EDITORIAL: Let’s look at school violence scientifically
FACT: Barbadians are concerned about the level of violence in the society generally.
Fact: Our teachers, their unions and school administrators have said enough to leave no doubt that they are concerned about violence in schoolsor involving school-aged children off the school compound.
The recitation of these two facts, on the face of it, would suggest we have a serious problem in Barbados – and we do. Any one act of violence is one too many and should be addressed.
It is time, however, for a comprehensive examination of the problem of violence in schools, with thorough scientific gathering and examination of data to ensure we do not make more of the situation than it requires. We make this call in light of the suggestion last week from the president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, Mary Redman, that all teachers be given self-defence classes, presumably at the expense of the Treasury.
There can be no doubt that much of the anxiety associated with school-based violence has been fuelled by the access of citizens, especially students, to smartphones and the Internet. These days, even the smallest incident is recorded, shared and commented on to such an extent that quite often it takes on proportions that are totally out of character with reality.
On the face of it, however, if we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that seldom does what we see on the Internet involving fights in local schools differ from what has been occurring here for the past half-century.
Students have always challenged each other and fought over food, marbles, cricket, football, bus fare, girlfriends and boyfriends, bad-mouthing someone’s mother, questioning a fellow student’s “manhood” and a whole range of other causes. They have always fought in classrooms, corridors, bathrooms, on the school bus, in the terminals, at the National Stadium – you name it and there is a story of a fight to be recalled.
We also do not, on the face of it, see evidence to suggest they are using weapons that have not always been used: sticks, pens and pencils, knives, the proverbial “big rock”, even a desk or chair leg if it can be acquired.
So what makes us more worried today about what is happening in Barbados’ schools?
The answer to this question has to be based on scientific research that’s founded on facts. Are there more incidents today than there were ten or 20 years ago? Is it that they draw more attention because injuries tend to be more serious? Is it that the character of the disputes is more jarring; that is, more girls fighting in public? Does the hugely disproportionate ratio of female to male teachers contribute to the problem, with females being less inclined today to get involved than a male teacher would have been 25 years ago?
We respect the fact that our teachers are in the thick of things each day and when they express concerns they should not be ignored; but when any matter is being investigated, the perspective of an interested party has to be probed along certain lines. Teachers are not disinterested parties in this matter.
In the end, the evidence may suggest that we do in fact have a major problem, but at least then we would have garnered solid evidence on which to act, instead of the constant barrage of emotive, anecdotal mouthings that have characterised the issue for too long.
Failure to do this will lead to the national vilification of children who need help, contribute to the diminishing of the high regard in which we have always held our teachers, and make our schools less about teaching and learning and more about punishment and retribution.