We are today in a fine mess with violence, uncouth behaviour and indiscipline in several of our schools. And while some foolishly attempt to politicize this issue, they would do well to look in the mirror and realize that Barbadian adults are in large measure responsible for much of the current state of affairs.
Despite the wringing of hands and some arms being thrown into the air, the reality is that violence in schools is no new phenomenon. Indeed, Barbados experienced the tragic stabbing death of a teenage girl at Foundation School by another female more than three decades ago. Over the years other unfortunate acts of violence and deviant behaviour have found their way into our secondary schools. There has been student on student violence, student on teacher violence and teacher on student violence. Teacher on teacher violence is not known to be a prevalent situation in the system, though.
Technology has brought the violence and the indiscipline more readily and frequently to our attention and into our homes. The suggestion, though, is that the degree of violence in society today is exponentially greater than it was three, four or more decades ago. If statistics are to be believed and not lumped with lies and damned lies, then we do appear to be in an era of heightened ignorant violence by the young and – not to be left out – the not so young.
There are many things to which one can attribute the level of violence and deviancy in our schools. But one must first understand that our schools are a reflection of wider Barbados. The sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, truancy, bullying and violence in our schools are to be found being practised by adults in every nook and cranny of Barbados. And the children are watching.
We, adults, have let our slips down and our society is paying for it. We live in a liberal age where we give our children more and more latitude. What worked for Barbados in an age when the voice of the police, parents, teachers and elders in a community, was akin to the voice of God, has been replaced in modern times by well-intentioned notions of rights and fairness, that have served to emboldened intelligent children to push the button as far as they possibly can. The things that assisted in imbuing our children with certain values such as the teaching of religious studies in schools have been placed on the backburner. Religion is now taboo. The idea of corporal punishment has been dissected and stripped so bare that to even hint at its relevance as an important tool of instilling discipline is met with academic derision and pious posturing.
But we the adults are to blame for the breakdown. We have cursed our children by our indifference, by ignoring the small things while waiting for the big ones, and not realizing that in this battle to save our children big is little and little is big. Every teenager that walks the streets exposing his undergarments as though he is offering his youth for sale, left the home of some adult or returned to the home of some adult. Who is to blame? Every teenager that spends Monday to Sunday under a tree or in a shanty filling his consciousness with alien substances returns home to eat and sleep at some adult. So who is to blame? Every parent who gives succour to a son or daughter despite knowing that the substance in their room or the implement in the drawer bears no relationship to earning an honest wage is worse than his or her offspring. Who is to blame?
And in our schools, teachers must do more. There is no challenge in educating bright children. If one wishes to show one’s mettle as a teacher, challenge that below-average to average child. Take that under-achiever and shake the cobweb of ignorance which he or she has long accepted as their lot and show them that there is a different path. If we are to reach into the darkness of violence and deviancy, we must reach into the minds of our young people and spot the light on their possibilities.
But we adults are not sending the right messages. How can we moralise to our children when we adults often sink lower than they do or those in authority with the wherewithal to make a difference send blurred signals? Our children are not stupid; they watch. Earlier this month at the Foundation School two adults were found smoking illegal drugs and drinking on school premises in the view of teenagers. They were confronted by a police officer about their conduct and they assaulted the officer. What should have been a prison sentence to send a clear message to all and sundry eventuated into fines, inclusive of one of $200. What was the message sent?
Some years ago in full view of the public, a Member of Parliament swore on national television, telling another member what his mother should do with a lower part of her anatomy. What was the message sent to young watchers? Lack of respect for elders and authority is frequently the genesis of youthful deviancy. The message sent by that misguided MP helped no one. When the elected Prime Minister of the country can be publicly and unapologetically deemed a “rat botsie” by another adult politician, what is the message being sent to children seeking to usurp authority at every opportunity?
And then we are surprised at what is going on in our schools? Really!