One of the clearest memories I have of my high school experience goes something like this: I was sitting in class with my history notebook hanging off the table and somewhat sitting on my lap, with the backbone of the book resting on the school desk.
I was in Form 1. We had a visiting student teacher, who was taking us for history class as part of his school required internship – Mr. Mogalakwe. He was a brilliant historian even then. Having already established an interest in history myself, it was one of the few subjects I would actually prepare for in advance, unless it was exams.
At around the same time, I was falling in love with music. I had recently been introduced to Lloyd Banks who had a song out called Karma, which was relatively old at the time; but having grown up unexposed to secular music, I had only come into contact with it at that point. One of my friends had printed the song lyrics on paper for me, and having pre-read for history class, I didn’t feel the need to focus as hard in class.
So inside my notebook, I had the lyrics to Karma, which I was trying very hard to cram. I remember Mr. Mogalakwe asking a question, the answer to which was David Lloyd George. I confidently raised by hand. He pointed at me, and assertively, I respond, “David Lloyd BANKS”. Needless to say he was not so pleased – he exclaimed as much. The reason the memory has returned to me at my current age, is not because I am feeling nostalgic about high school, or history class; but more because I, then, a young impressionable girl in Botswana, was not learning the history of my people, people who look like me, who identify themselves with symbols such as tlou, tholo, kwena, to acknowledge their connectedness to the natural world.
The other day, I read a post on a facebook page, I read a post that said, “Lake Ngami was discovered by Oswell, Murray & Livingston on 1st August 1849.” That is probably the saddest fictitious retelling of the history of the country that is now Botswana, that I ever read.
History, whatever it has to do with, helps us understand where thoughts and philosophies come from. It helps us in framing and locating our past, in order to consider the future, adequately. Which future? Our future. To teach us a history that is either distorted, or is not about us, is to suggest to us that not only are our own ideas not relevant, they cannot be used to guide us, as they are insignificant. Perhaps the starting point is why should we be taught our own history? I will reduce it to a few points.
To begin with, history introduces morals, ethics and what is right or wrong, in any given society. Education, I suppose is about training up learners, into human beings of good standing with good character, able to tackle complex issues of this life, with wisdom.
Secondly, there is so much more to our history than the narrative that we were vicious people, who had little to no intellect and practiced evil ways before the white man came to save us from ourselves and discover our landmarks. It is critical that we are able to counter the negative messages that are taught about us. It is important that our own history be taught to allow our society to collectively heal from the violent past that dispossessed us of our identity, and introduced foreign ideas and ideals to us. The demonization of who we were before colonial rule is really a tool used to consistently continue to oppress through the minds.
Finally, a lack of cultural appreciation leads to systematic and institutional as well as societal violence. When we are taught about our history, we have a greater appreciation for our own diversities. We become tolerant and we appreciate ourselves and those around us. We learn the different parts that render us a people.
Education is really invaluable because it has the power to liberate us, as it were. Teachers hold the powerful position of molding, building and influencing so many minds. This means they are some of the most significant in shaping any society and ultimately, the world. The history we are taught shapes our understanding of life and ourselves.
Today, the anecdote of David Lloyd George story is really a reminder of a time I consumed information whose relevance I am still trying to make sense of, as an analytical person, and critical thinker. It still does not make sense to me. It is right there, occupying the space in my brain where the detailed account of the proto-bantu migration should occupy, so that I have an understanding of the tribal structures of the people in the North. The history we are taught is silent about us, as if to render us inconsequential. Perhaps a reflection is needed in our education system, in this regard.