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The Good Citizen
The CNC 3 News on June 11, reported that the Ministry of Education had suddenly realised that the education system was somehow connected to children’s attitudes to country, and each other, and had decided to teach good citizenship and values. The Roman Catholic Archbishop piped in saying “spirituality” was missing from schools.
Well, that horse has bolted, lost the derby, and is now in the glue factory. Notwithstanding, one is fain to point out (again) that before teaching anything else, the minister should encourage his teachers to work on that whole reading-and-writing thing. As detailed in this space two weeks ago, about half the school population leaves high school illiterate, which contributes to crime and general dystopian values.
Those trifles aside, the minister might want to note, I don’t know, the “reality” of the situation. A few weeks ago, the Express reported Senator Shamfa Cudjoe’s being taken aback at the fight and sex videos made by and starring school children. How many there are, we don’t know. But a good approximation of the extent of the problem resides in two surveys done by Ramesh Deosaran.
One, Benchmarking Violence and Delinquency in Secondary Schools, done for the Ministry of Education in 2003 (Newsday, June 15, 2003), told of gangs, ethnic slurs, violence, and abuse in schools. Another, four years later (Guardian, April 29, 2007), commissioned to evaluate the state of young black males from the east-west corridor (EWC), reported, inter alia, about half the students did not live with both parents, boys felt no one in authority cared for them, most tended to not care about careers and a general sense that wrong or right mattered less than getting caught pervaded.
You’d find similar conclusions from any survey done during the last 30 years. (See, for example, the 2002 SCS collection Issues in Education in Trinidad and Tobago, edited by Ronald Brunton and Nasser Mustapha.) So the problem isn’t new, but what is new is the realisation that the culmination of this school culture and the social environment generates an anarchic atmosphere.
This manifests everywhere, in driving, civil servants’ attitudes, and not least, a cricket Paduan youngling addressing a Jedi Master to “talk nah,” via a scrawled message on scrap paper. (So much about our state is visible in that exchange—literacy, attitudes to authority and respect, linguistic and intellectual degeneracy, a basic knowledge of right and wrong. And this is from a successful young man.)
And at this point, it’s too late to fix this with a plaster. You can’t “teach” students to be decent and respect anything when society is teaching them to be deviant. The deviance starts in homes, which are rife with physical and emotional abuse. (The number of abused children is probably phenomenal, because of cowardly politicians who hide behind rhetoric instead of addressing the problem head on.)
In the streets, deviance pervades the quotidian national environment. The bars on every corner, taxi drivers who endanger children’s lives on the roads, grown men who harass schoolgirls, teachers who brutalise children in school—everywhere, students are immersed in hostility and brutality.
And brutality of another sort is articulated by symbolic dramas in various social theatres, showing again and again that being a brazenly bad citizen makes you rich, famous, and apparently invulnerable. The commissions of enquiry into Udecott, 1990, Clico, the HCU have all shown the profitability of deviance. The SoE showed that if you’re a criminal, once you get caught, all you have to do is bawl “Race!” and you’ll get away. The police do their part in spending more time fighting their Canadian commissioner than fighting crime.
These dramas continue everyday, all day, and are broadcast via all media. But there’s another, more fundamental failing: children are denied the most basic element of good citizenship: the ability to see themselves belonging to a society. This is because the Government, terrified of being labelled “racist” by (you know who), has given authority to define “nationalism” and “patriotism” to professional race agitators.
These agitators openly divide the society into racial camps (cf She’s So Royal) with such confidence, many people have forgotten it’s wrong. Those who are aware can only look on helplessly. In many minds, particularly those in the lower economic and social classes, the idea of the nation is fused with ethnicity.
This was peddled explicitly for ten years on talk radio (1997-2007 (press freedom at work)), where talk show hosts, calypsonians and cultural “personalities” said it on air, day in, day out. So if children are surrounded on all sides by this—that they have to “fight” the “other” who is stealing your “national patrimony”—how can they be anything but hostile and violent in school?
Here, the denominational “board” schools are smug—they have fewer problems than the government schools. I’d say the problems are just better suppressed, and the brutality manifest differently. If not, why haven’t the students of “good schools” (whom they’ve been producing for two generations), who are ostensibly success stories, and end up in high social and political positions, changed anything? It’s very likely because these schools simply paper over the problem of citizenship with religious education.
The solution to the problems of citizenship and values begins with state policy. A good example: The Cosby Show did more for race relations in the US than any single social policy. But it could not have made it to television without good social policies.
The practices of good citizenship are ideally infused in art, literature, pop and mass culture, and state rituals and state institutions—culture translates abstract values into lived reality. Those who yearly enact the Canboulay riot know this. But the State chooses not to know this, or anything that will actually help.
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