Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Thursday | November 29, 2012
Home : Commentary
Kensington, you cannot wrong and get right
I MAKE no apologies for the solid pro-teacher position that I normally take. I know what it is to feel beleaguered, disrespected and unappreciated. It is part of our lot.

It is especially difficult to experience the feeling of being given 'basket to carry water', then being told by persons who have never been part of the profession that it is quite possible to do so, and finally being reprimanded for allowing some of the water to leak out. The system is replete with examples of this, and it is the eternal struggle of the teacher to convince others that he knows what he is doing and is, in fact, better at it than those who pontificate in the media and from political platforms.

For example, there is the statement sent out to primary schools giving them a target of 100 per cent mastery of literacy at the grade-four level in just a few years. Yet there is no programme in place to deal with students with learning and reading deficiencies and disabilities. Everyone knows that, without significant intervention programmes - using teachers with specialised training - this target is impossible. But the schools have all been handed the baskets and taken to the water.

PLAYING FIELD NOT LEVEL

Recently, my heart bled for the administrators and staff of a fairly new secondary school who had been given a cohort of extremely low-achieving students in grade nine. They motivated, cared for, pushed, pulled, encouraged, cajoled and loved them. Upon graduation, this group of students were ready for the world, most of them equipped with a marketable skill and all with the attitudes that earmarked them for good citizenship. Quite apart from that, they had received quite reasonable Caribbean Examinations Council results. Even though only a few of them had passed English and math, the progress they had made in these subjects was remarkable. Distinctions even! But people baulked at identifying this school as excellent because, for a school to be declared excellent, the students should have good passes in English and math. As if the playing field were level! Talk about water in baskets.

I can give so many other examples: overcrowded classrooms, unsafe schools, poorly equipped teachers and schools, trying working conditions - including the occasional verbal or even physical attack on teachers. But suffice it to say that I have good reason to tend to automatically spring to the defence of teachers whenever they are under attack.

But my colleagues at Kensington Primary are wrong. Horribly wrong. To claim that flogging is a useful teaching tool is not only unsupported by any kind of research, it is unsupportable by any kind of logic. Come on! And it simply cannot be presented in a good light. The argument about a few taps in the palm of the hand makes us look worse. Worse even is the argument that "I got it when I was young and it did not scar me". To be valid, you would have to get a random sample of persons and test them for psychological scars. It may not have harmed you (possibly), but what about others?

FLAWED THINKING

There are persons who have suffered rape and have found the strength to overcome it and lead happy lives. How would you, teacher, respond if a lawyer used this as an argument for leniency for a convicted rapist?

But maybe I am just as bad. Maybe it is my own experience that underpins my thinking. At primary school, I had a teacher who would place us in a line and play a game called 'head and tail'. He would ask questions on a topic he had set and, if you were correct, you went closer to the head, if incorrect, you would 'descend'. After three or four rounds, he would start flogging those at the 'tail'. This would occur even though you had answered correctly, but did not overtake enough persons to escape the tail. Flogging same way! True, we would study like mad to get the answers right during the game, but nearly 60 years later, I still shudder when I recall the experience. It took me decades to bring myself to forgive him. And I am not sure if I really have. The wicked son of .

Keith Noel is an educator. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com

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