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Romancing the youth: Why the “monsters” in schools aren’t the problem

Yes, our children, too, are committing monstrous crimes, astonishing us by claiming the adult power to molest, maim and murder. Adulthood has lost its mystique as age—that great marker of maturity separating children from big men and women—is revealed as a hoax.

Photo: Is our future still in our book bags? (Courtesy PSU.edu)
Photo: Is our future still in our book bags?
(Courtesy PSU.edu)

They know now that nothing superior separates us from them. We’re only older, not better. And so, they see no reason to wait until age graduates them into the ranks with rank. At gunpoint against an enemy, or at pen-point in a cheated exam, they, too, are declaring their right to act with impunity.

We are shocked because we hadn’t bargained for such brutal consequences. We had expected to escape.

Now, caught in the trap of our own design, our instinct as always is to lie and absolve ourselves of all responsibility. So, we turn on the children.

It’s not us; it’s them, the little monsters.

It’s one thing to lie to others but quite another to start believing it yourself. Already, we are seeing the consequences in the misdiagnosing of the problem of youth and school violence.

Having located the problem squarely at the feet of the children, we’re reaching for prescriptions that are sharply disciplinarian and authoritarian and which risk inflaming the condition.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

In the haste to separate ourselves from blame, we close our minds to the many failures in our policy choices that have brought Trinidad and Tobago to this sorry pass:

The elevation of the colonial education system as the model for independent T&T; the adoption of a mass education model that has devastated both students and teachers with serious impact on families and the profession of teaching as a whole; housing policies that have neglected community-building and prioritised electoral demographics over organic communities; preference for the quantitative over the qualitative in the delivery of social services, health, law, order and justice, and, in the economy, the policy failures that has left us exposed to the headwinds brewing in the market for oil and gas.

To some extent, these are all failures of the imagination. But, even more, they are failures of politics.

No government has had the political authority to carry the country across the threshold of serious change. The ethnic politics that has carried political parties into office has never provided enough support to convince governments to risk the kind of structural change needed to transform a colony into a viable, self-sustaining and independent nation.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

It takes real political authority to convince interests beyond the party faithful to rise above their fears and follow a vision into the future.

In the absence of a popular mandate for deep structural change, governments have temporised, offering instead impressions of change on top of old, decaying structures.

On the backs of our collapsed institutions we have added more schools, more police stations, more courts, more highways, more cars, more grants, more everything. Under the veneer of urbanisation and industrialisation is a society of institutions that are rotten at the core.

Mesmerised by our high investment in modernisation, we are mystified by the repeated failures to deliver.

Then, unwilling to admit to failure, we pretend the structural issues simply do not exist and point to problems elsewhere: students, teachers, nurses, doctors, patients, prison officers, prisoners, police officers, judges, lawyers and so on.

Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) shakes hands with US Embassy Security Policy and Assistance Coordinator, Juanita Aguirre, at the handing over ceremony of 18 forensic photography kits to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by the US. (Courtesy US Embassy)
Photo: Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams (left) shakes hands with US Embassy Security Policy and Assistance Coordinator, Juanita Aguirre, at the handing over ceremony of 18 forensic photography kits to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service by the US.
(Courtesy US Embassy)

Of course, there are individuals who milk the system, abuse their authority and corrupt processes. But these are mostly the beneficiaries of the institutional dysfunctionality which surfaces through the lack of accountability.

As our schools and communities break down in violence, we must resist the temptation to grab at easy scapegoats. Instead, we should summon our courage to go beyond the obvious in asking ‘why?’ until we get deep down to the root answer.

The laments involving our youth at schools and in their communities have been copiously documented. Even the high performers are unhappy in a system that strips learning of its joy, deadens the youthful soul and confines knowledge to the needs of certification.

The inadequacies are fuelling a dangerous level of social polarisation as those who can afford opt for private schools where children lose one of the very few opportunities still available for broadening their social interaction and discovering themselves through the other.

Photo: School children pose for the camera.
Photo: School children pose for the camera.

Even with all its problems, education still presents the single greatest opportunity for romancing our youth away from self-destruction and towards self-fulfillment; for building social cohesion and, above all, for creating a nation out of these two islands.

An education system which makes learning an adventure and opens opportunity for students will not need to be obsessed with certification.

History and geography, carried beyond the classroom, offer journeys into selfhood and nationhood. They are foundation courses that teach us who we are and where we belong. After that, everything else comes into focus.

Instead of despairing, let’s activate the potential of what we already have, beginning with the large number of Early Childhood Care and Education Centres (ECCE) going all the way up to our universities.

The breakdown in communities has taken a serious toll on families by separating young parents from traditional support systems. ECCE centres, like community health centres, could be useful in a national programme for strengthening parenting skills and enhancing the relationship between parents and their children.

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

The heightening violence among young people suggests the need for greater capacity for early intervention.

If we invested in more community social workers, school counsellors, and community youth groups, we might need to spend much, much less on policing and security.

AboutSunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj
Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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12 comments

  1. The problem is a complex one, but it is one in which the warning signs were posted eons ago. It has created monsters and there may be no reconciliation, no reformation for many of them. For the most part these youth see no future and are driven by the media, peer pressure, crime lords etc for the fast life. Some, I understand, have already made their own funeral arrangements. Regardless of who created them or how they came to be, that seems to aptly describe a monster. What we need is a multi-dimensional strategy that, inter alia, targets alleviation of the stress on citizens, remediation, meaningful education and job creation. It will require some hard decisions and determined action because time is not on our side.

  2. Monsters are not born but created. It’s all about trickling down and has been going on a long time just really out of hand now. It starts on top with corruption and filters down as water finds its level. Blaming monsters doesn’t make them go away or the corruption. Start by putting legislation in place to halt the emptying and address past crimes small and Mr. Big.

  3. Because it’s easier to focus attention on the products of Monsters, than the Monsters themselves.

  4. Dr Rowley was absolutely correct in calling them monsters… I hope that he would go beyond just name calling and take decisive steps to treat with the problem(s).

    I agree with the above article written by Ms. Maharaj. However, what we say is often overshadowed by what we do; “actions speak louder than words,” as such I always read Ms Maharaj’s article with a ‘pound of salt’.

    Ms. Maharaj, in identifying professions such as the Police, Lawyers, Judges etc, failed to mention journalists. That is quite telling, as I am sure she is aware of the important role the media has in influencing people’s perspectives, the recent ‘CNC3 edited tape’ issue is a glaring example. Can Ms. Maharaj say that she adhered to the ethics required for being a good journalist by being unbiased? Were there times when she intentionally took a slant in order to gain a favourable or negative reaction to persons or groups? Does she harbour ill feelings for perceived past wrongs that consciously or sub-consciously affect who she targets or who she does not target? Does she use her profession and position to influence politics?

    Tainted journalism affects the Country as well, and if this institution functions the way it should, it may have a positive effect on the Country. In fact, the ‘monsters’ may perceive that no one is above scrutiny and accountability, and that regardless of how ‘big’ you are, you can be exposed and subsequently disciplined.

    If only Ms. Maharaj, if only….

  5. Sunity’s article was a good read identifying issues and proposing a way forward in some cases. I agree to some extent however there are indeed “children” in our schools who are no longer children in the commonly accepted sense. Maybe monsters was not the most appropriate word to use. We do need to assess our systems and methods to see what must be changed and improved to meet these challenges. Sadly she has identified a real risk. It is not enough to shout “monsters” or any more politically correct description for that matter.

  6. ‘Treat with them’? Take them out for ice-cream?

  7. well-I would describe them as monsters as well -the time we take to find the correct term to treat with them…why don’t we treat with them and the real issues

  8. I am one adult/educator not taking responsibility for the monsters creation!! I have been crying out at the depressed state of Technical Vocational education in this country!!! Every body can’t be doctors and lawyers but everyone can be taught to use their hands!! Bring back the Youth Camps, John Donaldson and San Fernando technical institutes as they were initially intended!! Bring back the National Examinations Council exams at the secondary school level!! Most of all ‘OFF’ the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications level 1 exams, a waste of time and money!!

    • I am in total agreement with you as I could not understand why John D and San F’do Tech were made campuses of UTT. Where are we going to get our skilled tradesmen like plumbers, electricians, etc. I also am not sure whether schools no longer do tech/voc courses. I saw those as opportunities for students to learn these skills and determine whether these could be a future career. It might also help channel the ‘monsters’ into something that can make them achieve.