Misbehavin’ students: same sankey or new song?

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…



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