Part 2: Encountering & Resisting Hierarchy

An African Encounter With Life
By Isaac Ochien'g
Writer, educationalist - Kenya

•    Part One: Resisting the System

Here, the author takes a look at his secondary education and what the notion of "freedom of speech" actually meant inKenya.

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When I entered high school, I looked forward to greater 'freedom', with less (or maybe none) of the coercion that was such an integral part of life in primary school. Whereas there was less 'monitoring' in secondary education, the same tools for dispensing punishment on the 'non-conformance' still existed. Most famous of course, was the threat of suspension from school - we all lived in dread of this. In a way, then, I felt s frustrating sense of déjà vu from my primary school days. Ironically, high school was perhaps more regimented. It was in high school that I became conscious of 'hierarchy'. Whereas in primary school, the pressure came from the teachers, in high school, the senior students, plus the teachers imposed themselves upon 'junior students'; but it was the self righteousness produced by the hierarchical nature of the school structure that I detested. The senior students considered themselves beyond reproach by virtue of their 'seniority'.

I remember one incident that would influence the way in which I viewed authority for years to come. We had a school newspaper, which was run by senior students appointed by the teacher in charge. Obviously, it was assumed that’s



senior students were 'better equipped' to deal with the intellectual rigors of a newspaper. But this assumption, like many others, put us in a perpetual state of servitude, something which I strongly resented (and many of my junior colleagues did too).  During many parent-teacher meetings, the publications would be displayed to demonstrate how, in our school, students were allowed to build their personalities and self confidence by expressing their views freely.

It was an attractive phrase: self confidence. I also wanted to build my 'self confidence' and express my views 'freely'. When I became a senior student, I wrote an article in which I recall saying that most of what we were learning in school was unrelated to our daily activities. What made me write this? Once we were out of class, a classmate had asked me to solve a couple of mathematical equations we had looked at a few days earlier. I could not, but told him that I would memorize them for the coming exams, so I need not bother answering them out of class.


"They are irrelevant", I had said.


The article never found its way to the magazine. When it reached the teacher-in-charge, she asked that I be suspended from school instantly. This experience embittered me, mainly because I could not make out clearly how asking questions about what we were learning could be construed as in-discipline or insubordination. It hit me that the newspaper, despite its rhetoric about freedom of expression, was also subject to rigid institutional supervision. It only allowed for those views that extolled the virtues of our school while it subdued any 'non-conforming' voices, like mine.


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Part 3: De-Conditioning Myself of Contradictions

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Do you have something you would like to share on how your schooling is affecting your role in society? Share with us in the "Education for What?!"  forum.


This article is republished, with no modifications except in the title. The original can be found on An African's Counter.
Isaac Ochien'g has been deeply interested in initiatives that seek to provide space to the flowering of diverse identities around the world. Most of his learning has come from interating with people who are open like him, to learning opportunities. Together with a number of colleagues, he is currently 'working' with young people interested in theater and modes of self-expression.

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