Ideology challenged : aspects of the history of St Columba's high school (1941-1990) and their application to an oral history project in the high-school classroom

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In a number of senses, this dissertation represents something of a challenge to orthodoxy. In the first instance, it breaks with the traditional triumphalist approach to South African school-history writing by attempting to place the history of St Columba's High School within its socio-political context. It examines the nature of its unique ethos, and attempts to trace the complex interaction between this ethos and the external societal pressures it was subject to, especially those generated by the protracted South African political crisis beginning in 1976. In doing so, its historical research component relies, unlike some earlier, pioneering South African works in this field (which might be termed the social history of education) largely upon primary sources, especially oral evidence. In the second place, it investigates the challenge from below, especially on the part of students, to the "official ideology" (or ethos) of St Columba's that developed :from the watershed year of 1976, specifically in the areas of governance, discipline, student representation, politics, and the teaching of history. It finds that, though the traditional authoritarian, hierarchical ethos remained largely intact by the end of the 1980s, it had been modified by pressures on the ground, and that the challenge to achieve a more liberal, participatory dispensation at St Columba's was set to continue into the 1990s, spearheaded now by a committed cohort of teachers. Thirdly, it employs the popular-history technique of oral history both as an appropriate technique for exploring the challenge from below to the official ideology of St Columba's, and as an unorthodox pedagogical strategy in the senior-secondary classroom for deepening students' understanding of the nature of history, improving their attitude towards its study, and developing in them, at least at a rudimentary level, some of the skills of the historian. It describes the implementation of an oral history project in the senior high-school classroom, and concludes that this is a most efficacious way of achieving the desired ends and, indeed, other positive results not anticipated.

Bibliography: p. 164-188.