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Breeding monsters: An old debate?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Last Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley created a firestorm of controversy when he told the National Consultation on Education session in Tobago that “parents were breeding monsters and sending them to the teachers.”

That led to former minister of education Dr Tim Gopeesingh calling on Rowley to apologise for the remarks. However, National Parent Teacher Association president Zena Ramatali told the Express that, “I felt it was a slip of the tongue on behalf of the Prime Minister because he has been so hurt and speaking about the failure of the education system over a long period of time. So I guess he had an adrenaline rush when he made that statement. I really do not believe that he thinks that the children are monsters…So I really hope that we wouldn’t crucify the Prime Minister for the statement entirely.” (Express, February 24, 2016, p 5).

However, Social Development and Family Services Minister Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn, in publicly contradicting her Prime Minister, told Newsday that she does not see children as “monsters” but, “persons who are in need of assistance.” (Newsday, February 24, 2016, p 5).

All of this is really a renewed discussion about political quarrels that take us back 16 years or more when the same type of discussion was taking place.

In 2000, there was a Private Member’s Motion brought by the MP for Diego Martin East Colm Imbert on the High Incidence of Crime that was debated in the House of Representatives. Some of the language being used today was aired before.

One of the then government’s spokesmen was the MP for Tobago East and cabinet minister Dr Morgan Job. The following excerpts from the Hansard for July 28, 2000, involving Dr Job and Dr Keith Rowley, MP for Diego Martin West, are instructive. 

“Dr The Hon M Job: November 25, 1995 or whatever it is. So anybody who came into Trinidad and Tobago by birth after that date is less than five years old. Am I right? So I do not understand. All these monsters that are being described in such gruesome fashion by the Member from Diego Martin East must have been nurtured under the PNM government or the NAR government. PNM has been in this country since 1956 and there are grandmothers in the Beetham and elsewhere in this country whose average age is 25 years. They did not deal with it. When I wanted to talk about it so that they could have dealt with it, they closed down my radio programme.” (Hansard, July 28, 2000, p 744).

In the debate, Dr Rowley said of prime minister Panday and Dr Job as follows:

“Because I am hearing his puppy dog talking about: he grew up in Laventille, therefore, he knows Laventille people are swine and child molesters. Mr Speaker, I grew up in poverty in the back of this country at Mason Hall in Tobago in a large family and I know what it is for public policy to impact on a generation of people. I was the first person in my family to go to high school. My brothers who are older than I am, I am sure they were brighter than I was, but Eric Williams came too late for them. So, today, when these people, in trying to construct their election campaign, seek to treat with education in this context, I just say, ‘Carry on. We will meet you on the hustings.’” (Hansard, July 28, 2000, p 780).

The reality is that the issue of the connection between the education system and crime has been a political football being kicked back and forth with no solution in sight. Dr Job has remained consistent in his advocacy of addressing illiteracy and innumeracy and the link to crime.

Many opposed to Job have argued that his language is unworthy of providing any proper insight into the debate. The Prime Minister has now used language to describe some children today that is more akin to what Job has been using for more than 20 years.

Is there now a meeting of the minds and a closing of the gap? Or did the Prime Minister have a slip of the tongue as Ramatali would have us believe? There has been no retraction from Rowley so one would have to assume that Ramatali was attempting to shield him from any possible controversy over his remarks, while he is not seeking anyone’s protection.

Dr Rowley is no stranger to controversy where his remarks are concerned. In the past, he has apologised and he has changed his mind if he thought that it was necessary to do so. In this instance, he has remained silent.

He and Minister Cockburn may have differing views on the matter and they can sort that out between them in private, while his outlook and that of Dr Job may have gotten closer some 16 years later.

If Job and Rowley are closer now than before, maybe there is hope in addressing the problems of so-called “monster” children, their teachers and crime.