, as indeed it probably in all immigration. It's likely been part of the U.S.' huge success.

(2) Over the past 25 years, the ANC government has actively bred a culture of dependency in SA.

And yes again. You are certainly correct in all the points you made with regard to this. But it seems to me the problem is even bigger and deeper. I can't quite put my finger on it. But the kids I taught were after all not the children of welfare recipients; they were all middle class kids whose parents could afford the private schools at which I taught. They too displayed this learned helplessness.

I did learn that parental involvement or lack of it plays a big role in whether kids progress at school or not. I don't know if that is all there is to it. But there is something profoundly wrong in our society, and it seems to me this rabbit hole is even deeper than we think.

Hopefully some other members will share their thoughts, if they have not already completely given up on the situation.

On another forum I am currently battling it out over the issue of "cultural appropriation." Will it never end, one wonders...

BoogieMonster (October 26, 2019, 23:53:30 PM):
I have travelled elsewhere in Africa and can only say while I saw poverty that would make the poorest of South Africans blush. The kind of shit that is literally killing people out of starvation. I saw cleaner streets, friendlier hardier better people with more self respect and dignity than you're likely to ever find in places like Alex... a squatter camp arguably built on some of the most valuable real estate in all of Africa. It is eye opening.

So no, I don't think it's just a filter. It occurred to me that maybe when people have seen real war, real genocide, real violent oppression even... that their sense of perspective and their drive to create a better world is sharpened. When they starve, nobody comes around in a limo throwing money at them. They just starve.

I'm reminded once again (because in this country I am almost daily) of a quote by Milton Friedman that actually predicts this kind of thing...

Category IV [BM: iow welfare] spending tends also to corrupt the people involved. All such programs put some people in a position to decide what is good for other people. The effect is to instill in the one group a feeling of almost God-like power; in the other, a feeling of childlike dependence. The capacity of the beneficiaries for independence, for making their own decisions, atrophies through disuse. In addition to the waste of money, in addition to the failure to achieve the intended objectives, the end result is to rot the moral fabric that holds a decent society together

I have long felt that what you're seeing here is not just ineptitude by the ANC government. I think it goes far, FAR deeper than that. I think these are the INEVITABLE results of socialism and it's underlying philosophical drivers. When you concentrate power, this is what happens. You can draw a line from A to B to C to D. It all falls into place and most annoyingly these are the very things rich entitled western socialists will claim ARE NOT TRUE. But, to me, everything Mefi says reads to me as a script of what one (fucking halfway literate and logical person, you'd hope) would EXPECT to happen. I don't think the system results from it's evil overlords. I think those evil overlords are created and allowed to flourish because the system (or, put another way, the philosophical machinations that create the system) is predisposed to this and the twentieth century is littered with bodies across the entire planet as proof, and yet people STILL don't believe it.

That drives me bonkers. I don't get it. You wanna take some people and shake them. But, it is in vain, the powers that be abuse the bleeding heart to enact slow brutal violence.

This is but one side effect, and it's fucking brutal if you pardon my french.

If only 7% of matriculants can pass a gr 2 (imho) basic math test if they have 2 YEARS to prepare for it. I dunno how you even begin to turn that around. I mean I'd almost expect better numbers from dolphins. Ramamparra wants to build high tech cellphone factories and wax lyrical about the 4th industrial revolution, when we've regressed back past the 1st in the wrong direction.

There are only two ways to interpret that: It's a deliberate lie or delusion run amok.
brianvds (October 27, 2019, 06:02:34 AM):
I once temporarily taught at a school in Pretoria's city centre. The principal and owner was one Mrs. Malema, which perhaps should tell you all you need to know. :-)

Anyway, the school was a veritable stereotype of inner city decay. First day I walked into a classroom: desks and chairs strewn everywhere, kids sitting around on the floor, on the desks, standing in little groups chatting. In one little huddled group, some were gambling with dice. And on the one wall, the word FUCK written in chalk.

I had my work cut out for me. It was impossible to get them to do any work at all, so eventually I just chatted with them about life, the universe and everything. I was genuinely curious: why don't they pay any attention to their school work? They told me quite seriously that soon the EFF would be in power, after which they would all receive a house and a car, and thus, they did not need to do any work. I later found out that the reason why the school needed me so urgently was because the previous teacher left, after one of the pupils had brutally assaulted her. Apparently Mrs. Malema actually laughed about the whole incident.

All pretty shocking, and perhaps an inevitable outcome of poverty? But here's the curious thing: these kids were not poor. They all came from middle class background, living more privileged lives than most other people on this continent. They all had cell phones more expensive than anything I could ever afford. They were all dressed in the latest fashion.

What I did notice among them was not so much financial poverty, as a sort of poverty of spirit. They may have been middle class financially, but they were also clearly low class scum. Supporting political policies that will dump them straight back into the poverty in which their parents probably grew up.

It's not just the politicians: half of this country's people seem to be living in a fantasy world of their own creation, in which, if they just hang in there and support the right politicians, they will soon enjoy the high life without ever having to work at all.

I saw that illustrated in another school. I asked the kids about what they wanted to do as careers. Almost all of them had rather unrealistic expectations of being doctors and lawyers and engineers and so on; unrealistic given that even at primary school level, they were barely scraping through, or failing and just being put through.

But one kid's answer struck me as particularly instructive. He wanted to be a businessman, he told me. Ah, I said. Buying and selling things; there's a future in that. He was shocked and scandalized by my complete misunderstanding of what it means to be a businessman. No, he said. That's not it at all. He's going to sit at his desk with his feet up, while the secretary brings him coffee.

Another middle class kid. This one admittedly still in primary school, where one cannot expect too much of a realistic worldview. Him and his brother both quite intelligent, and both barely scraping through because neither was actually interested in anything at all, or had any real ambition, or any sense of personal pride.

At the time I was science teacher, and tried hard to make things a bit more interesting than the boring crap in the textbooks. To no avail: these kids were interested in nothing at all. One day I put life, limb and career on the line, and prepared a batch of gunpowder in class. Half of the class listlessly stared into the middle distance as it spectacularly burned. The other half did what they always did: used it as opportunity for a quick bit of mayhem.

I got political, and explained to them that this unassuming black powder was a significant reason why politics in South Africa turned out the way it did, and indeed, it played a major role in world politics. Alas, no reaction, no interest. Poverty of spirit.

You do not see this in Africans anywhere else. You see it in some white kids, but not many. It's a black South African thing. And, judged by what I read, strangely enough also a black American thing.

I don't know what causes it or how to address it. But at the moment, we are not anywhere near addressing it, because all our leaders are still firmly stuck in the denial phase.


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