Dear Mr Jones,
Two recent incidents involving the use of cutlasses by school children have prompted me to pen this letter. Now, you, t Hon. Cynthia Forde, Senator Harcourt Husbands, of the present crop of parliamentarians, and I, along with others of course, have waged many a fierce battle on behalf of the teachers of Barbados, and I have great respect for the work you did as the leader of B.U.T.
I also want to congratulate you for ensuring that a significant number of teachers have been recently appointed. However, there are concerns I have and wish, through the media, to address.It is clear to me that standards of discipline in our schools are rapidly breaking down. The two cutlass attacks tell only part of the story.
Fighting on the streets, gross disrespect for teachers, bullying, failure to do assignments, skipping classes, using marijuana on school compounds, not conforming to dress codes are some of the other problems principals and staff are forced to grapple with. What is worse, Mr Jones, is that, in many cases, the school authorities feel powerless to deal with the growing tide of unruly behaviour.
In recent times, some of your public utterances, especially in relation to corporal punishment, have served to further weaken the hand and resolve of principals and teachers. Do you know that even primary school students are telling staff, “The Minister say wunnah can’t hit we?” In their young minds, that gives them licence to do as they please. Knowing you, I have no doubt that you never intended to give the impression that children can act with impunity. Nevertheless, both teachers and pupils have formed the opinion that you do not have the teachers’ backs.
Mr Minister, I support the use of a wide range of methods of discipline, but for me the options include the use of the rod. We must not be in a hurry to abolish corporal punishment in home or school, because it can serve as a deterrent when everything else fails. Remove it and you deprive principals and senior teachers of an effective means of curbing unacceptable behaviour. No evidence has yet been produced by UNICEF or any of the countries which have outlawed its use to show that the absence of such an option has led to improved school environments.
On the contrary, one of the developed countries to whom some colonial thinking Barbadians look for guidance in these matters has reported an increase in the number of pre-teens being expelled from schools across that country. Here in Barbados, we who taught or are still teaching, including you,
Mr Jones, know that there are certain kinds of inappropriate behaviour and some students that verbal reprimands, time out, in-school detentions and even so-called positive re-enforces cannot correct.
The Behaviour Modification Programme that we have so happily embraced may sound sexy but does it achieve the results we want? Nor is there any evidence to support the specious argument that corporal punishment breeds violence. How many among our generation, sir, were not flogged as children? Are we given to violence?
We need to examine the factors leading to increasing violence among our young people and refrain from jumping on the bandwagon of those whose motive is to find arguments, however dishonest, against corporal punishment. Don’t misunderstand me; I do not believe that the rod should be used with gay abandon or as some form of sick pleasure for sadists. Often just the knowledge of flogging being an available option serves as a deterrent.
But, we need to guard against the “expert advice” of international do-gooders whose own countries, having bought into the new methods of “discipline”, now have numbers of “blackboard jungles” where teachers fear for their lives. The local apologists for these foreign purveyors of pseudo-scientific clap-trap would do well to ground their views on what works for Barbados and will stem the indiscipline which threatens to engulf us.
If they can put forward efficacious strategies to promote discipline, I will be all ears and will join them in encouraging the home and school to retire the whip. Until then, let parents, school principals and senior teachers employ corporal punishment judiciously for the benefit of our children.
With students bringing weapons to school, the time has come for school personnel to be given full rein by your Ministry to conduct random searches of students, their bags and areas around the school. Staff and student safety is too important for us to pussyfoot with this matter any longer.
I hope that the situation is not crying out for the use of metal detectors! In case, sir, you think I am being alarmist, speak to the unions and teachers you know. The gang mentality has infiltrated our schools and we need to respond strongly and decisively.
Before closing, Mr Jones, I was and am still hoping that one of your legacies will be the abolition of the 11+ examination. Given the fact that all of our Secondary Schools have highly qualified teachers, there is no need to separate our children according to performance in any test. That was necessary in a by-gone era when only a few elite schools had graduate teachers.
It is educational madness to continue populating certain schools with low achievers, many of who possess poor literacy and numeracy skills. What we end up with are frustrated students who hate school and are eagerly awaiting the time when they can join the block culture. Not being able to connect with the school programme, they engage in rowdy behaviour and quickly resort to violence for reasons which are often difficult for intelligent persons to understand.
Mr Minister, check the Government Industrial Schools and Dodds prison and you will see the casualties of the system of placing large numbers of “Common Entrance failures” in the same schools. Like the primary schools, Community College, the Institute of Technology and society in general, persons of varying ability levels should be schooled together.
Mr Jones, you have the opportunity to rescue our children. Do not let history record that you failed to step up to the plate.
I remain your friend,