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Tailor-made education: Best sews up loose ends on Ministry’s dress code proposal

“Education kills,” some wit with spare time and a can of spray paint inscribed on the walls of the London Underground years ago, “… by degrees.”

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.

How right! The move from ABC to BA, MSc or PhD is very often not a journey about acquiring the life skills comfortable survival demands but about acquiring the certification that says that you have done so.

A former colleague of mine puts it differently. “Life skills aren’t taught anywhere in the school system,” he would say. “As you move through the system, you learn more and more about less and less until you know almost everything about nothing.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it wouldn’t be that way if ministers of education took the trouble to think about their real function.

Remember how the incumbent minister, Anthony Garcia, adamantly asserted that there would be no sex education “taught” in schools under his watch?

This in the face of clear evidence in cyberspace that sex miseducation is ritually taking place in the schools, outside the classrooms and within them. Just last week, statistical confirmation came from outgoing chairman of the Family Planning Association (FPA) Gerry Brooks.

Photo: Outgoing head of FPA
Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago vice-president Gerry Brooks.
(Copyright NGC)

What Mr Garcia needs to do is recognize that his job is not about fixing buildings but about building fixes. Not about principals but about principles. Not about teachers who dress so much as about preachers who address. Not about appearances but about parents.

Since the 1960s, John Holt, renowned author of How Children Learn and How Children Fail, has made clear why schools are destroying our chances of getting an education.

Can Garcia, bespoke minister that he is, really afford to ignore that? Can he not see that, if he is to make a real difference, the emphasis in the 21st Century has to be more than superficial?

Does he not hear that every time the Minister of National Security or the Police Commissioner, acting or not, or, indeed, the Prime Minister (who has half a dozen times in one year called the crime situation “unacceptable” but been quite unable so far to do anything about it) speaks?

Can’t the bespoke minister whisper in Dr Rowley’s ear that the crime problem really has to be tackled on the education flank?

Jessica Lahey, a Holt devotee, has this to say in a 2013 piece titled “Why parents need to let their children fail”:

(…) teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills we teach.

Photo: An adult and child support the "Women Soca Warriors" during their FIFA Play Off second leg clash against Ecuador in Port of Spain on 2 December 2014. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: An adult and child support the “Women Soca Warriors” during their FIFA Play Off second leg clash against Ecuador in Port of Spain on 2 December 2014.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The piece concludes this way:

I have learned to enjoy and find satisfaction in these day-to-day lessons, and in the time I get to spend with children in need of an education. But I fantasize about the day I will be trusted to teach my students how to roll with the punches, find their way through the gauntlet of adolescence, and stand firm in the face of the challenges – challenges that have the power to transform today’s children into resourceful, competent, and confident adults.

For me, those last nine words sum up Mr Garcia’s job. I want to suggest to him that the real challenge facing him is not what to do with the school system; it’s what to do with the systems that support the school.

In the Ministry of Education, he is well placed to spearhead that effort but he cannot do it alone. He needs to co-opt the parents and his colleagues in the other ministries.

MUST, MYLATT, MYPLATT, YTEPP and the whole range of healthy activities that alphabet soup represents must take their proper place in the educational landscape, cheek by jowl with SEA, CXC, GCE, CSEC, CAPE, etc.

Minister Garcia needs to remind himself and the Minister of Sport that for the Romans the same word meant “school” and “game”.

He needs to remind himself and the national security minister that the village that used to raise the child often did so with or without a police station or a police post.

Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 CNG National Super League Premiership Division action at the Matura Recreation Ground. Matura ReUnited edged Petrotrin Palo Seco 3-2. (Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)
Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 CNG National Super League Premiership Division action at the Matura Recreation Ground.
Matura ReUnited edged Petrotrin Palo Seco 3-2.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

He needs to remind himself and the Minister of Social Development that teachers are expected to act in loco parentis, a fortiori when parents are absent. They may act, when parents are present, as if they are loco.

From the university, he must demand real rigour, not the rigor mortis that has long characterized it.

And he must, above all, take the media, that ubiquitous 21st Century teacher, by the scruff of the neck.

In a column in the Express a few years ago titled “Our Peaceful World,” Gwynne Dyer alerts us to the fact that the media sell us the completely erroneous notion that the world is drowning in war.

It is not, he says, adducing all the documentary evidence. That illustrates just how powerful the media are at creating perceptions. Still, Garcia has to find a way to lure, entice or conscript them into the service of education.

But it won’t be easy. With some 40 radio stations and television channels competing for our attention, we in T&T are lucky that we still have a handful of journalists and educated people among the scores of DJ’s and talk show hosts who people the media houses.

I’m unapologetically a TV6 man and JFK are–not is!–at the top of my list. To be frank, bitter experience has led me not to hold too many other people on the local airwaves to high standards; the fingers of one hand suffice.

Photo: A reporter on the job.
Photo: A reporter on the job.

I could, therefore, scarce believe my ears last week Saturday evening when F. was charged with the responsibility of reading the 7pm news.

She was doing her usual good job of it when suddenly out of the blue came this story about a man who had been arrested and taken to the Valencia Police Station where he was placed in a cell.

Faine told us that the 28-year-old man “suddenly dropped dead and the police could not resuscitate him.” Protect and serve, yes, but since when is it a police function to perform Lazarist miracles?

Had J, F’s husband, and his colleague Kejan, K, been listening, I fear one or both of them might well have dropped dead!

Killed by education? Well, arguably a shocking show of shoddiness in a quality standard-bearer.

But unless someone was able to resuscitate him/them, like a good teacher, I would have had to turn up properly attired for the funeral(s).

 

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for part one as Earl Best gives his take on the Education Minister’s proposed sartorial intervention.

AboutEarl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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