On Thursday, February 11, 2021 the Jamaica Observer carried the following front-page headline and subheadline: 'Criminal factories — Revamping schools turning out gunmen central to crime solution, says Chang'. The types constituting the banner headline and subheadline, along with the first paragraph of the story, are superimposed on a photo, dominating most of its left to middle area, leaving the area on the right showing a handgun leaning against three books on top of each other. The tip of the barrel and right side of the gun handle are touching what appears to be the top of the teacher's table with the books against which the gun leans. On top of the books is a container with pens, a pencil, and a pair of scissors. This photo, it seems, is included to symbolise and convey the main message in the headline; that is, the schools are criminal factories.
The first paragraph of this story, written by Alicia Dunkley-Willis, states: “The redemption of several high schools in neglected communities across the island that are literally serving as “factories for gunmen” and tributaries for prisons must be front and centre of any solution to the country's crime problem as far as National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang is concerned.”
Meanwhile, the second paragraph of this Observer article states: 'These schools, he said, are populated by more male than female students, and in most cases the majority of the girls drop out due to pregnancy.”
The fourth paragraph of the article notes that it was not the first time that Dr Chang was raising the troubling issue. In an address to Parliament earlier this month he pointed to the results of a 2012 prison survey which revealed that 20 schools “had a very high recurrence rate of incarcerated individuals”.
I am going to assume here that these incarcerated individuals — apparently mostly males — used to attend these schools. That is to say most of them were not likely to have been arrested while they were still in school.
Minister Chang is further quoted in the article as saying: “These schools clearly have challenges that need to be addressed.” And it seems that he has acted to deal with this daunting national problem. For he is quoted as saying: “Therefore, we have moved decisively to ensure that social investment in not a singular project by specially paid individuals, but to orient the primary government agencies operating in these spaces to focus on these particular areas in an objective manner. We have identified the communities; we need to know what we are getting in there to do.”
Getting into the communities where these schools are located requires a coalition of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Health, along with the Ministry of National Security whose task is to “disrupt the gangsters”, according to Dr Chang.
This approach seems to contradict the notion that these schools are criminal factories turning out gunmen, since the above named ministries, four of which have portfolios not directly dealing with the delivery of education, are needed for whatever programmes they are bringing “to overcome what is essentially the politics of poverty”.
What seems more appropriate in speaking to the problems under which these schools exist relates to this other view of the communities articulated by Dr Chang: “As a country, we have kind of looked at these communities, seen their challenges, speak of their challenges, and we do charitable activities, which is wonderful and important. But they don't need charity, they need opportunity, and to give them opportunity, Government investment must be invested.”
These communities, Dr Chang notes, “have been neglected traditionally for many years”. And he is right about this neglect, but there is another side to this story which is not of neglect but engagement. It is a tragic historical engagement that shaped the identity complex of Jamaican Independence politics with tribal partisan violence in the first 25 years. See works by Carl Stone, Mark Figueroa, Barry Chevannes, Horace Levy, Obika Gray, Anthony Harriott, Amanda Sives, Herbert Gayle, myself, et al. Even though such politics have been largely abandoned to an important degree, the depressing social, economic and cultural consequences are with us and central to Dr Chang's stated efforts and the realisation that the solving of such requires multi-ministerial agency.
The literature on the neglect of the communities of which Minister Chang spoke has been accumulating since after Emancipation — part of our colonial legacy. It includes church reports, newspaper reports, commissions of inquiry reports, reports from State agencies, scholarly reports and publications, dissertations, conference presentations, as well as songs, poetry, movies, and visual arts from the artistic community telling of persistent poverty, structural unemployment, states of neglect and abuse, prejudice, alienation, criminalisation, and the weaving of a pathologically divisive partisan political order fettering democratic engagements and peace. All of these shape schooling and education – their processes and goals in the development of this country's most important assets, its people.
From the standpoint of schooling and education what should we be getting into these communities to do? We should be getting into them to recreate a space to embrace the residents as citizens and assist them to dismantle the dystopian geography of hopelessness wherein boys are born to die (“baan fi ded”), can die anytime (“mi can ded ani-taim”), or are already dead (“mi done ded areddi”). They become alienated souls — many of them knowing (believing) they will not live to be 25 years old, which some regard as the age at which one becomes an 'elder'. So they must live fast in their flashy fast-running existence, and not be encumbered by schooling and formal education, or “tek chat” from anyone. They must live fast: “Get” children fast, kill fast, and die fast.
To begin to address this national problem the schools from these communities need to be staffed with administrators who are high performing principals. Principals who Disraeli Hutton tells us in his acclaimed study, 'Revealing the essential characteristics, qualities and behaviours of high-performing principal: Experiences of the Jamaican school system':
(1) demonstrate a philosophy or strong set of beliefs and personal conviction about the role of education and the needs and position of the learner;
(2) demonstrate strong individual fortitude, qualities, and abilities which are the central personal elements responsible for their success as principals in the school system;
(3) provide leadership that is visionary, engaging, passionate, visible and demanding, but they always depend on the collective energy of the staff and school community to achieve performance target.
Hutton discusses nine essential qualities he found in high-performing principals in the International Journal of Educational Leadership, Volume 5, Number3, July - September 2010.
Apart from having high-performing principals leading all of these schools, there is also a need to have a much higher percentage of male teachers in them and a pool of positive male energy on staff than is the case today. And, while this should be a requirement for schools in these communities, it should be made policy for schools across Jamaica in the future.
The philosophy of the sexist policy complex which deemed males as providers, framed before our time, the teaching profession, as a mostly female order to which a lower salary is paid, has turned off males from the profession, since it contradicts their provider role and thus feminises their manly existence. Hence, this has restricted their contribution to this most important agent of identity construction and citizenship.
At the same time, learning is not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic — the three 'r's denoting the subjects as we know them traditionally. It has to be much more than that. The process of learning should include, among other things, the conscious weaving of the sum total of the historical, environmental, ancestral, psychological, cultural, technological, creative, imaginative, and cooperative ingredients at our disposal to incite the culturing of an agential complex and compass in the learner to empower him/her with the capacity for self-confidence, self-motivation, and self-education, and an awareness of the necessity of charting and articulating his/her own narrative journey of existence.
Dr Horace Chang notes that most of the students in the 20 schools mentioned are male, and suggests that that demographic imbalance happened because, in most cases, the majority of the girls drop out due to pregnancy, according to the Observer. But, who impregnated these girls? Moreover, the circumstances that led to their impregnation should form the basis for serious research. And, apart from pregnancy, could it be that some parents, who are able to, avoid sending their girls to these schools, and thus contributed to the demographic dominance of boys in them? And could the belief that boys (who are not supposed to cry) are in a better position to face, navigate, and survive harsh, unsafe circumstances than girls, provide a key rationale for protecting females more, and thus better facilitate their education in safer circumstances? In any event, issues relating to gender roles and expectation framed this social reality and its genealogical identity construct.
And the genealogy of knowledge, identity, ritual, culture, language, and beliefs has a big say in the shaping of learning, knowledge, education, behaviour, identity, and agency today. This has to be an important part of the education and training of the teacher in the 21st century. In one example, have you ever noticed that fairly often men in conflict with men tend to designate the other as woman, a girl (gyal), or a mere female genitalia, or menstrual absorbing fabric, a mere inferior, a contemptuous other deserving to be teased, ridiculed, sexed, corrected, physically harmed, or even killed? Sometimes the threat or action to harm is articulated in vulgar sexual terms to suggest that the intended victim is a gyal deserving to be sexed up. Such is the case with a young security guard who was shot and killed by another young man whom, it is reported, shouted “Ded, p&&&y, ded!” while pulling the trigger. Here, the ultimate designated end for this young security guard was an ontological one, an identity constructing one — being sent to his death by a superior, as a mere woman's genitalia.
Another designation of inferiority used by one party to put down the other party in male-male conflict is 'boy' (bwoy); that is a male child, an inferior, one who lacks experience, authority and autonomy, just like a woman or a gyal. Expressions like the two above are examples of symbolic castrations, or what I term the gyalification of man. These men are literally performing what was done to the body, soul and identity of our ancestors, especially males, during slavery and colonialism. We have been internalising and performing not only the racism and colourism of the colonialists — recall, anything too black not good — but also their sexism.
The genealogical basis of this symbolic castration complex is rooted in 468 years of European enslavement and post-slavery colonial subjection of Taino and African peoples, and later Asian peoples, especially East Indians and Chinese. During slavery castration was real. It was a common ritual in this country aimed at controlling black men who resisted the system. The surgical removal of the testicles, or sometimes every member comprising the genitalia, was not uncommon. It was done by white men to destroy the political agency of black men by symbolically turning them into women, because women were believed to be devoid of political agency and thus lacked the ability to destroy white colonial masculine power. The subjected man was deemed to be the real inherent enemy and nemesis of the enslaver/coloniser man and his family and state sexually, politically and economically. And for this reason symbolic castrations also existed to denote power and identity on the one hand, and powerlessness and identity on the other hand. They included depriving the black man of the things that identified him as man, such as:
(1) forcing him to wear woman's clothing as a form of punishment;
(2) constantly referring to him, no matter how old, as boy (as an expletive);
(3) appropriating his family and abolishing his role as the protector of his family;
(4) blocking him from being a provider for his family by owning him as property and preventing him from owning the means of making his own livelihood, and after slavery, severely restricting him from owing the means of his own livelihood, and paying him a wage little removed from the condition obtained during the days of slavery.
These rituals of actual and symbolic castrations were forms of schooling and education designed to shape the identity and agency of black men and women as subordinates in the service of white people, but not of themselves. Racism, the conjoined twin of sexism, was designed to produce the same outcome.
Clinton A Hutton, PhD, is director of the Institute of Technological and Educational Research, Mico University College, and retired professor of Caribbean political philosophy, culture and aesthetics at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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