The passing of former South African president Nelson Mandela—known to many of his compatriots by his clan name, Madiba—has occasioned a spate of teachable moments in the Ross School community this month. Mandela’s death on December 5 set off tributes around the world, but Ross faculty and students have been working to learn more about this remarkable historical figure in order to reflect on how his legacy can inspire them.
Some of the grade levels looked at Mandela’s life through the lens of the chronological curriculum they are currently studying. Students in grade 7 discussed his accomplishments, leadership, and grace in forgiveness, and then contextualized the discussion by relating Mandela to Alexander the Great, exploring the understanding that one person can make a difference in the world and change the course of history. Ninth graders were given a special assignment to analyze the impact of various tributes to Mandela. Grade 10 classes connected Mandela’s struggles in the 20th century with the concept of freedom expressed by John Locke in the 17th century and Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century. Grade 11 students had watched the movie Invictus, which centers on the 1995 Rugby World Cup hosted in South Africa following the dismantling of apartheid, just before the Thanksgiving break, in conjunction with their reading of Cry, the Beloved Country; they built on their learning about that time period with discussions of the legacy of colonialism and the paradox of freedom fighters.
Some faculty members shared with students their personal connections with Mandela and his inspirational leadership. Cultural History teacher Carrie Clark spoke with seniors about her college experiences fighting apartheid, and the class went on to discuss how Mandela’s time in jail affected him and led to the transformation of a country. Grade 8 Cultural History teacher Mark Tompkins guided a discussion of what makes a hero, and outlined for the class the three principles that made Mandela a central hero in his life: Mandela’s humility, humor, and grace; his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and his understanding of sport as unifier. And Cultural History teacher Matt Aldredge told his students how Mandela’s story had intersected his own, describing a 1985 anti-apartheid rally in London with speakers supporting Mandela and his memories and the impact of the day Mandela was released from prison in 1990. On December 13, the Upper School wrapped up the week of reflection and honor with a Town Meeting led by Mark Tompkins, who focused on Mandela’s legacy as a role model and an inspiration.
Ross Lower School students will be spending their Life Skills classes this week learning about Mandela through video and selected literature. The sixth grade will be planning an assembly incorporating teachings from Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. to take place on January 10. The Student Council will take the lead on creating an interactive mural in the Multi-Purpose Room to which all classes will contribute, and there will be a culminating event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. At that time, both the Upper and Lower Schools will engage in a day of reflection and service in remembrance of both King and Mandela