Who will “Discipline” and “Reprimand” the teachers?
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.