The Silent Protest

1985. Hyde Park High. Johannesburg, South Africa.
Picturesque school campus nestled in an old, stately neighborhood.
Students wearing prim uniforms jostle though outdoor corridors.
Each of them sporting a pressed school blazer proudly displaying
the Hyde Park High Coat of Arms, Hyde Park Fidei - Hyde Park Faith.
Teachers and stern prefects keep an eye on the passing mobs,
watching for insolent behavior or rule breakers.
A sixteen year old rebel-at-heart strolls down the hallway.
Every fiber of her being,
pushing against the rigid principles of Hyde Park Fidei.
Bobbie socks rolled down under her ankles,
blatantly ignoring the proper above-the-ankle standard.
Her heavy calf-length gray wool skirt
provocatively rolled up above her knees!
Her hair pulled together in a messy pigtail,
off her face but not very neatly.
She shows all the signs of a troublemaker!
The English teacher with a fat, pinched face
and eye too close together waits.
“Sandi,” she calls, stepping out of her classroom,
uncaring about who witnesses her degrading conversation.
“Come back here. I want to do an inspection,”
she says with narrowing eyes.
The rebel stops in her tracks and ambles back to the classroom door.
And so the inspection ensues.
“Your hair is too messy. Your skirt should be below your knees.”
“I’m writing you up for another Friday detention."
"Aren’t you tired of this yet?”
Another Friday afternoon.
Another detention.
Slightly less humiliated every time,
but used to the parade of the ridiculous.
The rebel rolls her eyes and swings into her shoulder to walk away.
“Yes, Ms. Fletcher.” Comes the sigh.
What’s another Friday?

Note: This was my experience in public education during the 1980s in South Africa. It was during the Apartheid and as a sixteen year old, I was just starting to comprehend the social horrors of what my government was sanctioning. This poem reflects my rebellion against the rigidity and demanded compliance of our education system but it was also my silent protest against something bigger that was growing in my consciousness. I was born into a privileged, safe life and I had the luxury of rebelling against my oppressive school environment without threat to my personal safety. What’s a month of detentions when I could return to my beautiful house and loving family? Not exactly a sacrifice, but I could no longer participate in the status quo when I started to see the truth of what the South African government was doing. Millions of people suffered for lack of basic freedoms and I was on the side of the oppressor. I hated it. I hated it with all my young heart. And I hated my government. All I could do was to refuse complacency and try to see people for what they were, human beings that deserve the same safeties and freedoms with which I had been gifted. My rebellion didn’t win me recognition as an anti-establishment renegade or favor with my parents, or popularity at school but what else could a girl with a growing sense of social justice do but thumb it to authority in her world and take the consequences. I ended up leaving this school at the end of the year. My concerned parents enrolled me into an alternative high school located downtown Johannesburg, which was a turning point in my life. I was surrounded by bustling life and diversity, traveling by public transit to school and home everyday. I met characters in school and out, that I would never have crossed paths with at my pretty, cloistered high school in the suburbs. I was given some independence and I reveled in it and I reveled in school like I had never before. I started to love learning. My days were filled with meaning and action, and at last, I co-existed with other colorful souls traveling through their own journeys of life.

awareness diversity formativeexperience growingup independence milestones rebellion respect

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