In Jonathan Swift’s highly instructive classic Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver travels to Bainibari and finds a people pursuing certain causes without the requisite thought. Though their academic search was supposedly scientific, Gulliver was hard-pressed to find reason behind their attempt to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, or their efforts to uncover political intrigue by sifting through the excrement of would-be conspirators.
Of course, if this descent into folly had only affected the practitioners, then all would have been well. But the intellectual buffoons of Bainibarbi and their misguided pursuits had served to undermine the society.
On his fourth trip Gulliver travels to the land of the Houyhnhnms where he encounters deformed, seemingly savage creatures somewhat resembling himself. He rejects these so-called yahoos as too hideous to be associated with, and instead befriends a race of talking horses who rule the island. But they subsequently reject Gulliver as a yahoo himself and expels him from their midst.
Much has been deciphered from this satirical masterpiece, whether it be related to government and governance, exposing the foibles of human nature or demonstrating how easily the sublime can retrogress to the ridiculous.
Though we find it easy to fight the temptation, some with less responsibility would suggest that perhaps what is needed to put out the flame burning among the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Minister of Education is for Gulliver to stand strategically over them and occasion relief. Quite frankly, what is transpiring following developments at Ellerslie involving a child and teacher fits smugly into Lilliput, Bainibari, Houyhnhnm or Brobdingnag. And it has been made so –– not by flying horses –– but by yahoos on both sides of the divide.
Teachers should always be respected by their charges and in an ideal world they would be. But this is not an ideal world.
Schoolchildren ought to be obedient and dutiful at all times, but the imperfections of us yahoos render this impossible. So adult teachers must start with this premise: the good, the bad and the ugly await them in most, if not all schools.
Because we live in an ordered society where we expect Lilliputians, Bainibarians, Houyhnhnms, Brobdingnagians, et al. to interact, to have differences, to usurp authority and to abuse each other, laws are put in place to ensure processes serve all and sundry equitably. To deviate from same is more than likely to occasion further chaos than what one is trying to remedy.
We have seen the development of a situation where confrontation seems to be a synonym for union representation. And this should not be so. We acknowledge that when teachers are in the right, the union, by its very existence, must render effective representation. We are also keenly aware that when teachers are wrong, the union, by its very existence, must render effective representation. But sober heads should always prevail in both circumstances.
It is wrong for any union to prescribe punishment for anyone before due process has taken place. We have had cases before the courts of Barbados where teachers have faced criminal charges, inclusive of sexual assault of children, and not once had any teachers’ union called for the expulsion of that specific adult teacher from the service.
But adult union leaders, supposedly possessed of sober thought and reason, would call for the expulsion of a child before a determination of the indiscretion committed has been made within the dictates of rules and regulations governing such situations.
And, rather than correct or pull back from that faux pas, it appears adults who should know better proceed to exacerbate a situation where deciding which side of the egg to break is not as difficult as some might make it seem.
And how do they do this? By threats and intimidation in scenarios that have not escalated to an extent where such are required. When one hangs the convict by the neck until he is dead, there is no need to imprison him afterwards.
We have seen both the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union adopt this strategy of calling out teachers to update them on union matters during school hours. Never are these meetings held on a Saturday or Sunday –– the latter day perhaps reserved for their earnest prayer and displays of Christian charity in churches across the island.
Now we have the spectre of primary school children being the likely victims of possible teacher meetings that will coincide with the Common Entrance Examination next week Tuesday. We presume that teachers are parents too and expect common sense to prevail in this situation. Sometimes agitation can become so intoxicating that purpose plays second fiddle to the frenzy. No one wants to be a rebel without a cause.
The fact of the matter is that the offending Ellerslie pupil is not the enemy, nor is her teacher. Minister of Education Ronald Jones is also not the enemy. But in an atmosphere of perpetual confrontation, normally sensible human beings might actually attempt to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.
It is under such ridiculous circumstances that images of Gulliver relieving his bladder over this flaming folly become quite palatable.