Let's reinforce positive messaging
A social media photo of a boy carrying a school bag last week branded ‘Dunce’.

Dear Editor,

I stood in awe when I saw recent footage on the television news of a student venturing out on the first day of school with the word "dunce" in bold letters adorning the knapsack on his back, apparently the newest trend in our socio-educational culture.

Civil society should be wondering how a manufacturer could come up with such a stereotyping idea to create a business, and to add insult to injury, parents have been daft enough to purchase such products for their children to carry to school.

When I was growing up in 'ancient' Jamaica, the term "dunce" had a deleterious, demoralising, and negative effect on the psyche. I will not forget how one of my classmates was stigmatised and her self-esteem crushed when she was labelled "pretty dunce". I am happy that over time she was able to rise above the stigma and find her niche in life, fulfilling it well.

It is hard to use negative terms and hope to get positive outcomes. Children, especially in the formative years, are likely to live what they learn. As the adage goes: "If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive. If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves. If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy. If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy. If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty. If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience. If children live with praise, they learn appreciation. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves. If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal. If children live with sharing, they learn generosity. If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness. If children live with fairness, they learn justice. If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect. If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them. If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live." And I would add, if they are labelled "dunce", they will strive to be likewise.

Today's children are bombarded with so much negative and irresponsible advertising that that which was once viewed as positive has become absurd. Yesterday's realities have really become today's absurdities. A mature and responsible parent should never venture to buy a school bag that does not reinforce meaningful educational messages.

I can readily understand how difficult it is for teachers to instil morals and ethics in the classroom when they are not getting fulsome support from parents. Every child's mind should be guided and guarded. Physicist Albert Einstein once posited that, "If I can't picture it, I can't understand it." This is a critical academic principle and another reason we should be careful of the subliminal effect of messages conveyed, whether in print or in action.

As an educator I find that imaging is vital for academic, social, emotional, and spiritual development. As one whose rule of faith and conduct is greatly influenced by Judeo-Christian tradition, I countenance greatly the "Shema" in Deuteronomy 6:4-8, which, I think, if modelled by today's parents, would help to create a better society for our children to grow. It's a call to modelling and positive enforcement.

So my appeal to parents in Jamaica is to boycott the sale of any school bag that conveys messages that are not consistent with positivity and character-building. Let's kill the dunce culture and never allow it to thrive in this era of modernity.

Education must transcend dancehall culture and allow our vulnerable students to become the best versions of themselves.

Burnett Robinson


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