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  • Realising the Dream: unlearning the logic of race in the South African school by Crain Soudien
  • Mark Hunter (bio)
Crain Soudien ( 2012) Realising the Dream: unlearning the logic of race in the South African school. Cape Town: HSRC Press

Realising the Dream is a powerful and much needed monograph that adds significantly to what is still a relatively small number of book-length studies of education in South Africa.

At its heart, the book brings a detailed examination of educational desegregation into tension with a theoretically rich study of ‘race’. Soudien is intensely critical of ‘race’ being employed in ways that reiterate the naturalness of the category, but also of attempts to deny the significance of race. As suggested by the subtitle ‘unlearning the logic of race,’ the author sees such a project as ‘central to our becoming fully human’ (2012:7). But in its concrete study of educational changes the book shows how schools, parents, and schoolchildren reproduce and sometimes rework issues of race on a daily basis.

Here, the author is armed with perhaps unmatched empirical work based on many years of intensive research (and of course the chairing of the Soudien committee inquiry launched in March 2008 after a video showing a racist incident at the University of the Free State became public). Readers are therefore expertly steered through interviews with schoolchildren and teachers and existing studies of education, including some unpublished work not widely cited.

The book has 10 chapters, the first three engaging with key scholars on race, notably Paul Gilroy, David Goldberg, and Stuart Hall. This is something of a tour-de-force. Chapter 2 includes a discussion of the enlightenment and the question of ‘Why biological notions of race remain so resolutely the basis of modern social explanation of what makes human beings different’ [End Page 138] (54). Chapter 3 moves on to the legacy of colonial models of formal education, and resistances against inferior education.

Chapter 4 turns its attention to South Africa’s history of fragmented schooling. Soudien traces the emergence of post-apartheid policy marked by an integrated single educational system and yet a greater dependence on fees. As he argues, ‘Central in this compromise was the agreement to leave intact many features of the old system …’ (112). By drawing attention to the powers schools acquired (in Governing Bodies) he is critical of David Goldberg’s state-centred race theory saying ‘the principle at the core of the new state’s governance arrangements is that of decentralisation. This decentralisation is at once a project for democracy and but also a mechanism for the management of racialization and racial difference’ (121).

Chapters 5 and 6 explore desegregation in schools, looking at the early history of this in church schools and making a useful distinction in public schools between ‘aggressive assimilationism’, ‘assimilationism by stealth’ and ‘benign assimilationism’. The chapters also explores how class can supplant race as a means of determining the social character of schools, in that white and Indian schools in poorer areas desegregated much quicker than those in higher-income areas.

Chapter 7 takes up in more detail the question of privilege in schools. White South Africans, he argues, can sometimes be brought up with a sense that they might leave the country, and the black middle class has on the whole embraced suburban life and English-medium education. Chapter 8 considers this more from the perspective of interviews with children, and chapter 9 returns to the iniquitous schooling system that results from this legacy and the movement of children into higher-status schools.

Realising the Dream is a thorough and authoritative discussion of educational changes in post-apartheid South Africa, one centered not only on policy but acts of race-thinking. Given its already significant ambitions, it would be unfair to ask it to do more. That said, one relevant area not considered in detail in the book is the changing world of work. Clearly, the decline of industrial work and rise of service jobs, to use this example, affects the turn to English, a prominent theme in the book. The labour market also sets limits on class mobility through schooling; when it booms for instance...


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pp. 138-140
Launched on MUSE
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