Late Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson, while sitting in Parliament as Opposition Leader, once famously stated that the seemingly never-ending fishing dispute between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago could be amicably settled over a bowl of soup at Consett Bay.
We suggest that the departed Combermerian’s intent was not to belittle the importance of the vexing impasse, or to ridicule those who had previously attempted to bring resolution to the dispute. We believe that he saw the conflict between the two CARICOM territories as solvable and not one that merited continued acrimony, not to mention imprisonment of Barbadian fisherfolk for encroaching on Trinidad and Tobago waters. This was not a situation that necessitated arming the HMS Trident with a nuclear warhead and three cutlasses and dispatching it to Port of Spain with trembling crew.
For all our education, erudition, articulation, religion and other seeming signs of intelligence, we human beings can often find ourselves fighting windmills with enlightened ignorance. Russian-born British novelist and playwright William Gerhardie once said that there were as many fools at a university as elsewhere but their folly had a certain stamp –– the stamp of university training, or more succinctly, theirs was trained folly.
The great conflicts, wars, scandals, betrayals and general worldwide mayhem have mainly been occasioned by the would-be intelligentsia, not bumbling, brainless buffoons. Such ineptitude could hardly lay claim to be at the core of a Wall Street crash, the spread of dangerous ideology, a nuclear fallout or a botched laboratory experiment. These usually occur as a result of trained folly.
And this brings us to the quasi knights fighting windmills at the esteemed educational institution that is Combermere.
The environmental problems at the school have seemingly been used as fodder for political one-upmanship. We have seen a senior teacher ignore the guidelines which govern his employment, attack the principal of the school repeatedly and without censure. We have seen this same teacher presume to voice an opinion for the entire teaching body without any yea or nay from his seemingly voiceless colleagues. We have heard accusations of sabotage at the school being made by the principal as well as by this country’s Minister of Education. We have not heard of any attempt to have the saboteur(s) identified and prosecuted by the Royal Barbados Police Force. We have heard of reports of teachers and students becoming ill as a result of issues at the school. We have not heard whether residents living in close proximity to the school have also complained of similar issues.
It is somewhat distressing that in the year 2017, with education consuming a major portion of the public purse, a literacy rate ‘officially rumoured’ to be in the high 90s percentage, and a world rated intelligence quotient at 27th, that our intelligentsia have allowed the environmental problem at Combermere to prevail for more than 24 months. With no bumbling, brainless buffoons to be found in the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Education, Environmental Protection Department, Environmental Health Department, Sewage and Solid Waste Project Unit, and any number of other state agencies, why has this problem been allowed to fester?
Don’t we have the wherewithal and will to enter the premises, assess and isolate the problem and deal with it once and for all? Do we really need meetings of teachers and unions, principal and unions, parents and unions, parents and teachers, parents and principal, knights and horses, windmills and horses, to bring closure to a solvable problem?
And in the midst of this trained folly reside our innocent children. While this situation is politicized and personages demonized, students at the school have been denied important class time that can only be to their detriment. More than two years or 17,520 hours or 1,051,200 minutes have passed and the situation at Combermere is still a lamentable cause of national debate.
We have been informed by the Minister of Education that $707,000 of an allocated $850,000 has already been spent on effecting cleaning and repairs at Combermere, including work on the school’s sewerage system, and on the purchase of new equipment. Let us hope that this leads to closure of the problem.
And as for the public attacks on the principal at Combermere by that senior staff member, we would suggest that their differences find amicable denouement over a warm bowl of soup.