Groton Headmaster Urges Educators: Be Impatient for Inclusion
Groton School Headmaster Temba Maqubela delivered a keynote address at the Carney Sandoe Diversity Forum on January 30 in Philadelphia, inspiring an audience of educators to stand up for children by standing up—and speaking up—to those who deliver messages of hate, prejudice, and ignorance.
Characterizing diversity as a precursor to inclusion, Mr. Maqubela said that “being even more inclusive will counteract the culture of fear and defeat that grips our country, thus marginalizing whole communities.”
The keynote address traveled from the headmaster’s native village in South Africa to Groton School to the national political stage. Through his personal experiences of anti-apartheid activism, and his arrest and exile, he emphasized the power of education to restore a person's dignity. He shared stories of family members who shaped him with their brave battles for justice—such as Jacob Bokwe, his great-great-grandfather and the first black person in South Africa to take a white person to court, demanding an apology and compensation for being called a “gross liar.”
“Even though he lost the case in the white court,” said Mr. Maqubela, “he had made a point for future generations to always strive to advocate for dignity, inclusion, and empowerment at all cost.” A point well taken.
The audience learned about Mr. Maqubela’s grandfather, who proposed and helped draft the Freedom Charter, which became the foundation for South Africa’s current constitution. They also heard the story of Mr. Maqubela’s arrest, in the classroom where his own mother taught. “Chalk in hand in her 8 o’clock biology class, Mother witnessed the arrest of her son, who was led away saying, ‘Goodbye Mama.’ . . . Neither she nor I knew if we would see each other again.” His mother was no stranger to such arrests: her other sons also were arrested for fighting apartheid, and she had seen her father arrested in 1956, alongside Nelson Mandela.
Moving from personal experience to political climate, Mr. Maqubela called some current candidates' divisive and hateful language "a form of neo-apartheid that should be called out." An educator speaking to educators, the message never strayed from the children. "[We should] not allow people to hide behind free political expression when such hateful rhetoric psychologically harms children and brings up scars of exclusion for people who are deserving of their dignity as much as anyone else."
Calling the audience to action, he asked: "Who is going to stand up for children if educators are not impatient for inclusion?"
Using a Groton story for illustration, Mr. Maqubela also decimated often-heard allegations that students of color don’t fully earn their admission to selective colleges. He described a particular student, raised by a single mother, who had signed up for a challenging organic chemistry course, taught by Mr. Maqubela. Classmates warned the student how difficult the class would be.
Now studying at an Ivy League university, the student outperformed every student in that class—by a significant margin. “I’m sure every one of you here has a similar story of empowerment,” Mr. Maqubela said.
Mr. Maqubela’s speech followed another inspiring keynote address by Reveta Bowers, head of school at The Centers for Early Education in Hollywood, California.