September 7, 2010
School has reopened so it’s high season for parent-bashing. Here’s my response to the latest on the National Parenting Policy proposed a few years back.
To the Editor:
As a parent with a child in Jamaica’s gov’t-run schools, I have long opposed such lofty propositions as a “National Parenting Policy” for both its elitism and shortsightedness. In particular, Andrew Holness needs to remember that “fixing” parents is not part of his portfolio. In seeking to “fix” parents and so-called broken families, such policy does little more than continue to heap disrespect onto poor people. After all, that is the group which is the target of such policies. Any fool can see that.
What’s more, those who are charged with the job of educating our children already have a set view of what constitutes “parents” and what role such parents should play, and will not take any responsibility for how educators themselves have marginalized parents from active participation in their children’s education. Just look at the quality and content of the communication between principals, teachers and parents over the past several months, and it will be clear what I mean.
So, for Andrew Holness to say that “[w]e want to bring parenting and the family structures formally into the education system,” is to ignore the way that families are already part of the system. For one thing, all those children came from families, whether he likes the family form or not. In addition, constantly singling out children whose family arrangements do not conform to what he and others imagine as “normal” is simply wrong. One anecdote does not make a pattern. I daresay, if one cannot identify who the child’s current caregiver is, then there is a serious problem in the record-keeping abilities of teachers and principals! If Holness looks to the policies that he has championed, parents’ roles are already carefully prescribed in them: the only thing that we are supposed to do is pay the required auxillary fees so that the child can attend! We are certainly not required to send our children to school, let alone to make sure that the child has all the necessary supplies. Where has the MoE carefully defined and communicated to parents the desired relationship between schools and families? That’s a true failure in educational policy, not in parenting. A top-down National Parenting Policy is certainly not going to fix the problems that currently plague Jamaica’s education system.
I believe that when the MoE chooses to change it’s approach i.e. to treat parents with respect, acknowledge the jobs we already do, and see us as partners in the education of our children, I am sure there will be a lot more cooperation and far less distrust. Right now, the only message that Jamaican parents get from the MoE is that we are lackeys who do not perform a good enough job and are a burden to the MoE. That is hardly an empowering message or wins you any friends.
If Holness wants parents to be more proactive and present in their children’s education, then he will have to make room in all relevant education policy for that to happen. For one thing, that means challenging the historical relationship between parents and schools in Jamaica, where parents were expected to “send” their children to get something that said parents, because of their social inferiority, were “lacking”, and where teachers were considered to be of superior social status. That attitude is pervasive in our society, and is certainly reflected in the skepticism and latent hostility directed against parents by the employees of the MoE, which gave rise to such problematic ideas as a “National Parenting Policy”.
Holness can’t have it both ways: either parents are partners or they are not. Such a shift in emphasis – from demonizing to engaging parents – will require the MoE to include parents as a group at every level of participation and decision-making, from the school level up to the national level. To date, parents are left on the sidelines, perhaps because we are not considered knowledgeable, important enough or credible on the subject of our children’s education. And yet, we are gladly blamed for whenever something goes awry in the schools. Go figure.
Lashing out against parents and diverse family arrangements that children come from is not the answer. Only when the MoE creates systems and programs in the schools to make it meaningful and welcoming for parents to participate will we see any difference in the quality of parents’ engagement. Only when the MoE attempts to meet parents where they are at rather than chastising them for not being good enough will we see any turnaround in the academic achievement of our children.
September 2, 2009
So, I was just reading today’s paper online, and I came across the headline “Hydel University Opens Its Doors.” I kiss my teeth. Whe’h dem come wid university from now? Everybody getting into this business of education these days – starting a school and a church in this country guarantees a nice income from people desperate to be saved – even and especially when they are members of the legislature. I am reading the article and saying to myself, is how BG just up inna di ting so, making all kinds of pronouncements and talking as if Jesus Christ himself had come down and told him he wanted to host the next Last Supper in St. Catherine. Does the PM, his wife and the Min of Ed. go to every university opening? Well, maybe the Min. of Ed. Then I paused. Wait deh likkle bit! Thought again, reached into my memory, called up google, and there it was:
The story that broke in November 2008 is that Hyacinth Bennett, a current senator and longtime friend and political ally of Bruce Golding’s, had somehow managed to get the government agency UDC to buy the property that her private school was located on, and to lease it back to her at less than market value.
When the Gleaner reported the story and suggesting that there was some impropriety in the deal, Bennett cried foul and Golding said, Oh, we always had plans for that property. Of course.
The Observer story had a PNP person saying that he thought that even the shady UDC wasn’t totally on board with it. Why? Probably because they wouldn’t make any money from this deal. As revealed in the July 2009 story in Sunday Herald, this “sweetheart deal” arrangement included all kinds of oddities, such as: tying HYDEL’s rent to the amount of tuition collected from students each semester. That’s like having the bank determine how much your rent/mortgage will be based on how much money you made this past month, not including your pardner draw or Western Union remittances. Very generous arrangement indeed.
So, reading today’s story, all I can think is, how these people brazen wid dem corruption so??? Dem really tek wi fi heediyat bwai.
Back in November 2008, The PM went on record to defend the school with more speculation and fear-mongering than fact. But, to hear him at this event, it is very clear that he has had inside knowledge about Hyacinth’s plans for the expansion of the school. His comments demonstrate that he has thought about what impact he wants it to have, and clearly intends to direct government monies and resources to support the expansion of this particular institution in the future. Apparently, he sees this as a model school. First mi hearing bout this revelation. So, anybody who want to do something similar, the UDC will give them a sweetheart deal too, right? Ring your bell first.
This is all happening at the same time that Min of Ed. Holness has announced that there is not sufficient monies to build additional public (primary and secondary) school facilities that he promised – and which he probably shouldn’t have anyway – and clearly didn’t realize that the “new” schools coming onboard were not going to be public schools, but a private one run by a fellow labourite who’s real chummy with your boss. I guess Holness wasn’t on board with diversion of monies to the HYDEL plan? What a slap in the face. So, who exactly is guilty of “political mischief” here, you tell me.
All I want to know is this:
$ If the country is so broke an no money n’aaa run, how could this deal with Hydel have been made in anything but shady circumstances?
$$ Given that even a blind, stupid person could recognize the conflicts of interest at all levels of this deal, why has the PM never been asked to explain these obvious ethical violations?
$$$ If the IMF deal requires that line items be cut from the budget, then shouldn’t a private school be expected to pull it’s own weight, including paying it’s own rent? (In case you missed it, the Golding administration is SUBSIDIZING the operations of the privately owned Hydel Schools and thus draining money on an entity that was not budgeted for). How can they even justify this to even the most hard of hearing person? Since when is paying the rent for a private institution a necessary expenditure, but building public schools is not?
$$$$ What are the legal provisions that govern how legislators and government officials participate in the private sector while they are in office? What are the rules governing how they can use their influence as well as access to information to maximize their own personal fortune? Was there not a big stink with Donald Wehby of GraceKennedy about his role in the corporation while also serving as a senator? So why has Hyacinth Bennett been allowed to use her time, status and access as a senator to build and advocate for her private corporation from which she draws a hefty paycheck? Has she been living out the Caribbean dream i.e. securing a gov’t position so that she can use the gov’t's resources to do her real job?
$$$$$ Are the HYDEL even accredited? By who? How do we know that there is anything of quality and substance going on in there in the first place? Just because you call a place a school and a university does not mean that it behaves like one. How do we know this is not just another setup to hoodwink innocent people who think that an education is what will get them up the ladder, when in practice they paying to have a textbook read to them? Where are the procedures and documents to attest to the credibility of this place as an institution of higher education?
$$$$$$ Where the hell is Greg Christie? Or has he been told to stay out of this – “not his jurisdiction”?
Well, if he can’t ask questions, I sure can.
March 6, 2009
Now, you send your child to school and the next thing you know is that police coming to your yard to tell you that your child is dead? And the child is not dead because of a stray bullet or some odda pickney stab them, but because some unthinking principal allows a big, heavy piece of furniture to be stored in in the schoolyard where young children play. Said principal also decides that it is ok to leave it there, because where else can they put it? There is no consideration of the fact that big pieces of furniture pose a serious risk for small children. Well, they know now, at somebody’s expense.
This was not an “unfortunate accident” and it is unconscionable to treat it as such. The death of this child is a clear example of negligence and the principal and whichever teacher was supposed to be supervising the children should be arrested, charged and fined for negligence!! And they should lose their licenses, too!
The parents of the children at the school need to get together and sue the Ministry of Education for not providing adequate safety guidelines for schools to follow, and sue the principal for endangering the lives of their children. That will teach the Ministry and di principal an teacha dem deh fi pay more attention to these issues!
I am completely enraged by this situation, especially since it is highly unlikely that community leaders in the area will step in and advocate on behalf of the parents who have a right to demand that the schools are safe for their children. Can you imagine how many other safety violations are in these schools and nobody is paying attention??
October 30, 2008
What happens when one overlooks the “details” involved in one’s work, like, I don’t know, noticing that the ground below the scheduled construction site is actually hollow and replete with caves, rendering any building constructed there useless and dangerous. You know, small details like that.
Well, first, your identity will be protected – we still don’t know who the surveyor was because the esteemed Observer chose not to report this information. People will excuse rather than condemn your behaviour, and if you work your networks sufficiently, you might actually get to walk away scot-free. Maybe.
A most-embarassed Bruce Golding who was part of the committee overseeing the construction of new school facilities in St. Ann, “admitted that the consultants employed to the project had fallen down.” Fallen down. Now that is an interesting choice of words.
Golding continues: “The consultants we employed, I must confess, didn’t do a good job so they did not identify the caves that were there, also the geotech survey only indicated rocks, they did not indicate that we had these caves.” Didn’t do a good job. Hmmm. Is that all now? Why does this stink of nepotism and some backdoor deal gone bad? Ah one o’ im fren dem sheg up di project so? I’m roundly suspicious. We await more news on the topic.
Then we find out that “there was no penalty clause in the consultant’s contract for matters of this nature.” In other words, the assumption is that there is no recourse for when so-called experts fail to do their jobs properly and jeapardize people’s lives with their inept behaviour.
Golding plans to sell the land to someone else; I wonder if they will bother to disclose the caves to potential buyers? Apparently, when the government was buying the land, the seller did not disclose this information, and the buyers clearly didn’t pay attention to broader geographic/geological knowledge that suggests that the existence of caves is a distinct possibility. So, someone sold govament useless land. Why am I not surprised? Wasn’t there a recent problem with some illegal arms trader selling guns to the ministry of national security just recently? Hmmm. What we have here – a bunch of not so smart folks making decisions that end up wasting taxpayers’ money? Now they plan to pass it on. But, Ii you can’t put up a school building on the land, then you damn sure can’t put any other building on it. Although, one could explore whether there was a way to incorporate the cave structures into whatever physical building was being constructed on the land. Now there’s an idea!
Meanwhile, whoever did such a shoddy job of surveying and approving the building of the school should lose their license to practice in Jamaica and banned from any professional association. They should also be sued for the cost of the partial construction, as well as the cost of creating a new project, including the acquisition of new land. That ought to teach them fi ‘top treat govament money like is freeness. That’s my pipe dream anyway.
P.S. Just so you don’t think is only we do dem sort a foolishness ya. Check out what happened in Barbados.
June 1, 2008
This is taken from a letter written by “a concerned 11-year old”, and addressed to the Editor of the Observer.
On the question of why parents should make greater effort to shelter their children from life on the street:
“[...] The streets today are filled with murderers, rapists, prostitutes, perverts, lesbians, gunmen and a whole lot more. What a horrible society!”
How does one respond to this concerned 11-year old?
May 20, 2008
I am starting to think we Jamaicans are some of the laziest rassclaat people ever!! Ok, so that’s obviously not true, but I am so, so, soooo sick and tired of the attitude that dis yah govament must do, think and be everything for us.
I humbly submit that we as citizens need to show leadership on the issues that ail us. And there is clearly lots of that kind of leadership, although not nearly enough. Politicians are just that; they don’t know squat, except how to move money around and rubberstamp policies. That’s not leadership; yes, they can be useful to us, but its we who have to show the way and get them to notice and provide support where necessary.
How did I get onto this topic? Well, its been bubbling all along. The education debates is just one impetus. And there’s the everpresent wailing about what to do about ” crime and violence.” And often they are linked, as in the response of this blogger.
So here’s my off the cuff retort:
The real obstacles to making any kind of progress in Jamaica are reflected in the blogger’s response as well as the comments. We can see the same thinking in practically every letter to the editor.
1. The profound cynicism that nothing can be done, and blaming the problem on some other entity – the government, the people, NGOs – instead of us taking responsibility for working on any given issue in order to tackle the problem.
2. The inability to recognize that what we say, blog and yell has implications beyond us. Among the many things that Jamaicans have yet to understand and take serious is the notion of personal accountability. If you say it, you must be willing to take responsibility for the implications of what you say. That means, if you want something to happen, you have the responsibility for doing something to make it happen. I could ask the blogger what are YOU doing to get more political attention to the educational needs of children living in poverty-stricken communities? In fact, for all who are rounin’ up dem mout bout dis and dat, maybe we need to start asking – insisting even – them to translate those attitudes and ideas into action.
3. The “either or” approach, based on absence of knowledge about how problems emerge and how they can be addressed.
No social problem can be addressed only by the government, and certainly not one as inept and morally bankrupt as ours. Furthermore, no social problem can be addressed without addressing the SOCIAL ie. how we relate to each other, and how we see ourselves in relation to the broader society. That “relate” term is broad and very complicated; its not just about “I” or “you”. So, dismissing the role of the arts & humanities in everyday life and the role of youth-based organized activities in combatting criminality is truly the dumbest, most-uninformed thing I have heard in a long time. Seriously. It is also has destructive implications, given how little interest and awareness there is about the role of the arts & humanities in our society. Anybody who has thought for a second since the beginning of time knows that remaking social relationships is critical in any effort at social change. Thinking and seeing ourselves differently – through the art, music, film, conscious conversations and interactions - allows us to radically reshape who we are. The ability to create beauty and to recognize and build our common humanity around beauty is a worthwhile and even essential goal, when we are surrounded by only ugly things – violence, bloodshed, discrimination, decay, decline, etc. etc.
You don’t need to go far for evidence about the effects of being involved in organized activities. Just talk to individual youth who are involved in group activities vs. those who are not. Just their ability to reflect on themselves and to make use of their time is different.
What do you think these so-called Christian and religious fanatics that we live with are trying to do with their various rules to make us pray more, and to make every activity - even sex! - a religious one? They are able to convince many that “morality” (by which they mean Christianity) is the answer to regulating all social relationships; from homosexuality, to adolescent sexuality to criminality (kill, scorn and exclude all o’ dem while we wait fi God fi come fi ‘im wurl’); that answer comes from a particular definition of what a”good society” looks like and how it should unfold. Since so many of us accept that rigid, conservative, one-dimensional, unsubstantiated thinking, we are clueless about how we can participate in social change in other ways in our own communities. I certainly disagree with that approach for all kinds of reasons found elsewhere on this blog. But I find it especially dangerous in Jamaica because there is little else to counter it, and little evidence of us creating new ways of thinking to counter such reactionary ways of thinking and acting.
In fact, the blogger’s noting – and tacitly endorsing – that middle and elite Jamaicans would find the notion of investing in the education of poor kids as ridiculous, is evidence of exactly what we need to change. What exactly is laughable about denying thousands of children access to education and social mobility? Who can answer that question seriously and still expect that their humanity is intact and not been compromised in some fundamental way? There’s lots of evidence right yah so to show that the scoffing and laughter are wrong in principle, substance and effect. One small and important starting point is to gather that evidence of the children who, having been given opportunities often denied to their peers, have changed their lives. Oh, right, no money no inna dat. Oh right, dem deh people nuh worth it. I’m sure you can fill in the reasons why you, or noone else that you know should do anything of worth beyond yourself.
Maybe you can start by thinking about all the reasons why you SHOULD work to create more opportunities for youth – inner-city, rural, urban, homeless, institutionalized populations – choose which category you want to work with. Create beauty so
We as a society have serious limitations in understanding what “opportunity” is; we are constantly encouraged to focus on individual and highly subjective attributes of “ambition”, “faith in God” and “hard work”. Hence, we can blame children for not “paying attention” or going to school, or not “taking advantage”, as long as we don’t have to look at what our institutions are asking them to pay attention to, or to recognize the obstacles that institutions put in their way. I want to hear one of dem beauty contestants and government scholarship awardees actually thank the sources of their success: institutions that, because of who their parents are (where they work, who they know, etc.) were given privilege access that was denied to other people.
By the way, that’s the point that was being made in the letter to which the blogger was responding. That is, privileged persons in Jamaica are regularly rewarded for their existing privilege; those without access are shut out because they don’t have access. “Ghetto people” can testify to this; but so can all the employers who refuse to hire people from a particular address. But he didn’t even notice that. We don’t just need “funds” to be set aside; we also need individuals who are going to work to make sure that more children from poverty-stricken neighborhoods get recognition for what they are achieving; and we need more individuals who see the need to build institutions that will focus on investing in the achievement of our children.
But I also know why someone would dismiss the arts etc. : that’s because our knowledge about how governments and societies work and what they can do is limited to THIS one. And limited to a particularly ahistorical notion of this society. Indeed, our knowledge about what makes a “good society” is limited to what we have been told here. We don’t read, we don’t investigate, we don’t know, not even what we have been doing all along, and can do better.
In fact, organized activities – whether based on sports, theatre, poetry, visual arts, trades, etc. – and the brilliant combination of these – are the hallmark of a vibrant democratic society. As such, creating new opportunities for such organized activities to thrive are tried and true strategies EVERYWHERE in the world where governments and citizens have come together and made serious interventions, in the lives young and old people.
Creating beauty is an important and vital part of our lives. Creating opportunities for that beauty to be expressed, appreciated and to feed us is essential work if our humanity is to remain intact. Its not that religious institutions in Jamaica can’t support this notion that the arts, etc. are important. It’s that they don’t choose to. And so, many of our youth in church don’t know how to express themselves in positive, affirming and community-minded ways any more than the generic youth who doesn’t participate in church. They can be just as violent in their language and ways of being as the non-churched kids. What is also true is that the one in church probably thinks they are “better” than the other, and are going to be rewarded for that affilation in the way that the other is not. And art gets called “world-ian” and “pointless”, while reciting biblical scripture and dancing dinky minnie on stage somehow becomes the measure of our cultural consciousness.
Our kind of thinking — that government must provide the ideas and the money — is not thinking at all (its also funny how this notion of a centrally controlled society resembles the spectre of communism that many of us purport to hate…) It is merely repeating what someone has already said and that someone is coming from a perspective that was never examined. It is not based on any evidence but on using a medium – the blog, the letters to the editor, the call-in stations – to spout off and claim authority on an issue that everyone seems to be an authority on these days. It is based on laziness and a refusal to take responsibility for the society that we are living off like parasites, rather than putting anything back into it.
Political will is important, but so is civic action. If political will does not exist, its our job as citizens to help create it. Its also our jobs as citizens to do the things that we believe need to be done, and that are important for our wellbeing.
It seems to me that we are constantly looking to the wrong sources for expertise and vision. Governments can demonstrate the latter through its political will – the commitment to do something and to follow it through — when they choose to. But politicians don’t have expertise, and they certainly can’t polish that vision and make it real in all its possible manifestations.
That expertise is located elswehere, and if our government officials are not smart or savvy or interested enough to look for that expertise, or cannot inspire us to offer it up free of charge, or who only can create corrupt partnerships with equally greedy citizens, then we who have that expertise and an ounce of integrity ought not sit down and wait for permission or for the gov’t to ask us.
That ability to dream, create and make things and build relationships that would not otherwise be thought possible — that’s OUR job, as individuals, as collectives. WE need to do the work.
That means we don’t sit down and wait for GOVERNMENT to do public education on anything! Many of us are flocking into broadcasting, graphic design etc. but why? So we can become part of the “entertainment industry” or “tourism industry” and become famous in this small place and make money for ourselves and to promote all kinds of crap that is actually bad for us.
It is our narrow thinking — focused only on our individual selves and thinking that each of us is an expert — that is killing us. Not just governmental corruption but our complacence and complicity: our inability to vision and to work to bring that vision to fruition.
We simply can’t see the forest because we are focused only on the one deggeh deggeh tree in our own backyard where we planted our navel string. It’s time to see both.
May 14, 2008
Who feels it knows it.
A popular adage.
Experience is the precursor to knowledge.
Experience is the essence of knowledge.
Experience defines the limits of knowledge.
So, yet another “Silver Pen” award is given by the Gleaner to someone offering insight into the obstacles to achieving the elusive “law and order” society that we so dearly want. This time, its a teacher who argues that
teachers are left to fend for themselves in the classroom cum battleground, and to “deal with it” when children are unruly, misbehaving and downright hostile to the enterprise of education; after all, the kids come from shitty homes and communities so what else should we expect? We’ve heard this all before, so no surprises here.
Beyond the highly emotional repetition of what is fast becoming a truism – its the children’s fault — I can see why she got the Silver Pen; the poor thing is drowning in the ocean of chaos and mismanagement, and feels like bricks have been tied to her ankles. At the very least, the award works as an acknowledgement of what her and other teachers are dealing with, even if there’s not a drink of freshwater nor a lifeboat available in sight.
I returned to the original letter, and realized that it is one that I had put off responding to. Too much going on there, I said then. I still say that. But, just to offer another viewpoint besides this whole “you can’t know if you are not in my shoes”:
My first thought: Ms. Moore’s shoes are ill-fitting. Based on all that has been shared in the letter, she needs to leave the profession. Pronto. Either that, or change her thinking and approach immediately. If she can’t figure out how to do her job to the best of her ability within the constraints placed on her, and not expect to be thanked and lauded by all and sundry, then she needs to leave. Nobody will fault her for that. If I was that frustrated and hated my job and felt unsupported and mistreated, I would not be sticking around for long, I can assure you.
In the recent article, Ms. Moore tells the Gleaner that “since corporal punishment has been removed or is seen [??] as illegal, it’s like the teachers have lost power. Removing this as a means of discipline, not abuse, is as if you are removing the motivation, because of I know if I do X and I’m going to be scolded for it, then I’m not going to want to do it.” Teachers have had enough, and according to Miss Moore, want permission to do more than “deal with” the bad treatment meted out to them. They want permission to beat our children, when they do not humbly or dutifully comply with the teachers’ wishes.
Can you imagine what would happen if, with all the anger and pent-up frustration that she clearly has, she felt free to beat her students? Lord have his mercy on these children.
However, if one looks more closely at the sources of frustration that Ms. Moore describes and which have caused teachers to “have enough”, as she says, you also see some very familiar signs that tell us that its not all the students’ fault, and certainly not in her classroom:
There’s the obvious failure in the training that she received as a teacher, which does not help her to deal with the conditions that she is facing everyday. Apparently, to be a “teacher” is to TELL the students what to do, and they must dutifully comply, ie. LEARN. Why on earth would you be telling students “don’t use indecent language in public” if you are not also providing some context for a discussion about what is “decent”, ïndecent”, etc. and some kind of reward for following through on what was agreed?
She says: “you give them homework and there is nobody home with them to assist them”
Ah, how is this new? It’s the job of the teacher to come up with something else to make the learning possible. Lesson plans need to be based on what you can accomplish. Sometimes you need to get rid of the lesson plans. Yes, I know what the Ministry says and all that. Drastic situations call for drastic measures. Maybe Ms. Moore shouldn’t give homework during the week. Maybe teachers should organize homework sessions that children can go to. Maybe teachers should try doing a buddy system for homework. Maybe Ms. Moore should do a little research on this issue – I know, she doesn’t like surveys or whatever — to find out how teachers elsewhere deal with this.
Ms. Moore says “the fact that you don’t have parents taking an active part, calling to find out the development and the progress of their children.”
So, again, how is this new news? Ms. Moore hasn’t been paying attention to what’s going on in the country and in the urban communities of the US, Canada and Britain I see. Again, one’s ability to teach is not being supported by the environment; but that doesn’t mean you don’t do your job as a teacher. You redefine it to make it work within the constraints; there’s what you have control over, and what you don’t. But you don’t stop being an advocate for your students because you don’t like the conditions under which you are teach. Nor should you assume that just because you tell a student something that it is going to stick and radically transform them. If you are not going to take the work of being an educator seriously — and noone said it was going to be a bed of roses, if someone told you that, they lied to you — then get out, change jobs, schools, whatever.
She says: “Not only are teachers expected to facilitate learning, but they have the responsibility of instilling discipline, conducting regular assessment of students’ performance, writing regular plans, keeping and updating records, tending to their needs (this includes support financially, emotion-ally and otherwise) and being role models for tomorrow’s people. Needless to say, there are many other roles.”
You see, this is how I know she did not receive proper training, and is also profoundly inexperienced and clueless about what the work of education is about. And this is where her experience should count for something; she didn’t do her homework before she took the job and now she’s finding out what its really like.
Then there’s her inflexibility and lack of innovation. When, as she argues, you are faced with 35-60 students everyday, I would think that one would want to – by virtue of sheer willpower and desire to survive – figure out a way to deal with a condition that is not going to change anytime soon. In other words, she would need to adopt the appropriate PEDAGOGICAL tools to manage a large classroom while making some learning possible. Despising the students and their families is not enough, sorry.
Then there’s the absolute disregard for the humanity of students. Apparently, being respectful and pleasant towards students is not a requirement; its conditional. If they don’t do what you want, and behave how you want, you belittle their backgrounds and dismiss them as hopeless curs. Yes, Ms. Moore definitely has a successful career ahead of her in Jamaica’s public schools.
So, Ms. Moore, if you think the kids are hellbent on sliding into delinquency and criminality with the aid of their absent parents, and you treat them as if that’s the only outcome possible, and then you set up a school environment that’s a model jail with teachers and principals as wardens and corrections officers, well, I don’t know what you expect except what we’re getting.
Then, there’s her difficulty getting a handle around the concept of “discipline”. I can see why most of our students lack creativity and the ability to think critically; the teachers don’t have it, and they beat it out of our kids.
In our western-trained minds, discipline – learning how to act in accordance with rules and regulations – is always paired with punishment – methods of correction and otherwise penalizing one for failing to comply and act accordingly. I don’t think Ms. Moore is up to reading Foucault, Bourdieu or Freire yet, or she would probably have a very different attitude about the notion of power, her relationship with her students and the work of education. But she doesn’t need to read those lofty tomes. She really just needs to think, just a little bit, about what she’s doing and what outcomes she’s getting vs. what she/rest of the society thinks is desirable.
It bears repeating that telling today’s students that they must behave and comply with the rules of the school and the classroom is pointless and a very useful exercise in how to frustrate yourself to the point of homicide. Contrary to what most of our teachers and parents think and practice, it is much more meaningful – in the short and longterm – to get students to ask Why? What’s that about? What does it make possible that other strategies can’t? What do I get from doing it this way? What don’t I get from doing it this way? etc. etc. It is also more useful to have rewards that are meaningful to them. These children probably get beaten all the time. How does being beaten by a teacher do anything different? Its the same shaming, the same system of punishment and degradation that is being visited on them. And when they get a chance, they will fling rockstone pon yuh car and fire shot after you the same way they would in other situations.
Classroom education of poor and working class students in Jamaica is a strange exercise in disrespect of those students, and is merely an extension of how the rest of the society views them. So, Ms. Moore, don’t be so put off that they cuss and carry on the same way that they might outside the classroom. Do you act any differently towards them than any one else does? What kind of classroom environment do you cultivate?
If the teachers and principals are too busy complaining and running for cover and not taking charge of the schools in ways that make education priority and possible, not much will change. I have yet to hear a principal or teacher articulate an analysis or offer policy solutions that do not rely on the state and on turning the schools into prisons.
In fact, I have yet to hear a principal or teacher speak in a way that is intelligible and reflects their status as educators! Beyond saying that one is a teacher, I can’t see how the perspectives offered tell us anything about what unique skills and viewpoints that teachers offer. Frankly, it is impossible to distinguish between the armchair musings of an ordinary citizen writing a letter to the editor and what our principals and teachers offer to the public in the way of analysis of school policies and education practices. Maybe our educators who want change should take some time out to think, and talk, and strategize. The unreflexive bitchfest that happens in the newspapers is just ridiculous and getting us nowhere.
I am pretty unapologetic about advocating for children and for better educational experiences for them. While recognizing the ridiculous conditions under which this work is being done – where our political leaders play dutty football with our kids’ futures; our parents, along with the majority of our institutions and citizens have taken a hands-off approach and completely checked out – I still see that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And while there’s no political will, educators need to develop and sustain their own will. Without that, we are all as good as dead. Sitting down and waiting for a government handout and decision is not enough. Nor is wailing and crying out of selfish motives. What about the teachers? you say.
Yes, what ABOUT the teachers? we say. What do you need to have in order to make our schools work? What is your vision? If you can’t get past the “law and order” and “gimme gimme” approaches to articulate something more lofty and yet more meaningful in this time, then nobody is really going to give a shit about your problems at work. So far, teachers are making it pretty easy for folks to dismiss them: we all have hard lives, Jamaica is fast becoming a pit latrine; deal with it.
But if the more progressive ones among our teachers can start – quietly even! – doing some thinking and strategizing work, freeing up themselves from the JTA, trying out a ting or two in their classrooms, and building support for what they are doing through partnerships and innovative programs, then we’re behind them. But teachers have to lead. Yes, you, YOU teachers, do have to lead. And right now, they still haven’t figured out that part of their role is to offer leadership. They’re too busy saluting and begging the Minister for favours. It would be really nice, uplifting even, if teachers began to show the students – and the rest of us — that they really do know what it means to be educators. Maybe our students and parents and everybody else might start paying attention to such responsible, ethical leadership.
March 2, 2008
From the tone of the commentary about students being disorderly and mouthing off to teachers, I guess many of us see ourselves as above the growing problem of student misbehavior, rather than part of it?
None of the instance that are reported in the media just fell out of the sky; there is a history that is not being reported or made available to us. Frankly, much of this reportage is not about helping us understand fix the problem; its all “drive by journalism”, fling a likkle sensationalism gi’ we and get people to say how yuh is a good reporter.
And frankly, the overly moralistic tone of the so-called experts absolutely sicken me. These are policymakers and that’s the best they could come up with? Oh my! Well, I never! My children would never do that! Those children are perverts! Those children are animals! That kind of answer takes no effort, and reflects that they aren’t thinking about or approaching the problem of indiscipline in schools with any more information or insight than the ordinary citizen. That’s very scary to think about. They are not paid or appointed to parrot self-righteous outrage; they are paid to assess, analyze and try to fix the problem. Whe’ all dem study whe’ dem a tek money from UNESCO, USAID fi do? How dem na’a do nutt’n? What dem a do wid di money dem? These are the questions we need to be asking!
Just to put some of this into context:
Pranks at school against teachers are nothing new; spit in the water? all of us could best that one if we had a chance, could get away with it, and especially when we don’t like the teacher. We might not do it ourselves, but we wouldn’t want to do a damn thing to stop it if we witnessed it anyway. That force called peer pressure, yes. A student stuffing a green mango in the muffler of the car belonging to a teacher who many of us hated still makes me chuckle, although I know it wasn’t the right thing to do at the time.
Physical intimidation of teachers? Well, to hear MB tell the story, its was something to be proud of, practically earning a badge of honour.
Feisty, hard-iyez pickney who constantly w’aa call dung crowd and bring dem generation dem fi come challenge teacher authority? A long time supp’n dem deh. Knowing this was a possibility was enough to make teachers at my primary school stop harassing and trying to beat a couple young women who came from a nearby neighborhood of ill-repute.
What’s different now is that schools and classrooms are official battlegrounds, and Jamaican teachers are definitely on the losing side because they never figured out other ways of gaining students’ respect besides demanding it, or beating and shaming deference out of children when they can’t get it any other way.
Students, no matter where they come from, are not fools. Teachers have lost all moral authority. They are not to be venerated or to be the first or last source of knowledge and wisdom because they have constantly compromised themselves. Taking bribes, showing favoritism, failing to take just stances, and doing all kinds of things to undermine the educational process — and the JTA and Min. of Educ. has turned a blind eye to all of it. Well, this is like chickens coming home to roost! I haven’t heard of any teachers being reprimanded, fired, or otherwise censured for beating children and verbally abusing them. They don’t even get held responsible for sexual assault that takes place on their watch (by the way, where were all the teachers when all these students were making their own porn movie in the school building???)
Have you witnessed the ways that many teachers interact with students in the classroom, talk about students, and face off with parents? The parents are the idiots and the archenemy, not partners in their children’s education. So much would be different if teachers took a different approach to what they do. But they don’t, no thanks to the lack of leadership and institutional support coming from on high. So, for every student that teachers insulted as “classless”, “wutless” and “bruk bad”, there are students sitting there feeling sorry for them, imagining how to get their own comeuppance, letting other bolder children do the dirty work of challenging authority for them, and convincing themselves that they are better and more deserving than those students. This is a recipe for how to breed complicity and aggressive disregard for rules and process. What is the process for students to report such abusive language? Oh wait, there’s none. That’s how we all talk to each other all the time: insults, patronizing and pejorative language is how we communicate; awareness of and respect for other people’s feelings? Nope, that’s not very Jamaican is it?
There is many a teacher that I wanted to tell off; I was angry enough, god knows; but I never do such a thing because my self-respect and reputation was at stake. For other students, cussing, stoning and spitting in the teachers’ water, well, that’s what get’s them respect from their peers. There is no kind of awareness among the students that tit does not equal tat. But, there’s no reason they should think otherwise is there? When this kind of intimidation is done by students to other students, the teachers have nothing useful to say or do about it. So, did these teachers in Ocho Rios somehow think it was not going to come their way? When a student can take an iron pipe and buss up a student’s head, I bet you a whole heap a fish an festival that teachers heard and knew about the tension between those boys, and took a stance; that is, they did nothing to alert the parent or to protect the student. So, what makes teachers think that parents should see them as having any authority or deserving of any kind of regard?
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: when teachers remain committed to being authoritarian prison guards rather than being educators, they are also fanning the flames of student revolt. Not the kind that produces useful social change, but the powder keg kind. Jamaican teachers have no respect for students as persons. Students are viewed as empty vessels who should sit quietly and let themselves be filled up with the teacher’s stuff — bile, prejudices and information, all of it. Well, those empty vessels can still scheme and act out; and if they are never taught how to resolve conflict in a peaceful, respectful way, and if teachers have not modeled this behavior, well, we get what we get and we shouldn’t get upset (my son says that all the time…). Except, I’m really, really pissed off about all of this.
Education is not about the lofty stuff some of us like to claim. Today, education is about teachers doing a”job” and complaining about their pay, while denigrating the students who they are paid to teach as not deserving of their time and effort. Any student who gets lifted up, encouraged, and challenged by a teacher are gaining something at the expense of the other students. Why? Because knowledge is still treated as a scarce commodity, a zero-sum game, to be given to those deserving, and denied to those who don’t deserve it.
Students are challenging authority, as children will do. There is a way to allow students to rebel and express their fears, disappointments, anger without anybody getting hurt, physically or emotionally. Except, there’s nothing in our school curriculum or programming that allows that to happen, or channels that in any productive way. Absent leadership and resources on the part of the MoE control machine, the only strategies that teachers seem to have is shaming, beating and putting students down – the old iron thumb; the students respond by using the weapons that they know will produce results – violence and hostile confrontation. None of this is good for anybody; the psychological pain that many students are in is unbelievable. Some don’t even want to go to school because of the violence. Teachers get increasingly removed from what they are doing and disinvested in the education process. This is definitely NOT good for us.
I am very critical of teachers (and administrators) in Jamaica because I happen to know a thing or two about education. And I know for sure that our teachers are not responding in nearly the ways they need to, in order to manage this problem which has been brewing for many, many years.
Demonizing the children, their families and their backgrounds is the easy response. Everyone is doing it.
Looking at what is going on in the classrooms and teachers’ role in it? A hole’ nedda sinting.
Memba sey anno di same day leaf drop inna wata, it rotten…
February 28, 2008
I’ve been listening to the debate about what to do about violence in the Jamaican schools, and I cannot but notice that the general chaos in the schools is only being called a “problem” worthy of solution and collective action by the teachers, when one of their own is directly affected.
I also notice that we are asked by our illustrious media and newsmakers, to think about this “problem” as a particular one, and not a pattern across the school system, when we get wind that children at so-called “prominent” schools are doing the same things.
Then, there is the issue of the language. Too often, teachers and administrators characterize the student population in ways that are quite pejorative. I wonder why noone has said much about this.
It seems that too many of us are busy playing by the rules of elitism and prejudice. By and large, many Jamaican teachers set out with missionary zeal to rehabilitate and make persons out of the poor, black rubbish that are their students. Or, they bear a deep and seething resentment of said children and the burden of teaching them. Either way, don’t expect government-funded classrooms to be the place where children are nurtured and treated like whole persons. To date, none of the commentary reveals that teachers see this approach as part of their job and key to their own success. Their job is to teach (don’t exactly know what that means, but can guess…), discipline and reprimand. And boy, do some of them spend time on cultivating the latter. By the conversations I overhead of teachers bragging about which students “dem a set fuh”, some of them get pretty charged up on novel ways to inflict insult and discouragement on the children they just can’t stand the sight of — I don’t need to make this up; instead, I listen to teachers talking at the bus stops, in the stores, at the supermarket etc.
Having survived – can’t say that I thrived, in all honesty – Jamaican schools, I can say that I didn’t have to personally experience a lot of these things to see and hear them in action. The worse part is that not much has changed for the better. In fact, teachers seem to have been given more license, by parents and concerned persons frustrated by the low levels of achievement, to do whatever they think it takes to make the children “behave themselves” ie. act like obedient, regurgitating drones. Except many teachers didn’t need any encouragement to do that. And so, children have become the beating sticks of parents, teachers and now the government, held in this crazy tug-o-war about control over their minds and their lives. What’s missing here from all the parties? A commitment to a good education in a safe, nurturing environment. This is now all about who’s going to wrangle control from the others.
Clearly, some parents have not shied away from the battle, and are quite willing to bring it to the schoolyard. Again, nothing new here. When otherwise disenfranchised people feel wronged in Jamaica and don’t feel like justice is available any other way, mob squads are the modus operandi. We take on teachers and homosexuals alike; one technique fits all, I suppose. Except, the high that one gets from flinging a bottle or drawing a machete is temporary, fleeting, and does not resolve any problems at all; in fact, new issues are produced exponentially from those emotion-driven behaviors – — emboldened students who take every opportunity to challenge authority in good and no-so good ways; frustrated turned fascist teachers who find every possible avenue to see the bad in their students and not the promise; administrators who are so confused about how to identify and deal with the issues that they retreat into authoritarianism, overzealous defense of their teachers against the children, and officially brand the schools as war zones, where they are the generals in charge.
An analogy comes to mind: it is as if we are so busy staring at the little shriveled shoot trying to come up thru the cracks of the parched soil, and wondering where it came from, that it never occurs to us that roots grow deep and spread widely; that a tree somewhere else that provides shade while crowding out all other trees, can also materialize right in our midst.
This is a society that tolerates the abominable misallocation of resources that allows some government-funded schools to get more than their fair share of resources and accolades than others; the latter are left to fight over marl and pit toilets. This is also a society that agrees largely that not everybody should get the same quality education because some children are never going to turn out to be anything of worth anyway. So, we decide on who’s not worthy from the get-go, and treat them accordingly in school and in the media accounts of what’s going wrong in our schools. Teachers are following a script that we helped to write. The script needs to be rewritten, plain and simple. Teachers and principals should be held accountable for how they treat our children, and for making sure that the environment that they create is a nurturing one. I suspect that if our schools had treated families as partners in the education of children, rather than taking the patronizing approach aka Andrew Holness of “warning” and shaming what they are “supposed” to do, we would not be having this conversation. And from the look of it, there’s not a whole lot of positive change to look forward to. But, I can wait to see.
Meanwhile, click here for a cogent response to the issue of violence in schools.
January 25, 2008
I sent this to the Gleaner on 1/24/08; they probably won’t publish it.
To the Editor:
It seems to me that the problem of illiteracy of schoolchildren in Jamaica is a cultural question, not simply a political one best left to be resolved by governmental officials or agencies. Our reluctance to commit to full literacy of all our citizens is reflected everywhere in this society, including in our classrooms. Consequently, that many children move from primary to secondary public schools without basic literacy skills is hardly a new problem in this society.
On the contrary, this issue has been buried for many years under the grossly exaggerated and highly popularized statistic that Jamaica has more than 85 percent literacy rate. We — policymakers and citizens alike — have known that nothing could ever have been further from the truth, but we have done little to address this issue. The current situation is borne of our collective disinvestment and shortsightedness.
Sorry, we cannot blame any political administration for this mess; it has been years in the making.
For one thing, our schools themselves do not promote literacy. On top of the ridiculously large classes that teachers and children have to contend with, many educators themselves also believe that low levels of literacy among some children indicates a primordial defect of the student and his/her social environs. The “dunce” is not just an academic label, but one that is socially determined and actively produced in the classroom. In the deepest irony, a self-described and well-known educator who was bemoaning students’ lackluster performance on an essay contest, informed me that such an outcome was ultimately not a problem for her per se since “the cream always rises to the top”; she simply would have preferred more “cream” in the mix of essay writers.
Consequently, some educators do not see illiteracy as a problem or as a reflection on their abilities to provide a basic education for our children. In a similar turn, our educators often take the ability to read — and to provide instruction on how to do so — for granted. But literacy, is a complex relationship with words, symbols and language, not just a skill. Sadly, not all of our teachers can or even have the inclination to convey why and how literacy is important, beyond passing the GSAT or scoring well on essay contests. In truth, how many of our teachers read anything (besides the Bible)? At the end of the day, our teachers may have to relearn what they should be preaching, as well as how to convey that material in the classroom and in their own lives.
It certainly does not help matters when we promote ourselves as an “oral culture”, as if, in 2008, one\’s ability to speak, think and reason is not connected with the written word. Many of us laugh and shake our heads with self-righteous pity when we hear of entertainers who cannot understand the contracts they negotiate, but we never ask what this says about the conditions of the schools that they came out of — and they all went to school.
Adults, parents and caregivers who tell the children for whom they are responsible to “put down the book and to instead(!!) “go and do something worthwhile” – only undermine their children’s future. Equally problematic are caregivers who regularly complain to other adults (in the presence of other children!) and bemoan the fact that their children “don’t want to do anything in the house” and “only want to sit down and read books.” That is an excellent problem for every parent to have. We need to have much more of that.
Our admiration for verbal acuity often also serves to diminish the written word to a matter of personal opinion that can be summarily dismissed by the one with the quickest tongue and the sharpest wit. And so, we lavish national attention and resources on how well our children (as well as adults) can memorize others’ words. We give scant attention to how well our children can decipher and construct their own arguments, and demonstrate reasoning. These are all issues of literacy.
Most of us do not see it as problematic when our public officials do not read (or even understand) the very documents and policies created by their offices. Nor do some of our political pundits feel any shame in telling the public that they didn’t read documents pertaining to matters on which they are quite ready to offer opinions. The quality of “local” programming — whether on television or in performance — is generally anti-intellectual and one-dimensional. Not surprisingly then, the very avenue that we have been using to communicate with (and capture) children as “audiences” actually works against the possibility that they can even articulate what it is they are seeing, watching and jumping up to. No emphasis on literacy here.
Children’s contact with books and written material inside the classroom is often limited to the predigested and soulless material that they are forced to memorize and regurgitate on those all-important tests. The situation is often even more appalling outside the classroom. Despite claims about the wide availability of public libraries for our children, this is simply not true. In today\’s social climate, libraries are where children are sent to retrieve information that they then, like clockwork, copy and repeat verbatim in their book reports. In most academic quarters, this is a mortal sin called plagiarism. How many students (teachers? parents and caregivers?) even know this?
Similarly, bookstores are not places for children to roam and read, but where one goes once per year, usually in August, to experience enormous stress getting ready for the school year. Bookstores are where children are routinely reminded by both clerks and caregivers not to touch the books unless they are buying them. Bookstores, the few that exist, still have not figured out that sucking money out of parents’ pockets for “schoolbooks” is just a small part of their role; that is, their relevance depends on their figuring out how to bring more children and their caretakers, not less, into their stores, all year round.
The quality and content of conversation and interactive dialogue between adults and children is also quite paltry and stifling. Children are told what to think, and often in rigid, moralistic and opaque language. They are not taught how to think and question. Where’s the dictionary? The thesaurus? If one pays careful attention these days, one can actually witness the retardation of children’s ability to read and reason. Literacy out the window.
Current public policy dictates that we wait until Grade 4 to determine whether students meet the minimal guidelines. But most of us as citizens do not know what these guidelines are; many of us as adults could not even meet those same standards if we were tested! Nor is it entirely clear what programs are in place to address meet these basic needs. Taken together, these forces produce, or at least sustain, a profound cultural orientation that discourages literacy and undermines its credibility. State-of-the-art research on education and literacy shows that children’s literacy is related to how well their social environments — family, community, school, media — together, support the love of books and reading. In Jamaica, these environments are certainly working together, but to produce outcomes that should collectively embarass us.
We absolutely need to change our approach to collective self-development. But political edicts by the Ministry of Education, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association or the newspapers are not nearly enough to accomplish this. What we do need is much more creativity in how we – as individuals, members of families and communities, cultural activists, and policy advocates – respond to this issue.
For example, every community group, organization and institution can be a site for a family literacy center.
Every subject taught in school can be an avenue for developing and enhancing students\’ literacy skills.
Every community event — whether for entertainment or otherwise — can find a way to promote literacy among its audience.
Every adult who is literate should read to the children who they have contact with; they should also encourage and support adults who need to learn to read. We can make it part of our business to see that every conversation and interaction with children offers some opportunity for them to want to know more, encourages them to see literacy as a method of knowing, and empowers them to seek out the information.
We can give books and reading material away to adults and children all the time, without need for special occasion, and without hesitation.
In short, we – as individuals and as institutions – can invent as many opportunities as possible for children to have sustained interaction with the written word. If we want to. Literacy is not simply the job of teachers in formal academic environments. This is the responsibility of every one of us, regardless of where we sit, stand or lay. And frankly, I suspect that this diversity of efforts would do a much better job than educational cash-strapped bureaucracies ever could.
None of this is difficult to accomplish, and takes as much or as few resources as we have at our disposal. What is required is a clear shift in our individual and collective attitudes and values about literacy and all that it brings. Every effort counts and makes that shift possible. Jamaican individuals and small groups overseas are already doing things like building libraries in communities they have chosen to adopt. Multiplying those efforts locally and with serious commitment is bound to make a difference in children’s academic performance.
In short, when we begin to systematially dismantle the notion that literacy — and books — is a status symbol rather than a basic human right, then our children’s experiences in schools, and the broader society, will be better for it.