ON REFLECTION: A Dream for our youth
LIKE MOST BARBADIANS, I grieve at the passing of Prime Minister David Thompson, not only because he was a Combermerian, but because there was a certain mark of decency which he brought to the cut-and-thrust game of politics that could not be ignored.
Thompson seemed to have had a burning concern for the improvement of morality in this country – especially in relation to the rearing of children. It was a concern that is rarely found among political leaders, who more pride themselves on their ability to master economic intricacies than anything else.
In the Caribbean particularly, leaders in such fragile economies – in a day and age when a global recession is ongoing and points to dire consequences on the horizon – are so challenged with making their economies work that such matters become the overriding priority of the Government.
It therefore means that a leader who seems, in the eyes of his political opponents, to be more concerned about the moral healing of a nation, the inculcation of positive attitudes, and the solid upbringing of children, is tantamount to foolhardiness.
But Thompson tried, in my view, to balance the restructuring of the economy with the need to establish programmes for the most vulnerable and to make sure that children remained children so that their path to adulthood would not be marked by the massive disconnect from mainstream society that now obtains, but by the realisation that guidance by their parents, guardians and teachers is the correct way.
In fact, Thompson was quoted as saying that parents are in fact the first teachers, first police officers and first managers that a child would encounter; and while such sayings sounded obvious, recent history show they are not being practically carried out in modern-day Barbados, especially in the face of a dominant “thug” subculture fuelled by television, music and other mass media.
Hearing him also speak of pouring new wine into old wine skins was not a prime minister taking the opportunity to glibly quote some part of the Holy Bible, but for those who should have listened carefully, he was speaking in the context of children seeking vainly to perform the role of the older people and trying to raise themselves – the natural result of which is broken lives and societal disaster.
Even the decision to institute free bus travel to and from school was seen by some as a waste and a political gimmick. But, if given time, this will not only ensure that children who leave home for school on mornings actually arrive at school, but that they arrive in the mood and temperament for learning – which continues to be nigh impossible for those travelling on minibuses and ZR vans daily.
This was a view appreciated by some who seem to be voices crying in the wilderness whenever issues of discipline arise.
Garrison Secondary Principal Matthew Farley noted in March the Prime Minister’s word of caution to public service vehicles (PSVs) to “put their house in order”, and added that it was time to act on this immediately instead of waiting six months when, in Farley’s view, “another two or three, or another dozen minds may be corrupted”.
Attorney Mark Forde also noted that successive administrations had been “playing with these PSVs for too long”, and went as far as to note that while no one should be deprived of freedom of movement, “no right is an absolute right”.
“We are trying to deal with public order and public morality, because it is clear that what goes on through the music . . . on PSVs . . . is negatively affecting our children,” Forde added during discussion on the call for the banning of PSVs on a call-in programme.
Thompson’s concern for the well-being of the nation’s children also extended to cyberspace, despite the tremendous advantages of modern technology. In a message to mark World Telecommunications and Information Society Day, he noted, in a prepared statement, that, in recognising children to be a vulnerable group, Government’s telecommunications unit would arrange, through the Ministry of Education, a series of awareness presentations targetting primary school children.
“In this way, we will develop cybersmart children and in the long run cybersmart citizens, thereby facilitating the development of . . . better lives with ICTs in a safe and secure environment,” he added.
The creation of ministries such as Family and the formation of the controversial constituency councils were new to Barbados, and would understandably have been difficult to grasp as quickly as other well established entities, but they have a place in a society which is still seeing several vulnerable Barbadians fall through the cracks and is now bereft of the old customs such as the presence of retired grandparents and the raising of children by a village.
Today, a village no longer raises a child. Television, cyberspace and the influence of those who prey on children – even in church and school – are raising children to feel as though they have no hope and that the lone way out is to be “ghetto yutes” in a country that, ironically, has no ghettoes.
Thompson’s objectives for this country’s children were not pie in the sky, nor were they being done to the detriment of managing the Barbados economy.
And while an economy can probably be efficiently managed while allowing this present generation of children to run wild, the ripple effect five or ten years on will destroy the same economy as Barbadians become prisoners in their own homes and visitors feel unsafe.
If, in the words of United States president John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future”, then it is my hope that Thompson’s vision for Barbados’ children will be followed.