Nation e-Edition

Polling booth outside school gate

Polling booth outside school gate

By Sherwyn Walters | Tue, October 23, 2012 - 12:01 AM

I have a problem with certain kinds of opinion gathering – and many people’s tendency to rush to judgement.

I am not getting into the NATION/CADRES political poll. The one to which some high-ranking members of the Democratic Labour Party responded as if the people polled don’t vote – talking ’bout “Polls don’t vote”.

How come Obama, Romney, Bush, Gore, Blair, Cameron, Mitterrand, Clarke, Gifford and that lot don’t take that approach? It seems that those people know the polls may be right, take things as such, and get to work to change the polls, rather than insulting those voters who were polled. Polls don’t vote, my eye!

But I am not talking about that. I am not even certain why any entity other than a political party would commission a poll. Why is it in my interest, as an ordinary member of the public, to know who is ahead? So that I can jump on a bandwagon? Or jump off one?

Anyhow, recently, we had opinions being sought on matters related to The Alexandra School and the Graydon Sealy Secondary School.

In the case of the former, a commissioner had taken evidence in a commission of inquiry. He had deliberated and had submitted a report or was in the process of doing so. Should I be enticed to express an opinion because talk is cheap? Should I suggest, for instance, that Government move or fire somebody or somebodies without knowing if in fact such action could be taken in respect of the person or persons that I have identified without costing the Government a mob-o-ton o’ money?

Am I to have so little pride in my intellectual integrity that I should be willing to hazard that? Am I to be viewed as so reckless about who I damn because – as some recent research on online viciousness has shown (it’s not the anonymity, that research is saying, it is the absence of the need to make eye contact) – I don’t have to look them in the eye?

Then came last week’s Graydon Sealy Secondary School “bacchanal”. A swirl of things: 265 students sent home for dress code violations; suspension for five days (or is it three days – with the children staying at school on the Monday and Teachers Professional Day on the Friday – or two with compliance and begging?); claim of several pieces of correspondence sent to parents/guardians.

More: a Front Page “wrong” picture; a view that education has nothing to do with “dress” or that it is not a significant aspect of education; a deadline; other schools’ students (and not a few) looking wrong – girls in not-long-enough skirts or sporting many earrings or strange-looking dos; and boys in that-can’t-be-the-right-pants; and the two genders with the latest cellphones; an alleged agreement among principals in 2009 to be firm on dress and other matters; over 200 sent home some years ago by the same principal; the “broken window theory”. And God knows I must have missed something.

But you are going to ask me a simple question and expect a simple answer?

One of the reasons people now ask or get sucked into the black or white, quick response, I believe, is that the means of spreading opinion are so right there, the intellectual demand so meagre, the expectation so immediate, the potential reach so far, and the press on ego so earnest (“I could set up an echo across the world”, “I belch on social media and the whole world knows what I ate”, “Wow, I could influence people to eat more pork, just like that”,) that it is hard to resist.

So it is easy to put a “poll booth” outside the school gate when all of the action or lack of action was on the inside – in classrooms and staffrooms and offices and in bags and on pieces of paper and in telephone conversations – and would have required an entering into those spaces and a “walking in the other’s shoes”.

But they want my opinion.

No wonder Sir Robert Peel defined opinion as a “compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs”; and our haste to offer such often falls into John Erskine’s definition: “that exercise of the human will which helps us to make a decision without information”.

Who says, except the newspaper, the radio, Facebook, Twitter, BBM, and their ilk, that I must have an opinion now? And since when do those things run my intellect and my emotional intelligence?

Am I less human if, sans the necessary information, time for fastidious application of logic, and the vicarious walking of that mile, I refuse to rush to judgement?

• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email offwally@gmail.com.

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