LESSON One — Don't Bash: The PM is right. Don't bash anybody, whether investor or not. I have this strong feeling that we all need to go back to school this term to engage in useful discussions of where we see this country of ours going. I'm beginning to get more than a little worried when we expect reward for civilised behaviour. What is to happen to us if we don't behave nice to the Chinese? If they picked up all their marbles and scooted back home, would Jamaica die? Do we have no other hope than what investors from anywhere think of us?
Come on, I'm not so stupid as to think that we don't need external support, but will we be always dependent on one source as the lifeline to save us? We thought bauxite would never fail. I disagree with those who say the bauxite industry did nothing for them. That is plain ungrateful. The industry gave much, like it or not, and now that it is resting to return — will it? — we're looking for a quick fix.
Remember the Freezone garment industry? It was to be another lifeline. Remember the painful and hasty departure? Oh yes, we need help. Desperately. But should that mean we can't talk it over, educate our people as to what hangs in the balance and educate our new "saviours" to the relevance of our culture, to the independent spirit of our people, and that we will have to work together in mutual respect? Yes, I know independence cyaan pay bills, put food on table and roof over head. We have to face hard facts, but history shows that when two sides of the game are not in sync, then is bangarang. We should not be hearing that when prospective partners don't get everything they want they can be expected to pack up and go home, leaving us in the wilderness once more. We all need to adapt to a new reality, which is why we must begin to include everyone in the debate of the new challenges of a new time and level with each other.
Lesson Two — Back to school: All across the land, parents, exhausted from shopping, are trying to recoup and go again. Christmas shopping is not as far away as you may think, so it is necessary to recover now and regenerate for the next challenge. Each year, successive ministers of education make heartfelt appeals to schools to ease up on the donkey-load of books. It would be interesting to know if the most recent appeal by the current minister of education has been heeded.
In a world of name-brand, it is hard to cut-eye and pass up Clark's, even if parents have to work two weeks overtime to support the appetite for style. Some schools refuse to play the game. This time, it is Calabar High's headmaster who put his foot down, mashing the corns of parents and others who do not see the need for obeying uniform rules. Disobedient students have disobedient parents.
For the girls, it is the battle of the skirts. A security guard at a certain school incited bangarang when she came to work equipped with a tape measure to exercise authority over skirts. A case of life imitating art? It was a scene in last season's National Pantomime SKOOLAZ.
Let's face it, parents want their children to look good. Sad to say, however, the price is paid in areas like poor nutrition and lack of a morning meal to give strength for the day. Commendations to government and private sector donors who fund meals in many schools.
Interesting developments have shown up in some of our schools. Imagine! Munro and Cornwall Colleges, two solidly all-male bastions for years and years, have actually admitted girls! Not because of appreciation for gender equality, but because there is growing need for sixth form spaces and not every institution can establish the required facilities. St. George's College gave in long ago, while others seem to be holding out as long as possible. (Hear old boys breathe a sigh of relief). Question: Would Bishop Gibson admit female students to his treasured KC? "Fortis Cadere for Girls?" Interesting.
As young people explore new horizons, older folks continue to behave as if the world isn't changing. To hear some persons talk about our education system, our schools are the worst in the world. Not true. Some are under the illusion that success is to be found only in 'name-brand' institutions in Kingston and St Andrew. We need to come out of our
comfort zones and face the facts. Some of the newer schools are actually doing much better in academics than you imagine.
Last weekend I visited Bellefield Primary in the Manchester hills. The school is the nearest thing to the proverbial "phoenix rising from the ashes". It had suffered years of neglect and inadequacy of resources, resulting in waning interest from parents and the wider community. Years later now, through the combined efforts of parents, teachers, well-wishers, Government and private sector, it has been transformed into one of the best.
The children are smart and interesting to meet. The teachers are dedicated and motivated. The community has increased its support, and attendance numbers have gone up once more. The grades are getting better and better. While there, I met Mr Dundee D Hewitt, one of the island's noted veteran educators who has authored a new book The teachers' struggles continue. It traces some interesting history, from the times of the Jamaican Union of Teachers to today.
Besides the accounts of teachers' "fight for justice", it also makes room for some delightfully whimsical moments too, particularly in the section "Ten Commandments for the Teachers". Check Commandment 8: "When a teacher is dead, thou shall not apply for the post until he is buried. Allow his soul ample time to reach Paradise." After I had laughed several times over, I sat down to wonder: Joke or serious ting? Sometimes they are one and the same.
LAST SATURDAY MORNING, the hottest topic on cable news was whether Mr Obama could save face, with his countrymen throwing cold water on his call to punish Syria for killing its citizens — children included — with toxic substances. When Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, American-born of Jamaican parents, was asked for her view as a member of the Black Caucus, she responded by reporting how her constituents saw it. They wanted to know, she said, why the president of the United States was defending Syrian children while children in American neighbourhoods were dying because of lack of weapons control. Ms Clarke pulled no punches. Like her politician mother before her, she spoke up strongly. The conversation on TV could have been happening right here. It sounded very Jamaican.
PS: Still in America... How quickly the twelve years since 9/11 have passed. Don't forget that we also lost people there. Say a prayer for their families who live here with us.