Our schools have been in the news quite a bit lately haven't they? If you, like many of us do as we age, tend to romanticise the past or (in some cases) forget it altogether, you probably find yourself looking at the situation of late and lamenting the state of today's youth, or our declining moral standards, or the dissolution of the Bajan family structure and discipline, or any one of the many unexamined, bullshitty cliched ideas that we tend to trot out whenever faced with (what we percieve to be) youth deviance.
These ridiculous notions are encouraged by our media's tendency to run what I call diet stories, (low fact, high sensationalism, zero analysis). These stories do not challenge us in anyway to look critically at these situations nor to confront our baseless notions. In fact, in the most recently covered stories of untoward incidents in schools the media in their initial coverage managed to, rather deftly ignore/omit the complexity of what had transpired. When a student at one school refused to pick up a wrapper as she was ordered to do, the media focus was on her defiance and her (hilarious and rather witty) declaration that her mother had not sent her to school to collect garbage. The journalists (?) covering the story failed to ask, or even raise the most obvious questions; the first of which would be, why the child responded in this way. This question is, of course, easy to miss if your premise is that the nations youth are an inherently problematic group. Having missed that first question it was only natural that questions about context would be absent too. The reports failed to ask whether or not the student and teacher had a history, or whether the student and/or teacher had behavioural problems or even what the prevailing culture of the school was. Similarly the coverage of the alleged assault of a teacher by a student at another school gave us mere reportage that barely resembled journalism. We got a superficial story that focused merely on the fact that kicking and spitting had occured and yet again failed to ask both the obvious and the deeper questions. I don't believe that there was any attempt in either case to deliberately villify the students in question nor do I believe that it is the responsibility of the media to do our thinking for us. However they do have a responsibility to challenge us to take a more sophisticated look at situations like these which, quite frankly, have implications that extend far beyond the boundaries of the school yard. Nothing in the coverage of these stories did anything to militate against our tendency to ascribe blame without hearing both sides of the story, or even to make us consider that the story could have another side. As a result many of us (including some in a significant official capacity), proceded with the misguided notion that we are dealing with a new breed of young person and I think failed to see the full extent of the problem.
For those of us who remember our adolescence (really remember it in all its chaotic glory) the stories are troubling yes, but altogether unsurprising. If you consider that schools manage the development of young minds and that the mind is a volatile element such occurences, though not to be taken lightly, are inevitable. If you consider too, the state of our schools; the lack of resources, the fact that most of our schools are in some state of disrepair, the demonising that school children face and the public disrespect that teachers have to endure from the Minister of Education, if you consider these things it is a testament to the fucking awesomness both of our teachers and our youth that such incidents are not everyday occurences.
Because the thing is that incidents like this have always occured in our schools. When I was a schoolboy schoolchildren were rude, they were defiant, they got into physical confrontations with teachers, they used to fight and cuss (a schoolgirl murdered one of her schoolmates in my time) and even foop in the bushes. The people who would tell you, "Yes we used to do our shite coming up, but at least we had some respect!" are both full of shit and delusional. Nothing has changed. All students were not wild and unruly in my day all students are not wild and unruly today.
As an aside, a good friend saw me while I was putting this article together and he was very offended by the "foop in the bushes," comment. He chastised me saying, that while it is true that some of us were sexually active in school, we never had the "unmitigated gall" to post our sexual escapades online. I would just like to point out, because I have been told this bullshit far too many times, that that has less to do with our being respectful and more to do with the fact that neither cellphones with cameras nor the fucking internet existed at the time!
Anyhow, the unhealthy notion that some of seem to hold, that we are dealing with a special breed of vagabond youth who need to be punished into social compliance is not at all useful. I understand that it is a comforting idea because it absolves us of our culpability and to some extent, our responsibility. But here's the thing, if we allow ourselves to believe it, and allow ourselves to long for the (non-existent) good old days when youngsters had respect and didn't defy or challenge authority we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that got us here in the first place. The situation is not getting worse because things have changed but rather precisely because they haven't, in much the same way that one's debt gets increasingly worse because one's money management habits don't change.
Continuing to see the problems in our schools as a problem with our youth and not with our society as a whole (and I do mean the society as a whole not just teachers or parents or any other scapegoat group) will condemn us to the rather unenviable fate of continuing to attempt to get back to a destination that never existed on a horse with no legs.
Nala (The $2 Philosopher)
next: what hasn't changed?