OFF CENTRE: School – you en come here fuh dat?!!


“WHAT THAT GOT TO DO with education?”

​That question is often heard in Barbados when an issue arises with school uniforms, in particular.

Recently it’s been asked in response to school authorities’ concern and subsequent banning of Sprayground backpacks/rucksacks/haversacks bearing pictures of half-naked women, marijuana leaves, guns and other images thought to be inappropriate in schools.

The question and its alter ego statements (“Dat en got nothing to do with education” or “Dat don’ stop yuh from learning”) make me wonder if what Clyde Mascoll was reported as saying the other day is true: “He described Barbados today as ‘the dunciest boy in the class’ in comparison with its regional neighbours,” one report said.

But is it a now thing or is it that we were always close to the bottom of the class but knew how to spell “façade” better than anybody else in the region?

Or that now mere certification and an air of being educated and fancy talk are showing themselves as weak in the face of the need for genuine lifelong learning, insightfulness, ethical choices, clear-sightedness, relevance, innovation, problem-solving and implementation – where the one-eyed man is no longer in blind-man land?

This “one-eyed man” who doesn’t think inappropriate dress and bags have anything to do with education is probably the same one who shouts “Parents” or blames the church for the disrespect, the criminality, the social irresponsibility he surveys.

“Educated” people pointing blaming fingers at agents/agencies whose strings nobody can overarchingly pull.

Parents not saviours

​​As I have argued before, parents are not the saviours of the whole society. If their efforts aren’t circumscribed, impacted on and buttressed by the powers that be and others, they won’t even be the salvation of their own homes.

I know that the thinking is that proper training by this parent and that one and that other one will add up. Sounds rational – if not examined too closely. It is based on what does not exist and will never exist if parents are left to their own devices.

With parents’ wildly disparate ideas as to what is okay, who gine mek them do the right thing? Who will make them put in the right things? And if it takes somebody or something to make them fall in line, then it is the somebody or something that is the society’s ruin or salvation, not the parents!!!

You know any society in which all parents (or even the vast majority – ’cause otherwise how yuh gine get this overwhelming impact that you dream of?) train their children in a one-track “right” way – of their own free will?

In a large number of crucial areas, we would wait forever if we decided to wait on parents to deliver the guidance that would produce the social discipline that the society cannot do without.

Wrong target if your goal is widespread social order.

Well, if these “educated” people don’t see parents as the panacea, they target the church.

I usually think they mean religious groups. Another set of people that you can’t pull together and point in one direction. Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Methodists, Moravians, Jehovah Witnesses, Rastafarians, Hindus, Muslims, Baha’is. And God knows a whole lot more. Sets of people who believe different things and are governed by different bodies.

And who don’t take it as their responsibility to coordinate and ensure the proper behaviour of members of the society in general.

And if they did, many would be highly offended at them! You telling me I must not fornicate? You telling me I must wear a burka in public? You telling me I should smoke marijuana? You telling me I must speak in tongues? You telling me I must worship on Saturday? You telling me I can’t tek piece on the outside? Yuh better tell that to your “flock” – but save the society, yuh hear?

So the “church” isn’t the “saviour” either.

I just wish these “educated” people would get these illogical ideas out of their heads and start thinking of more realistic approaches to widespread social order and discipline.

Nursery of the young

​​Yet, the school – the “nursery” of the young, state-controlled no less (the only “universally” coordinated, mass-affecting entity in the whole society) – must deal only in certification, many seem to be saying. ’Cause these other things en got nuttin to do with education.

Education that does not have as critical pervasive elements decency, order, community-mindedness, respect for others and their property, good citizenship, social responsibility, ethical behaviour, sensitivity to others, better interactions and so on lands you in the irony of an “education” system that is producing a lot of socially dangerous people.

Even so, with all this focus on certification, relatively few – variously indicated at somewhere between 25 per cent and 40 per cent – are leaving school with any certificates at all.

And you must know that those figures include many who left with only one or two O levels/CXCs. So yuh see how bad we have been at this certificate thing?

But yet many seem to want to keep the constricting and dangerous focus: a lot of young people leaving schools without certificates or social conscience. Wow!

Education was never limited to book-learning. And new media and new methodologies have brought into sharper focus – and employers are now requiring CVs that speak to – roundedness, commitment to the community, ability to be part of a team, a necessary uniformity and so on.

But don’ leh nubbody fool you: black people in the “New World” are remarkably (in terms of high proportions) interested in uniforms – rope chain uniforms, tattoo uniforms, male earring uniforms, other body piercings uniforms, pants-lower-than-underwear uniforms, brand-name haversack uniforms, brand-name shoes uniforms.

Not things that necessarily say orderliness, a sense of developmental purpose, focus on achievement, community-mindedness and such. It is hard to beat us in follow-pattern uniformity of dubious community value.

But school uniform hemlines and uniform backpacks that fit in with standards of decency? What that got to do with education, yuh asking.

Who tell you that you educated and know what education is?

(By the way, what that work uniform you wearing got to do with your work?)


Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.


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