If a suh, retire mi, please
T H IS PRINCIPAL'S POINTWednesday, July 28, 2021
By Aretha P Willie
When the decision was made to reopen face-to-face classes towards the end of the academic year, I, along with all well-meaning educators, was euphoric. We wanted nothing more than to see and interact with our 'babies' and make a last-ditch effort to get them prepared for their respective internal and external examinations.
Consciously aware of the present economic realities, I notified parents about the relaxed measures regarding grooming after consultations with the board of management and staff. The parents were encouraged not to be concerned about purchasing uniforms, but to resurrect those from former grades, if they can fit. They were provided with several options – denim skirts and pants (not distressed); plain black, blue, or brown bottoms with their physical education (PE) tops, plain tops; any footwear, but no slippers. Simple enough.
Yet, on the very first morning, a student reports to school in a matching hot pink capri pants and top, and another in a severely distressed pair of denim pants. Picture this: 178 students, 176 compliant with the directives given, while two made the decision to flout the guidelines.
Without any concern for backlash or sanction, I instructed that the parents of both children return to retrieve them, forthwith. No negotiation, no compromise, and no leniency. Both students left with their parents and returned shortly thereafter properly groomed as per instructions.
Rules and guidelines are designed to regulate behaviour. They are ever present and necessary in every sphere of life. God forbid that we should be allowed to do whatever we want, every time we want, and any way we want.
I fear that with the proposed revised grooming policy the students and their parents will be accorded privileges that will erode the good sense and order that have prevailed in regulating behaviour within our educational institutions.
We are told that the process has started and that an announcement will be made shortly. I am ultra-curious as to who are the participants, the model to be used, the rationale, and whether consultations will be held with school personnel in the redrafting of the revised policy.
I have come to realise that the ministry that I serve continues to experience persistent struggles with the differences between consultation and sensitisation. They are not the same!
Consultations require engagement and discussions with key stakeholders in a bid to arrive at the best possible decisions to achieve universal goals. Whilst, sensitisation is the process of informing said key stakeholders of the common decision. I trust that I have shed some light in differentiating between the two.
I must commend the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information for the countless sensitisation sessions that have been held virtually since the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, I would greatly welcome a few consultation sessions, also. As a field worker, I do have a voice and an opinion or two, even three.
The focus of the grooming policy is usually the students' hairstyles and the view that they are being denied the right of freedom of self-expression because of their Afrocentricity. It is believed that school administrators have been prejudicial in this particular instance, hence the need to revise the existing policy.
The existing grooming policy offered a measure of autonomy to school leaders in crafting their own guidelines for students and staff. Therefore, it stands to reason that if students are given carte blanche to sport certain hairstyles to school, then the staff ought to be afforded the same courtesy.
If, as a head teacher, I cannot regulate my charges' hairstyles, how in clear conscience can I do so for staff? Thus, when a 10-year-old boy reports for school with hair in cornrows and his male teachers do the same, I guess I will just have to take a deep swallow and count to one million in French. Or, when the grade one boy, who had his ears pierced by his mother shortly after birth, sports his diamond studs and his male teacher does the same, then, again, I will take a great gasp of breath and count to one billion in Mandarin.
I am certain that you would have noticed my targeted focus on the male students and male staff members, because therein lies the problem. They are usually the least compliant with the rules — tight pants under the derrière, earrings, mohawks or plaited hairstyles, bleached-out faces, tattoos, as well as designer sneakers and shoes. The girls are usually far more agreeable, and usually conform after a discussion is initiated. Yet, the wider society continues to ponder why our males are lagging behind their female counterparts, and why they are marginalised. The answer is simple: They lack solid male role models.
Kindly allow us the opportunity, as a school community, to continue chipping away at the lack of discipline, low self-esteem, limited ambitions, and desire for instant gratification. The will and skills to do so are missing from many homes; a sad reality. The next generation will be grateful.
If the advisors, technocrats, consultants, and experts cannot offer that guarantee at the sensitisation session, then, please, retire me now — with full benefits, of course.
I firmly believe that grooming has the potential to affect academic output, because students have a tendency to become distracted by the physical appearance, as most pubescent and adolescent youth are prone to do.
Aretha P Willie is a passionate educator, principal of George Headley Primary School, and a justice of the peace. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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