Worrisome trends

Matthew D. Farley,

Added 28 October 2012

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Morality . . . is also based on earthly common sense of a kind that people must abide by some fundamental rules if they are to live together in a society. – Royal Bank of Canada Newsletter, January/February 1984.   Events of the past two and a half weeks have caused me to have high hopes and, at the same time, to confront a certain degree of despair and hopelessness. All of that changed when my daughter said to me: “Dad, don’t despair, it’s going to be all right . . . . Just talk to God in the middle of the night; that’s what I do.” I found some strength in that reassurance and affirmed my commitment to avoiding any distraction from my resolve to continue to see the school, as I have always seen it, as the last vestige of hope in our society. Following the renaming of the Paddock Road, St Michael institution earlier this month, of which I have been principal for close to a decade, our discussions suggest that we were being afforded an excellent opportunity to rebrand and not just change the name. Of course, this is not to suggest that there was anything negative or delimiting about “the grand old Garrison Secondary School”. For it is certainly our intention to build on the tradition of excellence and the track record of achievement of the past. In that ceremony, we celebrated the heritage, founded by the school’s first principal and his supporting cast of teachers and other staff. Undoubtedly, those to whom he passed the baton, including Myrna Belgrave and Pauline Byer, not only inherited that tradition, but they also invested in it, rather than bury it. The event was the celebration of the collective achievement of many, with the name Graydon Sealy representing the excellence to which we all aspire. Almost immediately, as the Prime Minister challenged us to redouble our efforts to maintain that excellence, we got down to the task at hand. What transpired on October 15 after full inspection of the 942-strong student body was intentional and clearly calculated to send a strong message – not necessarily to the public – that we were prepared to do everything possible, as our motto mandates, “to promote all aspects of the growth of our students”. It was about redoubling our efforts to maintain the grade of excellence that our graduates have reflected over the years. While no public charade was intended, in the face of what my retired colleague Ralph Jemmott calls “crass indiscipline”, schools cannot sit idly by and allow “things to fall apart”. Jemmott, in his book An Uncommon Currency, cites St Lucia’s former prime minister Sir John Compton as saying: “In the midst of material progress there has been a decay at the core of our society.” As he puts it: “It is easier to acquire money than manners. We must take stock of ourselves before we fall over the abyss of self-destruction.” While the action to suspend all students who were in breach of the school’s dress code was motivated by the internal circumstances with which we were confronted, at the core of its intention was a sense of national imperative and moral necessity not to allow the tail to wag the proverbial dog. What Graydon Sealy Secondary School and other schools are doing, and must continue to do with unabashed resolve, must be seen as an attempt to avert the head-long plunge of our society off the cliff of decency into the abyss of what Jemmott refers to as “gross indiscipline, downright lawlessness, hooliganism, loutishness, violence and drug abuse”. It is my assertion that the seeds of indiscipline lurk under the guise of fads, fashion and so-called self-expression. If this remains unchecked, it will germinate and grow like nettle and cow itch to create a social discomfort and anarchy of a kind that we have never felt before. If we start with enforcing basic rules that relate to dress and deportment and overall behaviour in the streets, we can stem the tide. Failure at any level will see a bourgeoning and overall decline in our standards and ultimately adversely affect our work ethic and productivity. For “Barbados is not just an economy, but it is a society as well”. While international rating agencies are busy rating our economy, it is we who must be sufficiently concerned to conduct constant social audits. I painfully but boldly assert that if such an audit were to be done, our standards would be rated as poor. I have always believed that decency and truth will always win through and that though evil may appear to be thriving for a season, good will always conquer as long as we take the appropriate action, even in the face of public criticism and hot air. While parents dislike the inconvenience of their child or ward being suspended, the social dislocation and the national disgrace which indiscipline fosters are far more frightening. Unless we want to return to the anarchy of the jungle, we must curb indiscipline in our schools, our homes and all social institutions. Allowing the blatant breach of standardized dress codes in our schools to go unchecked is to be complicit in a national conspiracy that will haunt us for generations to come. The pervasive image of the majority of our young men along our streets with low-hanging trousers is symptomatic of what happens when rules are broken with impunity as we look and look away from such worrisome trends. • Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and social commentator. Email laceyprinci@yahoo.com

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