It's too important not to
Hi Carel. I’m Ian.
We got off to a terrible start. Partly my fault.
First, anyone who has run that perilous road between Durban and ‘Maritzburg has my Camaraderie and respect. Perhaps I’ll see you at the start line in August. Add to the running your apparent love for English, and we may not be quite as different as our written engagement suggests.
I’d like to bury the hatchet. Start over, better. I think we can row in the same direction on this important matter.
By way of introduction for the reader, last week I authored an open letter/petition that did two things. First, it expressed concern over a new raft of policies on race, gender and sex at a school in Johannesburg, St. Stithians. That’s my alma mater, for better or worse. The policy update was announced in a newsletter out of the office of the head of the St. Stithians Girls’ College, Sally James, on 13 April 2022. Second, it posed 16 questions to Sally and the school. These pressed on some basics about the policymaking process, theoretical foundations and safeguards around implementation.
Carel responded with a post on Facebook. I haven’t met him, but I see he has a long and distinguished relationship with the school. For instance, he is a fellow alum and a former chair of important leadership bodies. More important to me as a fanatical runner, he has completed the 89km Comrades Marathon. I know what that takes. It is a special thing.
To read each of our documents, you’d think we are irretrievably opposed in multiple keystone ways. I don’t think that’s the case. I will attempt to demonstrate this below by noting where we are in agreement, and clarifying precisely where we are not. I will reiterate exactly what I am asking for: information that I submit ought to be public as a starting point to evaluate novel and sweeping changes to policies that have an undeniably major impact on the lives of youngsters.
Below I present Carel Nolte’s (CN) quotes from his post, followed by my (IM) novel responses. I have attempted not to alter his meaning through my cropping of Carel’s text. But check me on this. Both relevant documents are available in full. See links for IM’s original open letter/petition and for CN’s full Facebook post.
Carel says the letter “mainly” concerns “the decision by the College to welcome a transgender student into the Girls College.”
The petition doesn’t raise this particular decision. That was by design. It exclusively asks about the policymaking process, what informs them and how they are implemented. Most of the questions are essentially boring governance matters. Essential ones. The decision you mention is something that would be impacted by all of this. It is an outcome. I am interested in the roots. I also know nothing about the particular case. I make no comment on it, other than to say that the child in question deserves all the love, privacy and care that all kids do.
“Why choose a petition to enter into a debate?”
An open online discussion seems an excellent way to debate this. It’s certainly more efficient and inclusive than limiting it to a physical presence at a sanctioned workshop or committee meeting.
Your stated endorsement of open debate of competing ideas doesn’t jigsaw with your criticism of the platform I chose. I say debate these things freely, wherever works. I cannot agree with your argument that the workshops, announcements etc. have been sufficient and that further debate should go through similar channels only. Perhaps you’ll concede on that.
If there is another suitable arena where you will commit to engaging on these questions, please advise. I’ll attempt to participate and extend the invitation to the 340-plus signatories to the petition.
“Please don’t claim to represent the St Stithians community”
Absolutely. The letter specifically says that it represents the views of the signatories. Nothing more or less. I can only speculate on how many more endorse the petition. So I won’t. There are as many stances on this as there are members of the Saints community. My sense is that you are disregarding those expressed in the petition. Is that an fair assessment?
“Making the issue personal and referring to Sally James is interesting. For the record, it is Dr Sally James, one of the smartest, most caring, deep thinking, considerate and qualified educators around.”
The policy came out of Sally’s office. Her name and signature are on the newsletter. It would be very odd not to address it to her, don’t you think? It’s not personal. It’s ex officio.
I’m unsure why you refer to Sally’s qualifications and nature. I would assume them to be exemplary. But I don’t know her. That’s why I didn’t bring them up. You seem to suggest smart, educated and caring people are partially exempt from answering hard questions directed at them by virtue of the office they hold.
As for the honorific, I just don’t use those. I call my doctor Dave. I don’t mean any malice in that. I merely find titles unhelpful in a discussion. Their suggestion of some intellectual superiority is unfounded and distracting.
“Labelling this as a St Stithians issue is disingenuous.”
It certainly would have been. I agree this is a global issue. Schools everywhere are grappling with it. I just happen to have asked the questions of Saints, given it is the school I have some connection with, albeit very distant now. I assumed the custodians would have been eager to answer the questions and engage further. It often feels like the D in DIE (diversity, inclusion and equity) is only a very thin slice of diversity of opinion, which ends abruptly and with a thud.
“Talking on behalf of the (Methodist) Church, and misrepresenting Christian views held by many, is perhaps problematic.”
I agree it would be deeply problematic. Wrong. Religion is mentioned once in the petition. Purely to ask if religious views are being suitably dealt with.
You’ve also made a leap to Christianity. As far as I know, atheists, Muslims and more are welcome at Saints. Is that the case? I was never threatened in my five years there for being an ardent atheist. I simply respected that I had no right to interfere with anyone else’s religion or the chosen theology of an institution. That worked fine. Pretty much a banal contractual issue. “You do you,” sort of thing.
“Staff training and workshops have been taking place including a whole school staff discussion at the beginning of the year.”
I’m aware there have been workshops. The questions are about things like the literature used to inform these workshops and the time demands they place on staff. Do you find those unreasonable things to ask? If so, why?
This speaks to a theme in the petition: opportunity costs. Teachers are being made to spend a great deal of time on race, gender and sex. I’m told there is often no pay for this. I fear it detracts from their core task of excellent teaching.
To the extent teachers have duties beyond academic ones, there is also an opportunity cost. For instance, a good teacher knows how to detect signs of Asperger’s syndrome in a pupil. He ought to then inform the parents, who can seek assistance from appropriate professionals. This sort of duty appears to be swamped by a monopolistic focus on race, gender and sex. But I don’t know for sure. That’s why I ask the question.
“An individual, such as the transgender learner, must be treated as the gender by which they sincerely identify, even if an application in terms of the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act 49 of 2003 for the alteration of their sex description in the birth register has neither been granted nor made (See: September v Subramoney NO 2019 (4) All SA 927 (WCC) and KOS v Minister of Home Affairs 2017 (6) SA 588 (WCC))”
As above, my interest is in establishing only the things I asked. The words were chosen carefully. I won’t say much about the legality. Only that if you apply the rule you outline above, it reduces to dangerous absurdity very rapidly. And that I don’t believe this has been as thoroughly tested in the courts as you suggest.
I hope I’ve done my job above. Can we shake on it (digitally)?
I know 16 questions is a lot. But I’d like to add just one more. Why is there reticence to answer the questions? Refusal may be a better word. I’m told the school has decided it will not engage on them. Very simply: why?