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Long before Carolus Linnaeus grouped organisms in a hierarchical system of classification, human beings had been sorting themselves into groups. What the 18th century Swedish naturalist, however, did for different organisms, humans do to other humans — group them.

For the Schweizer-Reneke teacher sorting all four black children into a small group and all the white children into a larger group is the most natural of human actions if you were brainwashed by apartheid ideology into thinking that there is something inherently different about human beings based on the colour of their skin.

Yet it is easy to make a meal out of this North West primary school teacher when so many teachers do exactly the same thing. We classify children according to our assessment of their ability to do mathematics or to read fluently or to recite the periodic table of elements. Class 8A is the smart class (maths and science) and heaven help you if you find yourself down the alphabet in 8H (hospitality and tourism). Some schools try to conceal the obvious elitism in this classification by naming the class after its home room teacher — 8Z for Mrs Zuma, for example (no, do not ask “which Mrs Zuma?” Stay on task). Regardless, we classify. The problem with classifying children according to ability is that such assessments are completely subjective. Not all children learn at the same speed. Some children excel in some subjects, such as art and history, and others in technology and economics. What gives the teacher the right to make such decisions about talent and ability when children are stil...

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