As we enter into the fifth day of the call to boycott the Nation Newspaper on the 26th, 27th and 28th of May 2017, I am going to move the focus to offer ideas on how the thinking of our youth can be improved and thus our school environments made safer and more conducive to academic and social development.
We all know that the school is the place where our children spend the majority of their day, so this is one environment that will have great influence on their behaviour. We must therefore examine the school environment. What is clear is that academic achievements cannot remain the main goal of school. Academic instruction has to be paired with non-academic life lessons.
The very first thing that needs to be addressed as far as I am concerned is what I call "schoolism." Just like racism and classism, schoolism divides the schools and our children into groups of higher and lower, better and worse. This means that from jump, a great number of students that pass for the “lower/worse” secondary schools, start their education thinking they have been saddled with a disadvantage from which they cannot recover. This is nothing new and has been this way for at least 30 years now. This means both dominant political parties in Barbados, the DLP and the BLP have had a great hand in the failing of our educational system. It has failed to create a culture that will lead to the positive development of its citizens, especially the youth. This does not in any way excuse the parents from the responsibility of raising their children in such a manner that they will be assets and not liabilities to the nation, but the focus of this article is the school.
From the Common Entrance exam, our youth are divided into categories of more than or less than. They are segregated based on their academic ability in the same way we are divided by our financial positions in the society. Can we address this? Some will say we need to get rid of that exam; yet many of those saying it drive around in their vehicles proudly displaying their school ties. These very ties are symbols that uphold the schoolism based on the fact that a lot of school pride is not based on the actual education or rather schooling received at the institution, but on the legacy of the school itself, which is the result of the same schoolism.
It is not being suggested here that children from any school cannot achieve academic success. I am saying look at the percentages of “passes and failure” coming out of certain schools compared to others. We can go further to get information that will tell us how many people are in prison (Barbadians) and what schools they attended. I am sure we will see that what are considered to be the lower schools contribute to the highest numbers of incarcerated people. So the first step in resolving issues related to schools is to level the playing field. The secondary school a child attends should be based on geographical location and the child’s interests, not on the results of an exam that is taken on one day. Continuous assessment should be focused on determining the strengths of a child and how these strengths can be built into a path of education that the child is interested in. We need to stop placing our children in boxes they do not or do not wish to fit into. I know Barbados has talked about and supposedly implemented zoning for children, but the culture of schoolism has made it so that this is not practised effectively as this present time. Barbadians turn a blind eye to blatant racism, they love classism and they glory in schoolism. It is more than having pride in the school you attended; it becomes a statement of who you are. I have seen now that the “rebels” proudly fly their school ties to represent a school that has turned out the more notorious gangsters on the island. The mirror image of schoolism.
Schools also need to engage parents more. A system needs to be implemented where all parents have to volunteer time to assist teachers in their daily interactions with students. A situation of one teacher to 20 to 30 children cannot work. At least two or three parents should be there daily to assist teachers in every class. Many parents would say they are too busy with work commitments to facilitate this. The state should make it mandatory that time be allowed by employers for employees (parents) to carry out their school duties. In this way, on any given day, the school would have many parents in its environment. I am sure that this will have a huge positive impact on daily school life. Parents would see how their children interact with others in a different environment and children would be more confident knowing that their parents are actively involved in their school life.
I also think that we could address the issue of discipline more effectively in our schools! Many believe that corporal punishment is effective especially since most of us have passed through it and hail it as key in our development and “success” in society. I, however, am of the opinion that it sends a message to the child that violence is an acceptable method to attain compliance. Let us never forget corporal punishment is in essence a form of violence.
In the olden days before modern medical advancements, many procedures were brutal and very painful, yet effective. Should we then not have developed more humane and painless ways of administering these same medical procedures? Should we continue to resort to the old way of doing things just because they were effective and assisted in our development? The Robert W. Coleman Elementary School has been doing something different when students act out: offering meditation. Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal's office, the Baltimore school has something called the "Mindful Moment Room" (MMR).
In the MMR, misbehaving children are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.
Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies and it's finding some interesting effects.
One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practising soldiers a kind of mental armour against disruptive emotions and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person's attention span and focus.
Individual studies should be taken with a grain of salt (results don't always carry in every single situation), but overall, science is starting to build up a really interesting picture of how awesome meditation can be.
The meditation room was created as a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, a local nonprofit that runs other programmes as well. For more than 10 years the foundation has been offering the after-school program Holistic Me, where children from pre-K through the fifth grade practice mindfulness exercises and yoga. Maybe organisations such as the African Heritage Foundation, which is presently developing a homeschooling service and is interested in the development and empowerment of our youth and the school environment using methods such as meditation, yoga, building self esteem through heritage and culture as well as the creation of practical project based lessons, should be engaged more effectively by the Ministry of Education and related government departments in the construction and implementation of such educational programmes.
The children may even take that mindfulness back home with them. In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: "We've had parents tell us, 'I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, "Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe."
They help clean up local parks, build gardens and visit nearby farms. Philips said they even teach children to be co-teachers, letting them run the yoga sessions and involve them with decision making as far as the school rules were concerned. This gives the children a sense of empowerment and responsibility.
This isn't just happening at one school, either. Lots of schools are trying this kind of holistic thinking and it's producing incredible results.
In the U.K., for example, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is teaching adults how to set up programs. Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is helping to set up similar programs in the United States. Again there are organisations such as the African Heritage Foundation that are akin to “Mindful Schools” that should be engaged in developing and managing such programmes in our schools.
Oh, and by the way, the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this programme, too.
Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programmes, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.
We must understand that violence and sex in schools is not new, and exists still because it has never been effectively addressed. New schools, better school equipment, free bus fare and all the other plasters put on the festering wound of indiscipline in the schools have now enabled a total dis-ease of the schools system to take place. Barbados is not unique in the problems we face in our schools and will not be unique in its solutions.
Seeing that the issues among our youth stem from the African descended community mainly, it is logical to use African heritage and culture as a guide to addressing our youth issues. It should be the foundation for the self esteem building for these youth. African retentions such as “Ubuntu” I am because you are, and you are because I am” should be taught and practiced in schools daily. We need to teach our children about people like Walter Rodney, Marcus Garvey, Clement Payne, Malcolm X, and other great black leaders and philosophers.
I also think that with the assistance of the general public, schools have the ability to create and encourage school businesses that can provide stipends for students and even families. Generating school wealth is what I call it.
In another article I will address the issue in schools of people who teach vs teachers and how this phenomenon has been created. I will also look at government investment in education vs investment in other sectors. We will also look at the role of the media in the distortion of society’s values and how it has led to the underdevelopment of our youth. In subsequent articles, we will look at the development and evolution of education and the role of religion therein.
There is no overnight solution to our school problem, no quick fix. However, the sooner we start to really deal with the issues, the sooner we will see a change in the behaviour of our youth.
When the Attorney General of Barbados says he wants to talk, I wonder to whom does he want to talk and what is it that he has to say? Maybe the government should try the above suggested solutions to the issues plaguing our educational institutions in one school and use that as a model for change if it proves to be effective. What do we have to lose?
Remember the call to boycott the Nation Newspaper on the 26th 27th and 28th is still in effect. If you have not heard about the call for a boycott of Nation Newspaper you are invited to read these articles and share with friends and family.