It was not too long ago that the country was engaged in an emotional debate on the merits and demerits of a Springer Memorial Secondary School student’s refusal to pick up a wrapper after she was ordered to by a teacher.
The school’s response to the child’s stance was to suspend her, and she would be kept out of classes for nearly three months because she remained defiant that she was not attending school to pick up litter. The issue sparked a debate over the rights of the student as opposed to the demands and, some suggested, the whims of the teacher.
Unfortunately, here we are again embroiled in another debate over the actions of a student in her response to a teacher’s request.
Let us be clear. We are not seeking to compare the Springer student’s refusal to pick up litter with the action of the 13-year-old third form student of Ellerslie Secondary School who allegedly spat on and kicked a female teacher in her private parts. As was expected, the student was immediately suspended –– something that few would have disagreed with.
However, we have a duty to examine the demand by both the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) for the student’s immediate expulsion.
It would be foolhardy, dangerous even, if we were to adopt a position of false morality and cant. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact we are slowly drifting into an undesirable position of moral degeneracy of our society when a student feels emboldened enough to launch such an attack on her teacher.
That attack must be seen in the context of what appears to be a rise in assaults on teachers by pupils. Last week, we mentioned the plight of teacher Carseen Greenidge of The Lester Vaughan School who, sometime between February and March, had rocks and bottles thrown at him and his car by wayward students. The damage to his car was to the tune of $11,000, but the damage to his confidence in the ministry’s ability to maintain discipline cannot be measured. In the interest of his personal safety, Mr Greenidge has been staying away from school.
Last week, the president of the National Council of Parents Teachers Associations (BNCPTA), Shone Gibbs, said there were four other reports of students attacking teachers in recent weeks. The situation is not yet out of hand, but we cannot allow it to be, then later establish commissions of inquiry and task forces to produce reports that sit lazily on someone’s shelf.
It was not surprising that the unions would have demanded the student’s expulsion, since they represent the interest of their members. We are also not surprised by the gallery of would-be jurors who have lined up, ready to sentence the student to eternal life away from the school; from any school.
While we question what has happened to the sense of pride, the judgement, the discretion, the sense of perspective and the common sense of the third form student and others like her, it is not for us to determine whether or not she should be expelled.
However, we would do well to listen to the advice of retired educator Matthew Farley, widely known as a strict disciplinarian.
The former principal of Graydon Sealy Secondary School said he did not believe it would be prudent for the child to continue to attend the same school and have the teacher working in the same space as her. However, he also did not believe the child should be expelled. In fact, he called for a psychiatric and psychological evaluation of the child to determine what drove her to commit such a distasteful act. This is wise advice that ought to be taken seriously.
But Mr Farley made another key point which must be given the serious consideration it deserves.
He sagely warned against sending mixed signals on the issue of violence at school, whether student-to-teacher or student-to-student. In fact, he complained that too often this was the case with the Ministry of Education.
“I think that a strongly worded message must come from the ministry, and not a statement that sends mixed signals. I think for sometime we have been sending a lot of mixed signals with what is happening in respect to our schools.
We have to have a clear position that under no conditions we will tolerate student-on-teacher violence [or] student-on-student violence,” Farley said last week.
A case in point was Minister of Education Ronald Jones’ response to this incident. Rightly stating that a thorough investigation must first take place before any action is taken, the minister added that a story has more than one side, and that students had as much right to defend themselves as teachers did. Contrast this with the Springer situation where he stood behind the principal.
Such mixed signals confuse the situation, muddy the waters and leave
We firmly state that students must be respected and be allowed to stand for their rights. But they must not be allowed to use violence of any kind against teachers.
We agree wholeheartedly with Mr Farley that a strong, clear message must be sent to students and their parents that violence against teachers will not be tolerated.