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*Riding the old school to hell

Sherwyn Walters

*Riding the old school to hell

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(*This is a reprint of my article of August 16, 2011 – with minimal changes. As it deals with a kind of social deviance spawned by the way the Common Entrance Exam is used, I felt it should reappear as a pointed conclusion to my series on that exam.)
Don’t tell, don’t ask. (No, I didn’t get it wrong.)
Don’t tell me where you went to school and don’t ask me where I went.
That question and another – “Where do you go to church?” – I usually don’t ask, or I answer with a “Why?” – which almost invariably gets a floundering response.
I have found that those questions are not usually partners to sensible concerns – like, are you paying your taxes? Are you a faithful husband/wife/partner? Are you hard-working, charitable, honest, considerate, trustworthy, forgiving?
Or, if you were arrested for being loving, would there be enough evidence for a jury of your peers to convict you?
How does where I went to school or where I go to church connect with those critical life matters?
Size you up
The truth is that many who ask those questions – especially the one about school, which I dealing with today – simply want to size you up for stereotyping.
And they pursue that piece of trivia as though it would be a gold find. Obviously to a brain that is not acting like a gold mind. Come on, not gold mine. Get it?
You see, a lot of people are riding on the back of a secondary school, and they want to see if you are on the back of a good enough horse/camel/elephant/bull/llama/zebra . . . I don’t know.
Why is it important for me, a grown person, to think that my school is better than yours? How is that a valid, mature line of thinking?
But big-able men and women who left school ten, 20, 40, 60 years ago are still flaunting where they were at 11 or 16, flashing it like a pass to some exclusive club, and often expressing contempt for “lesser mortals”.
Clearly, I am not criticizing reminiscing with former schoolmates about teachers’ idiosyncrasies, class clowns, “you remember that day when . . .” and all that.
Ditto the truly high-minded talk that a few engage in when the alma mater is the subject.
I am talking about school conceit – a vaulting snobbishness o’erleaping itself (to tinker with Shakespeare’s Macbeth).
The Common Entrance Examination has been made an ally in this social foolishness – we use the results in a way that elevates and damns. And the fact that the lesser-man-better-man havoc it wreaks has offended so few is the surest sign that many Barbadians are emotionally stunted.
Now, I am not against the exam per se. There ought to be national assessments at different stages in students’ development to ensure accountability of schools, to provide necessary feedback and guide educational efforts. But not to sort and label the nation’s future.
Which progressive society wants to sponsor from the public purse a virtual lifetime of disparagement for large numbers while at the same time giving a ready-made, ticket-for-life entrance into high regard for even those who dropped out of school or were put out, those who passed few certificates, earned no worthy reputation, accomplished nothing of consequence but are able to seek and garner respect by saying, “I went to Harrison College” or “I went to Combermere” or “I went to Queen’s College” or “I went to Lodge”?
Yet those who may be their betters in intellectual accomplishment, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, productivity, humility, sensitivity, concern for others are slighted when they say, “I went to Princess Margaret”, or “I went to St Lucy Secondary” or “I went to St Leonard’s”.
Ongoing mentors
That’s why I say, “Don’t tell, don’t ask” – generally speaking.
Yuh proud of the old school? Well, school budgets are never enough – pelt some money in dey. Less fortunate children need help. Classrooms need repainting. The library needs books. Children need ongoing mentors, not once-
a-year hit-and-run motivational speeches. Run-ragged teachers need assistance with the Cadets, Scouts, Guides, the Red Cross, and other school clubs.
Yuh proud of the old school? The cricketers need coaches. The footballers. The netballers. The basketballers. Money. Time. Effort. Sacrifice. Put them in.  And while you are at it, if you have such a strong need to tell people where you went to school, tell those students.
Ask not what your old school can do for your ego, but what you can do for your old school.
Stop riding on the back of the school you went to. If it is so important to you, let it ride you.
 Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]