The José Marti High School dichotomy
RECENTLY I had reason to visit Jose Marti High School in southern St Catherine.
I visit and am associated with several high schools. This, for various reasons ranging from tae kwon do, trade training, or football.
I often observe the culture of conduct whenever I visit as one of the indicators for choosing what programme is the best fit for the particular institution.
On my recent visit to Jose Marti I observed a rare display of discipline that left me somewhat bewildered.
The students walked from class to class in single file. They spoke in hushed voices and everyone that passed an adult said the appropriate greeting, which was “good afternoon”, based on the time of day.
This was totally out of sync with the type of behaviour I observe at any other school I visit. Some are terrible, some are okay. This was surreal.
So I put on my ‘researcher’s hat’ and started digging. The question I wanted answered first was: What is being done differently here?
Secondly, with this school being the largest and nearest to Central Village what is this school’s contribution to the gang population of this gang-ridden community.
So I met with the principal, the Reverend Dr Austin Wright.
His system is quite unique for a modern day institution, with all of the soft touches that people call discipline in this era.
He uses a mandatory boot camp-style type experience for all who continually breach the rules, through the marine cadets that fall under an international organisation called Ocean Blue.
Or he uses mandatory participation in the Jamaica Defence Force’s cadet corps.
So, once you breach the rules you essentially fall into a group where rule observation is enforced, not just expected. Paramilitary discipline.
It all begins with a contract — that all parties sign once entering the school — that serves as an agreement to observe the rules, accept your punishment and comply, or you can simply leave.
No petting, no asking, but a demand that students will do as they and their parents agreed.
I looked on the feeding system and realised that their current grade requirement to attend is higher than other schools nearby —and this does filter out a lot of the wannabe thugs because, trust me, gang members are usually not too bright.
He said the former system wherein students would be sent there in ninth grade made moulding more difficult, as they would be less academically capable and modes of behaviour are harder to alter at that age.
I also looked on my gang listing for Central Village and found that in the last 14 years I was hardly seeing any gangsters who attended Jose Marti.
So it appears to be a combination of the feeding system from GSAT (now PEP) and the policies and practices that will interrupt the process of young men with the inclination to become thugs from becoming same.
The unusual standard of discipline I observed, however, has to be because of the leadership and the ‘comply or leave’ approach,
The bigger picture, however, requires an examination as to the impact of schools on the young in the community where the school is located.
In the case of Jose Marti it serves the parish of St Catherine, not necessarily the community of Central Village.
It, in fact, does not have an impact on Central Village at all.
The same could be said of Calabar High, Kingston College and Jamaica College.
This may differ in some degree from Penwood High and Haile Selassie High but largely, attendance to high school has very little to do with where you live.
This impacts the cost of commuting to school and the pride that schools bring to their community.
So, going forward, do we toughen up the approach to moulding our young or do we continue to adopt this Americanised system of tolerance to indiscipline vs the older British system of corporal punishment and ease of expulsion?
My feeling is that there is little room for indiscipline and no room for thug behaviour in our high schools.
Violence cannot be tolerated at all, and no student’s conduct must be allowed to negatively impact the other student’s ability to learn.
Rules must be enforced — from grooming to bleaching — and those who don’t comply must be removed at the genesis of their rebellion, not after they beat another student to death over a pair of Clarks.
The above-noted student must have exhibited this type of conduct before it got out of hand. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Why wasn’t he kicked out long before?
We have become too tolerant. This needs to change. If you want to behave like a prisoner then go to a prison where you will find like minds.
I always say all drug addicts start with ganja smoking. Well, trust me, all adult gang members were once teenaged gang members.
We have no space for them in our schools.
Indiscipline and rebellious conduct can only foster where they are tolerated.
This is a time for intolerance.