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STREET VIBES: Violence and videos; why MoE continues to struggle with unruly students

Recently, a series of videos have been making the rounds showing young people in school uniforms, many of them young ladies, engaged in fights. One fight is hardly out of our minds before another imprints itself on it, complementing—if that is the appropriate word—the repugnant images of girls kicking, punching, slapping, falling in drains, grabbing one another’s hair, etc, all behaviours unbecoming of young ladies.

However, despite the growing video evidence, the Minister of Education goes out of his way to find comfort in the suggestion that ‘school violence is down.’

Photo: A tense scene in a Trinidad and Tobago school.
Photo: A tense scene in a Trinidad and Tobago school.

As we view these fights from the safety of our homes and offices, we tend to maintain our preconceived notions about why they continue, seemingly unabated. An unofficial consensus has emerged which seems to suggest that the fights demonstrate a clear breakdown in family life as well as that they have clear linkages with the myriad other social ills with which we as a society are currently plagued.

Meanwhile, those in authority, the teachers, principals, school supervisors, administrators et al, are both silent and absent. Like Minister Garcia, they, too, are evidently clueless about where or how to begin to address these challenges. We don’t have to look too far for an example of this cluelessness.

It was highlighted recently when the Minister of Education sat down in a brainstorming session with a few other talking heads and then emerged with a suggestion that the lunch period in schools be reduced to half an hour. Thankfully that ridiculous idea was still-born.

When we consider that the best the leaders and professionals in the education field could come up with was a reduction in lunch hour although most of the fights seen are not on any school’s compound, questions must arise about the intellectual bankruptcy which characterises the halls of education across this land, from UWI to We Care.

For the record, school children fighting is not a new phenomenon. It’s been a while—I’m 62—but I acknowledge that I was engaged in my fair share of fights while I was in elementary school. As I moved up through the school, the number went down until it reached zero when I graduated to secondary school.

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Oh yes, my entire generation knew about school fights, when scores were settled, particularly on the last day of school, as we all headed off to vacation. Some students even carried knives even though thanks, I think, to the communal sense of justice and fairness, these were very, very rarely used.

Fortunately for my generation and those of my offspring, cameras were not yet an option; since we did not have the choice of ‘sharing,’ our fights remained localized. And literally between and among us! This, however, is no longer true of today’s fights.

But we can’t compare the two ages in a vacuum; it is important to understand the context if we are to appreciate the important differences.

Our history is forged from violence, dating back to the very inception. The idea of “licks” as a panacea for the myriad issues and challenges Caribbean civilisation has faced can be traced directly back to our violent roots.  Consequently, my generation was raised on licks, so much so that licks became synonymous with discipline.

So when teachers were told that they could no longer “beat” students, they took that to mean they could no longer discipline students. The move gave teachers an excuse to throw their hands in the air—almost literally.

Many of us have been advised by our mammies and grannies that the only reason they were giving us a licking was that they love us. In our confused society, ‘licks’ is a common term used in discussion of issues of domestic violence so that some women actually believe the foolish idea that “if mih man doh beat mih, he doh love mih.”

Photo: A female victim of domestic abuse.
Photo: A female victim of domestic abuse.

In our distorted view, we equate licks with love and the more licks the abusers dole out, the more loved the victims feel. Pathetic perhaps, sick perhaps but indisputably true.

So we really should not wonder how is it that we have come to find ourselves with a nation of more badjohns than scholars. What is the message we are sending when, asked about his skills, a geriatric minister of education gets angry enough to reply in a public space that he is a woodsman extraordinaire and has proof of it?

What, tell me, are we really to expect from the young impressionable minds into whose garden the response happens to fall?

And what was your reaction to the response? Were you genuinely amused? Or were you perhaps disgusted?

But what has that got to do with violence in schools?  Well, perhaps nothing. And perhaps everything.

If all we are going to get from our Minister of Education is knee-jerk reactions, the violence in schools will be with us for some time. As will so many of the other problems.

Durable, effective solutions to real problems in the school system require much more than half-baked ideas off the tops of the heads of those vested with the responsibility of making our schools places of real, positive learning.

Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino (second from left) greets Fatima College captain Keyon Williams (second from right) while his teammate Stephon Marcano (far right) and Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona look on at President's House in St Ann's on 10 April 2017. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino (second from left) greets Fatima College captain Keyon Williams (second from right) while his teammate Stephon Marcano (far right) and Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona look on at President’s House in St Ann’s on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Durable, effective solutions to real problems in the school system require forward-looking principals; flexible, open-minded administrators and dedicated, committed, caring teachers instead of a bunch of parasites whose primary concern is job security, salaries and vacation.

Durable, effective solutions to real problems in the school system require above all that the Minister of Education take his job and himself seriously. And focus attention on the use of the head above his shoulders rather than the one below them.

Unless, of course, like the schoolgirls who often contrive to get themselves on video, he is perhaps fighting to get himself more frequently on national television.

About Rudy Chato Paul Sr

Rudy Chato Paul, Sr, is passionate about gardening, music and writing and boasts post-graduate certification in Anthropology, Criminology and Sociology. He also studied Theology, which is why he is actively seeking to make Trinidad a better place rather than waiting for divine intervention. 

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21 comments

  1. The whole thing is rooted in respect. Who do our youths respect? This article definitely doesn’t foster respect for teachers and I for one can do nothing for a student with no respect for me while I am as respectful as my profession deserves. People want to destroy the morale of teachers then order them to pick up the pieces and superglue them together. How about an article about respect?

  2. “Our history is forged from violence, dating back to the very inception. The idea of ‘licks’ as a panacea for the myriad issues and challenges Caribbean civilisation has faced can be traced directly back to our violent roots”

    Reading this myopic claptrap you’d think “Caribbean civilisation” began with the Age of Exploration.

  3. There are alot of students who live dual lifestyles, angels at home and anything but whilst at school. Parenting is important but teachers can’t rely on parents alone. They must be equipped to deal with delinquent students in their classrooms!

  4. I never get licks and I never fight a teacher.
    My parents also weren’t shitty.

    Too many parents want to throw the job of parenting on teachers, a large amount of which just wanna do their job of teaching. They not getting paid to babysit and when people assume that they are babysitters as well they’ll always be disappointed

  5. It’s interesting how we got licks and were not damaged . There is a difference between’licks and ABUSE. We threw away our Bibles and/or belief systems and listened to psychologists etc. We listen to foreigners telling us about abuse and parents should go in a room and cool of, while our kids ran amok.. Sadly some listened to them. Others used ‘education’ or Universities to fool the masses. Today those with PhDs, Masters degree and MBAs writing books and adopting wholesale,’one size fit all’ policies in our culture. Yea we bright with no common sense. Everything foreign good. Adopted Western ways and look where we are to da.

  6. Even in the courts they have taken away corporal punishment which could be a factor why there are many repeat offenders in jail and on bail. This was a deterrant even to the children that may hear stories resulting in good conduct to adulthood.

  7. Typical non-teacher rubbish ! Thats why the last government assigned a gynecologist as the Minister. We are going nowhere because we derive solutions from unproven methods.

  8. It’s interesting that we want teachers to discipline unruly children. Did their contract state they have to live in fear of violent kids with guns and knives? What discipline mechanism other than ‘licks” are you speaking about? Clarify. So where did these delinquent youths come from?, What is the parents role in all of this.? These are your kids. Since the 1970s I remember a parent came to school to beat the principal for disciplining her abusive daughter. Who set all this madness in motion? No corporal punishment when thas was enacted it took away the power of discipline from teachers and gave the to kids. some blame should go to PARENTS who refuse to do their job.-PARENTING. The horses have bolt out of the barn. Regarding violence in schools, Did kids see Daddy dearest beating mommy? Sociologist tell us its a cycle, so daughter befriends a man who beats her, because she thinks its normal. How many parents attend church, mosque, temple as a family. Is there any exposure to God or belief in a power higher than your selves . If training and discipline begins at home, there ‘ll be no violence in schools. Is it the politicians job to clean up parents failures? LOOK in the MIRROR , then point fingers. I keep saying nothing is wrong with kids its parents who have abandoned their duty to their children, not the teacher’s . No child is born a criminal ,he is left to his devices and the society are at the receiving end. As Calypsonian Penguin sang “we living in jail”. Check Secondary schools , they are surrounded with barbed wire and then graduate to the Royal jail. Take some blame parents

  9. Could anyone point to any society that has a disciplinary plan without corporal punishment and what that plan entails ?

  10. As Mr. Chato Paul Snr reiterated, fighting in schools always existed what was not present was the cameras. So, can we even ban camera phones from the school system?

    Secondly, when corporal punishment was removed from school what was it replaced with? Was there any training for teachers to discipline via other means?

    Thirdly, has this lack of corporal punishment or disciplinary means escalated into general society? 86% of murders are unsolved which means there is basically no repercussion for heinous crime in our society, is there a correlation?

    • I am a little bit older than you and never remember anyone fighting, although our discipline was a little ruler from the Principal (high school), detention or lines. The kinda licks we got in primary school, tho was reserved for very few people who were just harden. Often we would get put out in the courtyard for about half hour.

    • For the record, corporal punishment wasn’t banned. It was removed from the hands of teachers, and reserved for use by…the Principal, Vice Principal, and Deans of Discipline. That applies to all secondary schools.

    • We fought on a Friday after school away from the school yard in the Cemetery. It was strickly hand fighting and for stupidness. Licks with leather belt or ruler or tambran whips was given for misbehavior or repeat learning issues. In High School the discipline method moved to detention after school writing 1000 lines of a phrase, cleaning the class after school, standing out in the yard with a book on your head.

    • Me and two of my classmates at Holy Cross used to fight once a week like clockwork in Form 1. Used to sneak and go behind WASA (up Calvary Hill) and pelt some wild hand and kick. None of us knew what we were doing back then (certainly I didn’t), or really why… real teenage boys nonsense. Glad to say that today we’ve all matured into productive members of society.

      I say this not to excuse fighting, but really to underscore the silly reasons why we as a society are so quick to resort to violence as the default means for resolving conflict. What’s different today is the proliferation of cellphones and the pernicious role they play in perpetuating violence among youth… all clamoring for their 15 seconds (not even the minutes Warhol proclaimed) of fame.

  11. “Indisputably true”… Teachers need training on the art of discipline. It’s quite astonishing though to be beating our children at home and in school for whatever reason yet when they are adults in relationships they are arrested/jailed should they beat their spouses and lovers for whatever reason! T&T teachers and parents have to be taught how to discipline children while maintaining their self-esteem and without physically beating them down! They must learn that beating does not equate to discipline… beatings nurture fear on one extreme and intense rebellion on the other extreme.