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The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention

Figuring Memory: Chana Teeger on Teaching Apartheid

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On Tuesday, January 18, 2021, the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention held the fourth event in its series of monthly seminars for the 2021–22 academic year, titled “Figuring Memory: Social Practices and Collective Transformation.” The online event was organized in collaboration with Sarah Gensburger and Sandrine Lefranc at France’s national scientific research center, CNRS. Guest lecturer Chana Teeger, assistant professor in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, spoke on the subject of “Role Playing Racism: History Teaching and the Limits of Experiential Learning.”  

Chana Teeger’s presentation focused on the experiential learning aspects of the way Apartheid is taught to young people in South African schools, looking specifically at students’ understanding of discrimination and racism. Teeger based the presentation on fieldwork conducted in racially diverse South African high schools, during which she observed ninth-grade students taking part in Apartheid roleplaying exercises in the classroom, while also interviewing teachers and students.  

Teeger posited that simulation trivialized the past; students viewed the exercise as "fun" at best and "annoying" at worst. After studying 17 classrooms and conducting interviews with 160 students and 10 teachers, she commented that such roleplaying techniques presented Apartheid as a system of segregation, but muted the inequality underpinning that segregation, casting light on what has changed (the legal structure) rather than what has been maintained (overt racism). She argued that Apartheid is being taught to young South Africans as something foreign that they have not lived through, therefore minimizing race-based conflict in the classroom. Instead of imbedding the Apartheid narrative within a colonial narrative, such roleplaying draws on a historical narrative connected with the Holocaust. There was, for example, very little mention of white privilege in these simulations. Teeger’s data suggests that simulations do not distance students from the past, but rather confirm that students are experiencing racism in their daily lives. 
Significant contributions to this news piece were made by AUP student and Schaeffer Fellow, Michael Justice.