South African Journal of Education
Copyright © 2010 EASA
Human rights values or cultural values? Pursuing values to
maintain positive discipline in multicultural schools
Petro du Preez and Cornelia Roux
Discussions on discipline in education often accentuate corporal punishment or
measures to infuse moral fibre. In addition, many authors argue that inculcating
a particular value system can promote discipline in schools. This could however
be profoundly problematic in the light of the Constitution. We argue that positive
discipline in multicultural school environments needs to be based in part on
human rights values that are neither solely universally interpreted nor particula-
ristically interpreted. We report on the data generated at a research workshop
held as the final dissemination process of a four-year international research
project entitled “Understanding human rights through different belief systems:
intercultural and interreligious dialogue”. Dialogue was chosen as a form of
data gathering since it is more spontaneous than conventional questioning tech-
niques and can thus generate more naturally occurring data to strengthen the
outcomes of the project. It appears that some teachers believe discipline can
only be maintained through the elevation of cultural values (particularism). W e
argue that schools should start negotiating, at the most basic level, the values,
including em anc ipato ry, hum an rig hts va lues, and cu ltural v alue s, wh ich c ould
underpin positive discipline in multicultural schools. Drawing solely on cultural
values is not only unlikely to solve the problem of discipline, but could also un-
derm ine the ef forts to transfo rm ou r diverse, d emo cratic society.
Keywords: cultural values; human rights values; multicultural schools;
Discussions regarding the notion of discipline are often permeated with refer-
ences to corporal punishment or are even synonymous with discussions of
corporal punishment (Parker-Jenkins, 1997). Such discussions sometimes
lead to discussions of human rights. However, our point of departure is posi-
tive ways of maintaining discipline (Parker-Jenkins, 2002). We will argue that
maintaining positive discipline in multicultural school environments partly
relies on the infusion of human rights values that are neither solely universal-
ly nor particularistically interpreted. Early in our research project, it became
evident that some teachers believe that discipline can only be maintained
through the elevation of cultural values (particularism) (Roux, Du Preez,
Ferguson, Jarvis, Small & Smith, 2009). One reason for this phenomenon
could be that people in many instances see traditional, cultural values as
preferable to emancipatory, human rights values (Du Preez, 2008:98-99). This
could lead to the elevation of the values of only one culture and the conse-
quent subversion of the multicultural ideals of our democracy, which seeks
to honour the human rights of its citizens. In exploring this situation, the
14 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
following questions seem useful: What is the nature of the discourses of hu-
man rights values and cultural values — both in theory and in the voices of
teachers? What do these discourses imply for the use of values to underpin
discipline in multicultural classrooms?
In order to address these questions, the literature on discourses related
to the quest for values that could underpin positive discipline is explored. In
this critical exploration of these discourses, particular attention is given to the
notions of culturalism and traditionalism. Thereafter a research study is des-
cribed which demonstrates some of the complexities of these discourses. We
will conclude by providing another possible way of looking at the dilemma of
selecting appropriate values to promote positive discipline in multicultural
The quest for values to underpin discipline
The notion of discipline has evolved from a view that focuses on what children
should not do and so uses corporal punishment to correct unwanted beha-
viour to a view that emphasises what the child should do and promotes self-
disciplined behaviour amongst children (Vally, 2005:4). Scholarly articles and
papers on discipline frequently highlight the robust relationship between
maintaining discipline in classrooms and instilling certain values (cf. Baum-
rind, 1996; Parker-Jenkins, 1997, 2002; Vogel, Seaberry & Kelley, 2003; Wol-
huter & Steyn, 2003; Bickmore, 2003; De Klerk & Rens, 2003; Masitsa, 2008).
Parker-Jenkins (1997:4), for example, explains that the historical view of
discipline as corporal punishment derives from the norms and values of the
Victorian society towards corporal punishment. This attitude was based on
the notion of teachers guiding children away from original sin (“a state of
being alienated from God”) by implementing corporal punishment (Parker-
Jenkins, 1997:4). She maintains that this view is still often used in religious
school contexts to instil a particular value system and/or to justify corporal
An illustration of a particularist stance is illustrated by Wolhuter and
Steyn (2003) and De Klerk and Rens (2003) who argue that acceptance of
certain Christian values could promote discipline in schools. What De Klerk
and Rens (2003) propose has been critiqued by Parker-Jenkins (1997) as (i)
a process of teachers guiding children away from original sin, and (ii) a
situation in which the values underpinning discipline is often embedded in
one particular narrative (i.e. a specific religious or cultural belief system). De
Klerk and Rens (2003:357) argue that “… pedagogic discipline implies the
child’s voluntary acceptance of the influence and teaching of the normed adult
educator …”. They also assert: “What leads to a lack of discipline or lies at the
root of a lack of discipline, can possibly be ascribed to the absence of a value
system grounded in a specific lifeview perspective” (De Klerk & Rens, 2003:
354). We could respond to these views by using arguments about the relativity
of truths, not only between different religious beliefs, but also the varying
interpretations and truths found in one religious denomination (Kruger, 2003;
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
Roux, 2007). However, for the purposes of this article we prefer to critique
them from a pedagogical and ideological point of view.
We agree with Masitsa (2008:244) who argues that “[e]ducational theory
on discipline should demonstrate a consistency between teaching objectives,
curriculum and school management; otherwise, disciplinary procedures are
reduced to a mechanical behaviour modification, with the educational value
of the system being compromised”. Masitsa’s (2008) argument contests the
position adopted by those who draw on the values of one particular religious
or cultural view to inform discipline. A value system that is based on only one
particular religious or cultural view means that only one narrative is taken
into account. That could jeopardise the realisation of the multicultural ideals
of the democratic education system in South Africa. Such ‘mono’ approach to
values in support of education might even take the form of a revival of the
highly contested and divided ideology, Christian Nationalist Education, which
dominated the apartheid era (1948–1994).
It also seems necessary to comment on the general tenor of De Klerk and
Rens’s argument. Firstly, they appear to reify values: making it look like a
notion a teacher might possess and then transmit to acquiescent children.
This is especially evident when they refer to “transferring and teaching of
values” (De Klerk & Rens, 2003:357). The early sophists tended to argue
against the reification of values and virtues. It seems that even they felt that
values and virtues were not to be taught, but rather inherited through edu-
cation (Curren, 2008:8). Secondly, the authoritarian Christian undertone of
their arguments suggests that they hold the view of the relationship between
an adult and child that is obsolete and behaviourist (Smeyers & Wringe, 2005:
311). Du Preez (2008:66) argues that such an outdated view of the relation-
ship between children and adults does not take account of children’s chan-
ging needs and circumstances, and that such a view is tantamount to a shal-
low conception of facilitation (or teaching-learning).
While discipline rightly deserves a firm value base in order to be effective,
choosing to draw on the value system of one cultural or religious group to
fulfil this role might be problematic and profoundly unconstitutional. Some
might argue that many of the religious and/or cultural groups have common
values so drawing on only one life-world’s values should not be a problem.
However, one often finds that the way in which these values are interpreted
differs greatly (Du Preez, 2008:254-255). It is an awareness of this very dive-
rsity of interpretations, in part, that led to the Manifesto on Values, Education
and Democracy (2001). Drawing on the ideals enshrined in the Constitution,
it proposes a set of socially constructed values that all South Africans can
subscribe to. These values have been endorsed by the national curriculum.
We argue for the promotion of the human rights values that are firmly embed-
ded in the ideals enshrined in our constitution as the foundation for discipline
in democratic, public schools. Du Preez (2007:73) describes human rights
values as follows:
… universal and communal values … grounded in the principles under-
16 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
pinned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as main-
tained in the South African Bill of Rights (1996). Human rights values
could be characterised as values to be cherished globally as well as
Morrison (2000:124-125) argues that it is exactly this characteristic that pro-
vides human rights values with the scope to include various identities; and
“respect religious and social distinctions”. More specifically these values
include: democracy, social justice and equity, equality, non-racism and non-
sexism, an open society, accountability (responsibility), rule of law, respect,
reconciliation, and ubuntu (we perceive ubuntu as a value that has culminated
into a constitutional value) (Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy,
2001). We concede that these values are also open to different interpretations.
However, we would argue that through democratic dialogues in local contexts,
the meaning ascribed to these values could and should be negotiated.
Next, some of the notions discussed hitherto will be brought in relation
to the concepts ‘culturalism’ and ‘traditionalism’.
The challenge of culturalism and traditionalism
Brown (1999:108) argues that cultural relativists — who believe that all
people adhering to one culture hold more or less the same values, beliefs and
principles — are too often unable to justify competing values. This notion he
refers to as ‘culturalism’. To explain this in the context of South Africa, Du
Preez (2008:98) provides the following example:
… in South Africa sexism is often evident in the principles and values
some cultures uphold. This cultural phenomenon contrasts with the uni-
versal movement toward anti-sexism also endorsed by the South African
Bill of Rights. However, it may be that not all individuals belonging to this
culture believe that sexism is justified and might for the purpose of
specific incidences adhere to other sets of principles and values to justify
their claims. Thus, intracultural diversity is found which does not justify
competing values and principles but only underscores the importance of
We find that De Klerk and Rens (2003) do not only reify values, but that they
view the values belonging to a specific religious group (which they propose
should underpin discipline) as hermetically sealed. This means that cogni-
sance was not taken of the internal differences of interpretation and under-
standing of the values of a particular religious or cultural group. Therefore it
might be argued that the two authors are not only unable to justify competing
values, but disregard this problem altogether.
Booth (1999:39) argues that the danger of culturalism lies in its propen-
sity to propagate traditionalism:
[t]he main problem with culturalism is traditionalism, the propagating of
traditions to serve (conservative) power interests … Culturalism … re-
produces traditionalism, and this can have several regressive consequen-
ces for the theory and practice of human rights.
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
Booth (1999:37) also argues that “[c]ulturalism is tempting … because it
simplifies, and makes complexity easier to handle”. The movement in support
of culturalism (and inherently traditionalism) is evident in several education
discourses that have emerged since 1997. One example is that of the “Con-
servative Christian Lobby” who responded to the introduction of the new
curriculum (Chisholm, 2005:202-204). Their main concern centred on the
possible future outcome that the values promoted in the curriculum might
have on education in particular and society as a whole (Chisholm, 2005:203).
The arguments of the lobbyists were for the most part hostile to the explicit
enhancement of humanistic values (human rights values) and the overall em-
phasis on social justice, equity, tolerance and diversity (Chisholm, 2005:203).
It could be argued that this lobby’s tendency to reflect extreme culturalism,
with reference to religion, caused them to adopt traditionalist arguments.
Many of their arguments remain anchored in the beliefs upheld by the pre-
vious Christian Nationalist Education ideology. We would argue that De Klerk
and Rens’s (2003) view of the lack of discipline due to “the absence of a value
system grounded in a specific lifeview perspective” (De Klerk & Rens, 2003:
354) is another example of how culturalism leads to traditionalism.
Booth (1999:36-41) argues against culturalism by dismissing the view
that cultures would accord more value to traditional values than emanci-
patory values. Du Preez (2008:98-99) critiques this view when arguing
… that in many instances, especially in more communitarian environ-
ments, people might still adhere to traditional values (or principles) even
though they might desire emancipatory values (or principles). This notion
might be the result of the individuals’ fear of being rejected by those that
share these values or the need to be accepted by a cultural community
that holds more or less the same beliefs.
The point is that disregarding culturalism and arguing in favour of universal,
emancipatory values will not solve the problem of which values should under-
In the following section, a small-scale research study will be explained to
shed more light on the intricacies and complexities of this debate. We will
conclude by providing another possible way to look at the dilemma of values
in support of positive discipline in multicultural schools.
The research process
Background to the research
Between 2005 and 2009 an international research project was conducted en-
titled: “Understanding human rights through different belief systems: inter-
cultural and interreligious dialogue” (Roux, Du Preez, Ferguson, Jarvis, Small
& Smith, 2009). This research was funded by SANPAD (South African Nether-
lands Programme on Alternatives in Development) and involved researchers
from various South African universities as well as one researcher from a
university in the Netherlands. As a result of this multifaceted study a pro-
gramme for in-service teachers was developed (in conjunction with teachers)
using a critical, participative intervention research methodology (Du Preez &
18 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
Roux, 2008). The intervention research programme was entitled: “Dialogue as
a facilitation strategy: infusing the classroom with a culture of human rights”.
The aim of this programme and concurrent research was to gain an under-
standing of how in-service teachers deal with the notion of dialogue as faci-
litation strategy to infuse a culture of human rights and, secondly, to provide
them with an opportunity to reflect and improve their classroom practice (Du
Preez & Roux, 2008). A first round of the dissemination of this programme in
the Mafikeng/Mmabatho area proved to be very successful (Du Preez, 2008).
It was therefore decided to extend this dissemination process in the form of
workshops to other in-service teacher groups as well. The data from one such
dissemination research-workshop are used here to explore the relationship
between and the dilemmas that stem from values, human rights, culture, and
The dissemination research-workshop
The participants and the school context
A dissemination research-workshop was held with six Xhosa-speaking, in-
service teachers (four female, two male) from a predominately Xhosa-speaking
high school in the Stellenbosch vicinity in 2008. The age range of these tea-
chers was between 35 and 55 years old. All of them had been teachers for
more than 10 years. The participating teachers were responsible for one or
more of the following subjects in Grades 8 to 12: Life Orientation, Arts &
Culture, Social Sciences (Geography & History) and Languages (IsiXhosa,
English, Afrikaans). They indicated that they had not received any formal
training on how to infuse a culture of human rights, but that it had been
briefly addressed in previous professional development initiatives they had
participated in. This was also an indication that the document, Guidelines for
the implementation of the ACE on integrating values and human rights in the
curriculum compiled in February 2003 had not been properly disseminated to
The school consists of learners and teachers from different African tradi-
tions — some teachers came from deep rural areas and others had been
brought up and lived in metropolitan and township areas. Some of the
teachers originated from other African countries. The teachers stated that the
school community is mainly Christian, many from independent African
churches and individuals who merge Christian beliefs with beliefs of African
religion. The school is poorly equipped and resourced and its learners are
drawn mainly from the surrounding economically disadvantaged area. The
parents, who can afford to send their children to ‘better resourced’ suburban
schools, do so.
The research workshop
Cohen and Manion’s (1994) principles of ethical considerations in social re-
search were used as guidelines. The research workshop, which took place
after official school hours, was preceded by obtaining the necessary permis-
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
sion of the provincial department of education and the school principal and
the necessary formal consent of the principal. The researcher began by con-
textualising this aspect of the research in relation to the previous research
that had been conducted.
Data collection and analysis
The research workshop took the form of a dialogue. This was very important:
since dialogue is more spontaneous than more formal ways of interaction, the
assumption was that it would generate more profound, naturally occurring
data (Silverman, 2001:286-287). The researcher posed some pre-defined open-
ended questions, which the group responded to, as would be the case in a
semi-structured focus group interview. However, the teachers were given con-
siderable freedom to explore topics beyond the questions posed by the resear-
cher. When certain topics were addressed by the participating teachers, the
researcher connected their ideas with some of the theory used in the program-
me (without formally referring to the theory or programme). Theories relating
to the programme that did not emerge during the dialogues were addressed
afterwards by the researcher. Participants were also given a copy of the pro-
gramme for future use. The entire workshop was video-recorded for analysis
because “… the eye of the camera often freezes moments the human eye ig-
nores” (Rosenstein, 2002:3).
After all information had been organised, discourse analysis was used to
analyse and interpret the information captured. This method could be descri-
bed as “[t]he analysis of communication … with special attention given to the
speaker’s intent and how the communication is structured” (Babbie & Mou-
ton, 2001:641). Discourse analysis implies a process in which the purpose of
constructing meanings relating to present practices; to discourses that pre-
ceded the practices (a priori); and to the discourses that might be the outcome
of a practice (a posteriori) (Du Preez, 2005:120). Attention was given to the
underlying meanings of the discourse produced by participants as they
dialogued particular themes, as well as to the patterns that emerged from the
analysis of information (Denscombe, 2003:267).
Main findings and discussions
In the discussion to follow, we will highlight the teacher-participants’ respon-
ses regarding the relationship and contradictions between human rights
(values), cultural values and maintaining a culture of positive discipline.
Phrases such as the following frequently appeared during the teacher par-
“ … 2008 onwards our youth will deteriorate because they have no respect
for anything or anyone because they have no cultural roots …”
“… children nowadays … they have no manners and they back-chat …”.
The participants revealed and debated the discrepancy between values taught
at school and those which are nurtured at home and in the community. In
their view, learners are taught human rights (values) in schools, but are often
20 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
confronted with different sets of values outside of the school and that this
leads to disciplinary problems in the schools. However, as the discussions to
follow will indicate, these teacher-participants are often confused. This con-
fusion seems to stem from the contradictions they have experienced between
human rights (emancipatory) values and cultural values. It also seems to be
related to their sometimes seeing human rights merely as a legal construct
and not as a moral construct (therefore we sometimes place values in brackets
when we refer to human rights values). The main points of this dialogue are
provided here and then discussed. Dialogue phrases are given in the direct
words of the participants.
1. “There is no link between the school, community and home. The school
introduce something, the community do it totally different and the same
happens at home, and this is where the problem lies — our children are
2. “When learners are at school, they mostly respect the teachers, but when
they return home, respect diminishes. It almost seems as if parents fear
children … parents throw the responsibility back to schools — parents must
punish their children because we may not and it is not our responsibility.”
3. “Informal education starts at home and in the community and this count for
human rights as well. When children misses informal education there’s a
gap when formal education about human rights begin.”
The discrepancy between values nurtured at school and those nurtured at
home and in the community results in quite a complex situation. It seems
that parents are not aware of what is taught at school, but as the following
discussions will indicate the main problem seems to stem from the differences
and contradictions between human rights and its supposed values and the
cultural values of this community. This phenomenon was also questioned
when one of the participants asked:
“ What comes first: human rights or culture?”
And another two who said:
“ Whoever came up with the idea of human rights didn’t look at the role of
cultures — there’s a clash be tween the two.”
“ Human rights wants to change elements o f our culture to f eed human
rights. Politicians want us to choose human rights above our culture.”
This question and the responses to it were vigorously dialogued amongst the
teacher-participants. Towards the end it seemed that all the participants set
more store by cultural values than human rights values, since they perceived
these as having preceded human rights values (“I think that what comes first
is the culture, then the human rights. The culture was here first”).
This progress in dialogue is provided chronologically below:
4. “Take for example a boy from rural Eastern Cape and one from a township
in the Western Cape — just in terms of respect and addressing elders, the
one from the rural area will have more respect than those from townships,
because it’s in the values of traditional culture.” (Respondent A: Male 1,
grew up in rural Eastern Cape)
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
5. “… let us get to the clash between culture and human rights: culturally a
women doesn’t have a right to address men — where does that put me as
a modern woman who likes her culture and is learned … let us talk about
initiation school: my son has to go to initiation school. I raised him without
the father, without the so-called relatives of the father, and now that he is
to become a man, my role all of a sudden fades away. Now they [the
father’s relatives] do as they please [according to culture]. They don’t even
inform me — this is a clash between my rights as a mother and our cultural
values and traditions …” (Respondent C: Female 1, grew up in township
in Cape Town).
6. A male respondent B (Male 2) responded to this story by saying: “Well,
7. “The government might impose these things [human rights] as if culture
doesn’t exist, because when you go into our community you’ll discover that
there’s some kind of contradiction. For example, I did a case study in my
class about a ‘struggle woman’ who preaches that women have the right
to say no to sexual intercourse, but because of culture you might be seen
as a stupid woman for not allowing your husband to have sexual
intercourse with you, because there is labola in sight and he owns you”
(Respondent D: Female 2).
8. “What comes first? Culture or human rights? Before human rights was
introduced in South Africa women knew what to do, what their roles were,
they never complained … Human rights are in the We stern culture, so we
wome n f eel that the Western culture is better than our c ulture, hence we
say we want equality …” (Respondent E: Female 3).
9. “It’s not about the introduction of human rights — people always had
rights. I blame this on globalisation, people come from all over the world
and now we try to copy them and the way they do things … for black
peopl e, what comes from a white person is always right and not our own
culture” (Respondent A: Male 1).
10. “I come from a very religious background … but my father used to beat up
my mother. Culturally this is acceptable. We as children used to say to my
mother ‘divorce this man, we can af ford you’. But according to her cultural
values she is married to him and will never divorce him, as much as she
knew divorce in this instance is justified. She remained loyal to him and to
her cultural values … This is a man’s world and our culture always favour
men … you never see a culture that favours women” (Respondent C:
The respondents were asked whether they thought that learners experienced
the same contradictions as they had described above or whether learners
today were more inclined to accept human rights values since these are
emphasised so strongly in education. Their responses were as follows:
11. “Many of the feminists, learned, rich people don’t send their children to our
schools any more. Many of these children go to expensive boarding schools,
then to university … they [the learners] are not involved in the important
discussions regarding culture, because they are bombarded with all these
22 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
western thoughts. It is our responsibility to maintain our culture …”
(Respondent B: Male 2).
12. “… children don’t value our culture today … no, there’s an imbalance
between those who come from rural, traditional areas and those who come
from townships — they are in permanent contradictions and conflicts”
(Respondent C: Female 1).
13. “Culture is fading from us — it will fade by the time we have grandchildren
if we don’t revive it now” (Respondent E: Female 3).
Interpretations and theoretical conclusion
The interpretations will focus on four patterns identified from this dialogue
that are directly related to the research questions. These include the following:
the intuitive preference for a particularist perspective; the over-simplification
of values in multicultural school context; the adoption of a traditional per-
spective to preserve cultural traditions; and the impact of intracultural diver-
sity in the way values are negotiated.
Firstly, the dialogue and the discussion above indicate that the partici-
pants spontaneously entered into the universalist versus particularist, or
human rights (values) versus cultural values, debate. This is manifested when
participant E asks: “What comes first: human rights or culture?” The partici-
pants tended to intuitively choose the particularist perspective. It could be
that this viewpoint poses fewer challenges and that it makes the complexity
of multiculturalism easier to deal with. However, this position, as was indi-
cated in the opening discussion of this article, might lead to the selection of
a value system (that is based on one grand narrative) to underpin disciplinary
measures intended to be applied in a multicultural school environment. In
our view, this could result in learners not being able to accept certain disci-
plinary measures, either because they do not understand their value-base or
because they can not subscribe to them because of their cultural heritage.
Secondly, it is evident that people often turn to their cultural values be-
cause they perceive these values as less complex and more univocal. This
notion is based on the false assumption that the way in which values are
interpreted is the same for all people belonging to a particular religious or cul-
tural group. Additionally, it seems that this view provides people with simple
answers to challenging unanswered questions. An example is when partici-
pant B states that “… 2008 onwards our youth will deteriorate because they
have no respect for anything or anyone because they have no cultural roots …”.
However, many other factors besides the cultural roots of society may influ-
ence this deteriorating phenomenon. Our view is that this culturalist per-
spective causes people not only to simplify complexity, but also to situate
themselves within their comfort zone when arguing, which would limit their
perspectives. Also, if we argue that maintaining positive discipline is a process
of emphasising what the child should do and that creates self-disciplined
behaviour, we ought to be sensitive to a variety of perspectives to accommo-
date learners from diverse environments. Being sensitive to various perspec-
tives and prioritising diverse learners’ values does not imply that ‘anything
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
goes’. Instead, it requires that people transcend their comfort zones and enter
into negotiations about values underpinning disciplinary measures.
Thirdly, adopting a culturalist perspective seems to present a way of
preserving traditions or protecting them from external forces. These partici-
pants appear to be open to human rights (emancipatory) values and princi-
ples, but they turn to their traditional (cultural) values in most instances,
because they are concerned to protect their cultural heritage (quote 13). The
argument used by some of the participants that human rights were a western
construct (quotes 8 & 9) which negates African traditions may thus be seen
as a traditionalist position adopted by them in the face of the forces of post-
modernism. We argue that the values underpinning discipline in a school
should not be established to serve some (hidden) traditionalist interest. The
likely result would be the selection of values to underpin discipline that are
not consistent with a contemporary view of positive discipline. This point also
became evident earlier in the critique of De Klerk and Rens (2003).
Fourthly, intracultural diversity is evident in various levels of this dia-
logue. In the data presented above, internal diversity (or diversity in the inter-
pretations of people belonging to the same cultural group) is illustrated when
these participants enter into dialogue. One example is when the one female
(respondent C) says “… culturally a women doesn’t have a right to address
men — where does that put me as a modern woman who likes her culture …”.
(Other examples of this intracultural diversity can be found in quotes 4, 9, 10,
11.) This female respondent’s (C) narrative reveals that she has a different
view from that of some of her colleagues and that in certain situations she
refers to other sets of principles and values to justify her claims (in this case
human rights are another set of principles and values). One might define this
internal difference as a difference between historico-traditional interpretation
of culture and modern interpretations of traditional cultures (see for example
quote 4). The point is that people in certain situations negotiate and move
between different sets of value systems to deal with uncomfortable situations
which they are unable to solve or deal with from their comfort zones. Put
differently, we find that people sometimes use the relativity of value systems
to solve moral issues they encounter. This may explain the confusion that
people sometimes experience. We argue that reflection (individual and dialo-
gical) is needed for people to deal with and make sense of this confusion.
The data presented and discussed indicate that people seem to adopt a
particularist stance when they propose values that should underpin disci-
pline, for example. From the data it appears that the reasons for this pheno-
menon are as follows: participant’s belief that cultural values carry more
weight because they are older; that cultural values are less complex and more
univocal; and that the prioritisation of cultural values in everyday situations
might lead to the preservation of traditions. However, this creates several
challenges for multicultural schools and even creates confusion amongst
people arguing from such a stance. We should not be asking whose values
should be promoted in education, since this might lead to particularist hos-
tility. It would also be precarious to accept human rights values as univocal
24 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
and not subjected to diverse interpretation. For this reason we will discuss the
position of Bhikhu Parekh (1999) in terms of this debate, because he provides
an alternative way of thinking about this. His position may assist in pursuing
values to maintain positive discipline in multicultural schools that is both
contextually recognised and justified on a universal level.
His main thesis (which we would support) is that humans could express
their moral life in different ways, but that this does not exclude anyone from
being judged according to basic universal values (Parekh, 1999:130-131). He
refers to the latter notion as “minimum universality” which “represents an
intermediate position between relativism [particularism] and monism [univer-
salism]” (Parekh, 1999:130-131). This could be viewed as one means of over-
coming the binarity of universalist and particularist discussions. Parekh
(1999:130-131) describes the idea behind minimum universalism as follows:
… the universal values constitute a kind of ‘floor’, an ‘irreducible mini-
mum’, a moral threshold, which no way of life may transgress without
forfeiting its claim to be considered good or even tolerated. Once a society
meets these basic principles, it is free to organise its way of life as it con-
In short, Parekh suggests a benchmark of universal values which all must
accept before societies can practise their unique principles and values. The
values listed in the Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy (2001)
could serve as an example of a benchmark of values to underpin discipline.
However, it is important to engage in dialogues about how the practice of
cultural values is accommodated in relation to this benchmark of values. We
therefore suggest that schools should start negotiating, at the most basic
level, the values, including emancipatory, human rights values and cultural
values, that could underpin positive discipline in multicultural schools. Not
only is drawing solely on cultural values unlikely to solve the problem of
discipline, but it could also undermine the efforts to transform our diverse,
democratic society. On the other hand, focusing solely on emancipatory
values may also be problematic; these might be too objectified and abstract
for people to relate to personally. We contend that the only way to facilitate
the process of negotiation is to encourage profound dialogue (Du Preez, 2008)
in classrooms and staffrooms. This profound dialogue should enable people
to engage reflectively and proactively with their understandings of values, the
understandings that others have of values and what values are collectively
important in a multicultural school environment, and so arrive at an agreed
interpretation of the values that could underpin discipline.
Maintaining positive discipline in classrooms necessitates a firm value base
that is understood and constructed by all through a process of dialogue. We
have argued that the process of maintaining positive discipline is not one that
can be solved either through the elevation of cultural values or human rights
values. Rather there is a need to have dialogues on values in our different
contexts as a way of assisting us to transcend our comfort zones. These dia-
South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
logues need to be based on the assumption that humans might express their
moral life in different ways, but that this does not exclude anyone from using
basic universal values as a point of reference. Contradictions between human
rights values and cultural values could entrench confusion if people do not
engage in reflection and dialogue about their confusion. Furthermore, this
confusion could provide learners with the leeway to act in morally wrong ways
and at the same time leave teachers unsure of how to address disciplinary
Babbie E & M outo n J 200 1. The practice of social research. Oxford: Ox ford Un iversity
Bau mrind D 19 96 . The discipline con trove rsy re visite d. Family Relations,
Bickmore K 2003. Discipline for Democracy? Neutrality and Justice in Schools’
Management of Conflict and Social Exclusion. Paper presented at the Annual
Meeting of the American Educational Research Association , Chicago, IL , April
Boo th K 1999. T hree tyra nn ies. In : T D unne & NJ Whee ler (eds). H uma n R ights in
Global Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brow n C 1999 . Unive rsal human righ ts: a critiqu e. In: T D un ne & NJ Wh eeler (e ds).
Human Rights in Global Politics. Cambridge: Camb ridge University Press.
Coh en L & Ma nion L 1 994 . Research Methods in Education, 4th edn. London & New
Curren R (ed.) 20 08. Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Oxford : Black well
De Klerk J & Re ns J 2003. T he r ole of value s in s cho ol disc ipline. Ko ers,
Densco mb e M 2003. The Good Research Guide, 2nd edn. Milton Keynes: Open
Departm en t of E du cation 20 03. Guidelines for the implementation of the ACE on
integrating values and human rights in the curriculum Task team of the
Department of Education, South Africa.
Du Preez P 2005. Facilitating Human Rights Values across Outcomes-based
Education and Waldorf Education Curricula. MEd thesis. Stellenbosch:
Du Preez P 2007. Dialogue, human rights values and understanding diverse
religio ns a nd b elief syste ms. Panorama (International Journal of Comparative
Religious Education and Values), 19:71-81.
Du Preez P 2008. Dialogue as facilitation strategy: infusing the classroom with a
culture of human rights. PhD thesis. Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch.
Du Preez P & Roux CD 2008. Participative intervention research: the development of
profe ssion al progra mm es for in -service tea che rs. Education As Change,
Krüger JS 2003. The New Policy on Religion in Education: Theoretical Points of
Departu re and C on text. Religio: Journal for Religious Studies, 1:4-10.
Departm en t of E du cation 20 01. M anifesto on Values, Education and Democracy.
Pretoria: Governm ent Printer.
Masitsa G 2 008. Disciplin e and disciplinary m easures in the F ree S tate tow nsh ip
scho ols: u nre solve d problem s. Acta Academica, 40:234-270.
Morrison D 2000. Cultural values, Human rights and religion in the curriculum. In:
26 South African Journal of Education, Vol.30, 2010
J Ca irns, R G ardn er & D Law ton (eds). Values and the Curriculum. London:
Parek h B 1999 . Non -ethn ocen tric un iversalism . In: T Dun ne & NJ Wh eeler (eds).
Human Rights in Global Politics. Cambridge: Camb ridge University Press.
Parke r-Jen kins M 19 97. S paring the ro d: Sch ools, discipline and ch ildren ’s rights in
multicultural Britain. Paper prestend to the South African Education Law and
Policy Association Conference, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Sep tember.
Parker-Jenkins M 2002. Children’s rights and wrongs: Lessons from Strasbourg on
classroom management. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Educational Rese arch Association, New Orleans, LA, April 1- 5.
Rosenstein B 2002. Video use in social science research and program evaluation.
International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1:1-38.
Roux CD 2007. Reflective journaling in understanding religious diversity and human
rights valu es. Panorama (International Journal of Comparative Religious
Education and Values), 18:113-126.
Rou x C D, D u P reez P, Fe rgu son R, Jarvis J , Sm all R & S mith J 2 009 . Understanding
human rights through different belief systems: intercultural and interreligious
dialogue. South Africa: Final SA NPAD re port.
Silve rma n D 2001. Interpreting qualitative data: methods for analysing talk, text and
interaction. London: Sage Pu blications.
Sm eyers P & W ring e C 2 005. Adults and C hildre n. In: N Blake, P S meyers, R Sm ith
& P Stan dish (eds). The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education. Oxford:
The Bill of Rights: Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/1996/96cons2.htm. Retrieved 22
July 200 9.
Universal Decla ratio n o f H um an R ights , 1948. www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/.
Retrieved 22 July 2009.
Vally S 20 05. Corpo ral Punishmen t and Bullying: The R ights of Le arners. S outh
Africa: E ducation R ights Project.
Vogel D, Seaberry J & Kelley KM 2003. Handling school conflict: training learners for
effectiv e pe er in terve ntion. Acta Criminologica, 16:27-39.
Wolhuter C C & Steyn SC 2003. Learner discipline at school: a comparative
edu cational p ersp ective. Ko ers, 68:521-538.
Petro du Preez is Lecturer in the School of Education, Faculty of Educational
Sciences, at North-west University, Potchefstroom Campus. Her research
focuses on curriculum studies and human rights and religion in education.
Cornelia Roux is a Research Professor in the School of Curriculum-based
Studies, Faculty of Educational Sciences, at North-West University, Potchef-
stroom Campus. Her research focuses on human rights education in diverse
religious and cultural contexts, and curriculum development.