The hue and cry over school uniform size and style should be no surprise. The dress aberration, where it exists, is a creature of the indiscipline which pervades our school environment affecting both parent and student. Mothers take their children to school, or attend school functions, wearing tight shorts and hair rollers, sometimes almost half naked. Parents beat up on teachers in front of the student. Taxi drivers who have young children as passengers use indecent language and vulgar behaviour in the bus park to attract fares.
I admire the disciplinarians who take time out to insist that standards are maintained and that their students must adhere to strict codes regarding dress and other matters. At the same time, my heart bleeds for that innocent child who is well dressed by mother, and who proudly steps up to the school gate only to be turned back in full glare of the camera and television lights.
To be locked out, or turned back, in front of your friends and fellow students, and told to go home should be pure shame and embarrassment. Apparently it is a punitive measure taken not only for breach of the dress code, but for lateness. There is an abundance of opinion, either way, on the merits and demerits of this action. Those in favour insist that the measures taken will reinforce discipline as a form of character development. Those against point out that the action raises safety and security concerns, as the children who are locked out do not necessarily return home. This must be a wonderful excuse for some to visit the betting shop or play stations, or roam the streets.
In earlier primary, or elementary and government schools as the primary level used to be known, the issue was much simpler.
For one thing, uniforms were never a problem. We wore school clothes of any colour, sewn by loving hands and washed and ironed in the evenings to be worn again the following day. Shoes were virtually non-existent. The majority went barefoot, and the more privileged among us removed theirs to play cricket or baseball during recess, and oftentimes forgot them on the playing field.
Proper dress and shoes were reserved for the infamous Inspection Day. That was the day when senior officers of the Ministry of Education swooped down on elementary schools all over the island to examine and grade school and teacher. Pupils were enjoined to wear their Sunday best, and were coached to answer the trick questions that would be posed by the corpulent men in black. Head teachers sweated over record-keeping and prayed for the inspectors to take an early departure. That was the only day of the year that teachers would have felt compelled to check students for dress code and style.
As for lateness, in my days, one did not need security guards or the prying eyes of the media to do the disciplined thing. On odd days the headmaster himself would stand by the entrance and drop "two licks" on the back of every errant pupil trying to beat the gate after 8 o'clock. Corporal punishment, or a taste of the strap, was the answer to the problems we are hearing about these days.
The strap was respected, and in our case the leather belt was coiled into a roll and placed in a prominent position on the headmaster's table for all to see. It was there as a warning as well as a deterrent. It did its job to keep unmanageable students in line, and focused your mind wonderfully well on your ABCs, sums, and 1-2-3s.
It came into play after lunch when we were lined up for the dreaded mental arithmetic or English. Incorrect answers to the questions were addressed by two licks over the back or in the hand. The more experienced boys would rub their hands on the concrete floor before lining up for this original schools' challenge quiz, as it was said that the dust from the floor negated the sting of the strap on the hand, but that of course was nonsense.
The strap was an accepted part of school, and I daresay we older ones are the better for it. It was so commonplace that it became incidental to the real life of the school which offered plenty of time for fun and play.
The recess periods were usually greeted with shouts of "ree-cess" as we streamed into the schoolyard for cricket, chase, cashew, and marbles, or girls' baseball. But if there was a good film show at the school over the weekend, then cricket would take second place to the western cowboy action or the medieval English sword fight. The branch of a wild cherry tree would be the stage coach surrounded by Indians or badmen on the one side, and the good cowboys on the other.
Friday mornings provided the most fun as it was half day and attendance dropped to a handful, as most pupils stayed at home or accompanied their mothers to market. The morning was spent on the ball ground or learning skills of art and craft, painting, sewing and weaving, expertly taught by the teachers' college graduates of those days.
Wednesday was school garden day, and again we look back and wonder at the knowledge and patience of the 'big teacher' agronomist, who taught us how to plant beds, mulch, transplant, weed, bud, and how to water the soil.
Music was another value shared with us by the teachers of those days. They knew and taught their music with as much perfection and zeal as they taught the three R's.
There was a special afternoon devoted to singing at my school, where the entire population rehearsed and belted out classical English songs like "Drink to me only with thine eyes", "Flow gently sweet Afton", and "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree".
Fortunately, in my time we weren't confined to English melodies, as around that period Louise Bennett came a calling, introducing us to Jamaican songs like Linstead Market, Hol' him Joe and River ben come dung, adding a rich variety of folk songs to our curriculum.
On those afternoons villagers would sometimes take seats on the roadside across from the school to enjoy the singing conducted by the teachers.
Things have changed, and instead of the strap, teachers now stand at the gate with tape measures, scissors, and needle and thread. And security guards patrol the fence. Signs of the times as the old timer found out recently when he asked his grandson "Boy, what book you into?" To which he replied: "Me no inna book, grampa, me inna laptop."
Why don't they
Another of my why don't theys. Why don't they reduce or remove GCT off solar energy equipment? If we are serious about it, and understand the imperatives of cutting back on electricity, at home, office, or in industry, then give the consumer that extra incentive to purchase and utilise solar by making it cheaper.
It would stimulate the economy and there would be much more to gain from this move than the application of that onerous GCT which puts the cost of solar equipment outside the reach of the average consumer, or the businessman. Better yet, drop the Customs charges for these items.
Lance Neita is a communications and public relations specialist. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org