Moving from dunce to D U N C E
Students carrying school bags branded "Dunce" have sparked public discourse about the emergence of a dunce culture in Jamaica.

Over the past weeks, there has been a meteoric rise in public discourse on the topic of dunce culture. An array of publications have thoughtfully weighed in on the matter — from educators expressing concerns about students flaunting backpacks labelled "Dunce" to advocates urging an end to the growing "dunce" trend. If you've missed the unfolding drama, allow me to set the stage.

Almost a year ago, Oberlin High School and St Mary's College alumnus turned dancehall sensation, Valiant began creating ripples in the music industry. His tunes, while entertaining, were more than just foot-tapping beats; they became cultural signposts, influencing not just certain adults but, more concerningly, shaping the minds of our Jamaican youth. March 2023 saw the release of his song Dunce Cheque, and it quickly became more than just a song; it evolved into a fashion statement.

By September 2023, school gates bore witness to an unexpected sight. Eager students, ready for a new academic year, proudly donned backpacks emblazoned with the contentious word — "Dunce". This bold fashion statement didn't just irk educators, it caused some school principals to react vehemently, even threatening to refuse entry to students sporting these bags. Their reactions, while strong, underscore the dilemma: The word "dunce", historically a term of derision, seems at odds with the very foundations of education.

In unequivocal terms, let me state this: Any product that glamorises or normalises the term "dunce" stands in stark contrast to the core ethos of education. Our educators have the monumental task of fostering self-belief, ambition, and intellectual growth. Let's think deeply about what we are endorsing and the lasting impact it could have on our impressionable youth.

The Psychology of

As a social and behavioural scientist, I think I have the responsibility to help our readers understand the psychology of this popular song and why parents, as well as their children, should reject the dunce culture. Whether you laud it or lambast it, one thing is undeniable: Dunce Cheque is not what we want to normalise or distribute, either paid or free to our children. Here's what the chorus says: "Bounce cheque ina account and mek mi skull upset (upset); none a unuh nuh know dunce yet (dunce); Back a di class mi nah nuh subject (yah); English gyal ina di Bimma want rough sex (b***h); She pop di molly hard but she nuh drunk yet (drunk); Drift di Crown hard and mek she get upset; Yow, a money a di subject (subject); Yow, a money a di subject.

The line "Bounce cheque ina account and mek mi skull upset" underscores the value the artiste places on financial security. Bouncing cheques, traditionally seen as a mark of financial irresponsibility, is the point of contention. "None a unuh nuh know dunce yet" and "Back a di class mi nah nuh subject" suggests a past in which the artiste may have felt marginalised in formal educational settings. The term "dunce" implies that others may have seen him as unintelligent, but he might be reclaiming the term to signify street wisdom or real-life knowledge.

Cultural Identity and Stereotyping

The use of the term "English gyal" likely points towards a woman from England or of British descent. This might highlight an interplay between Jamaican and British cultures, perhaps referencing the historical relationship between the two countries or the attraction of different cultural identities. However, the line may also propagate a stereotype about English women, which is problematic in itself.

Materialism and Status

Mentioning the "Bimma" symbolises wealth, luxury, and status. The artiste feels the need to defend himself against past labels, showcasing his current successes (even if they come with their challenges, like bouncing cheques). By associating the woman with the car, there's an implied narrative about the intersections of attraction, wealth, and luxury. The mention of the luxury car, the English girl, and money being the subject indicates a need for societal validation and recognition.

Sexual Desire and Objectification

The reference to "rough sex" provides insight into the perceived sexual desires of the woman in question or the power the artiste has over her. This line can be problematic as it may contribute to the objectification of women, reducing them to mere sexual objects. Further, using the derogatory term "b***h" can be seen as disrespectful and derogatory, further objectifying the woman.

Ego and Financial Security

The artiste's displeasure with the bounced cheque suggests a threat to his ego and self-worth, which he ties closely to financial stability. However, he acknowledges societal views on intelligence ("dunce") and counters it by indicating that formal education isn't the only measure of intelligence or success. The lines about the English girl, her drug use, and the mention of drifting the "Crown" point towards hedonistic pursuits. The artiste's interactions with the English girl might signify navigating relationships that are influenced by materialism and substance use.

Creating a dunce counterculture

It's high time educators and parents alike take a stand and redefine the term for the betterment of our future generations. Let's move them from dunce to D U N C E.

Every child, regardless of his/her background, abilities, or challenges possesses a fierce determination to succeed. I call on parents and teachers to do what it takes to tap into this innate drive, nourish it, and guide them towards achieving their dreams. As parents and educators, it's our duty to recognise this determination and mould it into resilience and tenacity. No child should ever be tagged with a negative label that might stifle their determination.

Unique in Every Way

No two children are the same. Each one brings a distinct flavour, a unique perspective, and an individual talent to the world. By celebrating this uniqueness, we can encourage our youth to embrace their individuality rather than feel pressured to fit into an ill-advised dunce fad. The word "dunce" does not define them; their actions, kindness, creativity, and aspirations do.

Navigating Life's Challenges

Life is full of ups and downs, challenges, and triumphs. It's essential that we equip our children with the tools, knowledge, and growth mindset to navigate these hurdles. While it's easy to get bogged down by challenges, we must remind them that these obstacles are stepping stones to a brighter, more fulfilling future.

Confident in their Potential

Every child has unlimited potential waiting to be unearthed. When we, as guardians of their future, express our belief in their capabilities, it bolsters their confidence. They begin to believe they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, irrespective of the labels or tags the world might throw at them.

Empowered to Make a Difference

Every child, once given the right tools, education, and environment, can make a profound impact on society. We must nurture this spirit of change and empower our children to believe they can be the difference-makers, the visionaries, and the leaders of tomorrow.

As parents, educators, and responsible adults, let's rally together and turn the tide. Let's move from the shallow waters of labelling and champion a new narrative for our youth — one in which D U N CE becomes a beacon of positivity, resilience, and empowerment.

I am fully D U N C E.

Dr Henry Lewis Jr is an associate professor at University of Technology, Jamaica, in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is also a social scientist and executive life coach. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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