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Daly Bread: The self-esteem crisis; why our “passes factory” schools are not helping

For many years I have described the low self-esteem plaguing many of our youngsters and its relationship to violent crime and anti-social behaviour.  The now widespread fighting in schools is a related phenomenon.

Much of my personal knowledge of the self-esteem crisis comes directly from dialogue with some youngsters to whom I have made myself available for advice and mentoring.

Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 National Super League action at the Matura Recreation Ground.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

There are also many books and commentaries focusing on “the psychic trauma” inflicted on our youngsters by our dysfunctional and unjust society, which leads to a desensitising of our youngsters who experience incest, abuse and brutality as the normal incidence of growing up.

I asserted last month that the slitting of throats without remorse was a by-product of such an environment. That assertion was made in the course of a reference to Dr Paula Morgan’s book The Terror and The Time, from which I drew the term “psychic trauma.”

Some of the abuse is verbal. Parents of the same colour as their children use their own race, in the course of  denigration, to tell their children that they are “too ugly or too stupid to amount to anything.”

The youngsters tell me that this “jumbies them” and becomes “a self-fulfilling prophecy” the moment they run into and react to real or imagined hostility in the outside world.

By the time of adolescence, many of these vulnerable children, even if fortunate to have escaped abuse, have grown up without affection and the care of a functioning family or support group.

I listened carefully last week to a nun—an official of a home for displaced children—pointing out on television that “the residential care” which these homes provide, cannot supply the care of a functioning family.

Photo: A family tends to the vegetables.
(Courtesy Blackcelebritygiving)

Four years ago, in a column entitled Caring for Society, I cited the commentaries of Dr Lennox Bernard and others. And I have done so periodically ever since in the hope that those responsible for education and social development would come to understand that traditional grammar school education—pressing children to pass exams and to gain certification—was completely the wrong model in a society where empathy, objective justice and social and life skills are lacking in large measure.

Dr Bernard wrote: “We face negative value frames, especially among our youth: low self-esteem, learned helplessness, ambivalent self-regard, hopelessness coupled with anger and rage, impulsivity and lack of empathy, escalating crime and violence, domestic and child abuse, bullying, neglect of the poor and indigent, and a general malaise reflecting lack of respect for one another.”

Earlier this year, I referred to the description of Nicole Dennis Benn of Jamaica, of her body at puberty as a liability and coming to realise that her young body had become public property:

“I felt betrayed by my body because it dared to bloom under the eyes of predators that waited outside the schoolyard and in my community.”

The predators are not merely looking for action for themselves. They see commercial value in those bodies and I understand that they search in packs of recruiters among waitresses and similar occupations for females with which to trade.

Photo: The Carib Girls go through their routine during CPL action between TKR and the St Lucia Stars at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain on 7 August 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

In the Trinidad Express of Tuesday last, Dr Germaine Bovell-Pitt, a clinical psychologist, insightfully described the normal challenges of adolescence, including its demands for emotional adjustments. She then identified the chilling effect of additional stresses at this vulnerable time. Her warnings of the outcome of “the accumulative daily stressors” should be urgently heeded.

The State’s investment of vast sums into unsustainable make-work jobs, and mamaguy forms of employment—such as temporary apprenticeship and training programmes leading to nowhere—have been merely a placebo because they do not contain elements of significant personal or remedial development for the benefit of the participants.

The “passes” factories that we call schools precede them with the same deficiency.

“The negative value frames” are what we are up against. The political parties that have held the office of Government seem unaware of these social conditions or lack the vision or policies to reverse them. Nor do the majority of these politicians truly care about the victims.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC.
(Copyright Stabroek News)

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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22 comments

  1. We have too much school in Trinidad and Tobago.We was better off with people who did not go to school and learn from their parents and had common sense.

  2. Go read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed…See his videos on You Tube.

  3. That statement is so very true…our small nation is overrun with academically accomplished but superficial, self-centered and many morally bankrupt and lacking basic values hence the multitude of social problems we are facing as a nation. Too many parents have abdicated responsibility for teaching these to their children instead expecting schools and government to do it for them. It appears once children do well academically the rest of their education is left to chance. As a parent myself, I too want my children to excel academically but I placed discipline, self knowledge, values and molding well rounded human beings at the top of my list…so I choose to homeschool! I apologise everyday to my kids…because I could have done it better; but without the luxury of a wealthy and supportive partner I did the best I could with what I had and would do it all over again.

  4. Excellent Ms Khan,these are the well thought out analysis that we look forward to for the society to progress

  5. Self esteem or lack there of originates in the homes, from the parents or primary caregivers. If children are subjected to criticism, trauma or abuse from parents they are candidates for “low self esteem.
    The problem is that many parents themselves suffer from low self esteem so it is very difficult for them to kindle any spark of self esteem in their children.
    These children then arrive in school and are afraid of failure and embarrassment, with no coping skills on how to exhibit positive behavioural characteristics. In school some of them are presented with unrealistic expectations and goals. They perform very poorly and as a result develop an emotional indifference.
    The emphasis in schools is based mainly on success in examinations, a fact which bedevils them throughout their academic lives.
    There are not many people in the wider society willing to take on mentor ship roles, which will help them find their niche in society.
    One possible solution to stem this anger and lawless behaviour in our youths, is perhaps teachers should take a couple of students under their wings in a mentoring programme, teach them positive life lessons, and inculcate in them their self worth etc. This cannot be made mandatory, but I am positive the results would be far more palatable than what we are experiencing now. There is a chronic shortage of guidance officers and counsellors in schools, efforts should also be made to accommodate parents as well. Children simply need to know from an early age that they are loved unconditionally, and are truly cared for, failing any action, “We will continue to eat the grapes of wrath.”

  6. Unfortunately, the research on self-esteem debunks this entire argument. As Mr. Daly would have discovered had he done the most cursory check.

  7. So true Mr. Daly.A total re education system is needed,starting from kindergarten.And it must be done across the board, irregardless of status in society.

  8. Thanks for highlighting a major problem our society faces.
    If I have any comment, it would that the article did NOT cover the many more of the “foundation causes?”

  9. This thing called “self-esteem” can be so elusive but there is so much that we as parents can do. I believe it starts from babyhood. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder what we did as parents to mould them both into the exceptional adolescents that they have become. At parent/teacher conferences I always hear “whatever you doing…keep doing it”. For me it started with picking up babies when they cry. Despite what well meaning grandparents might say about “spoiling de chile”. When children know from babyhood that their parents are always there for them and supporting them, it becomes easier to steer them through the “terrible twos to the troublesome teens”.

  10. we make the same mistakes every year and expect the outcomes to change?
    we spend billions of dollars on “education” each year to get what? 200 island scholars? EIGHTEEN THOUSAND kids do SEA each year! What happens to the rest? MOE running a lotto??
    is not that we abandon the rest of these kids eh…no. it is that we have a system that’s rigged to produce people to replace the few dead public servants that exit the system. we inherited that from the Brits and never changed it.
    where do we get excellence from? Our best schools teach hard sciences and never apply them. so we have engineers who never build a robot. never spin a lathe. never tune a car to run 10s.
    we have entrepreneurs who see Chambers of Industry run by people who pedal imported goods under their own —and who coass on street vendors who dare to challenge their space with innovative solutions to battle poverty.
    i can go on and on…i won’t quote the many authors as Daly did here, but i watch the social engineering by the architects of our demise every day.
    Let’s quote Pookie on the block: “Ting hard outchea, Uncle. Wah yuh have fuh meh deh?”
    At least Pookie will ask…Snatcher and Grabber would take: “Gimmeh dat bai! Nice ting not for you.”
    Shotta…well, Shotta doh talk at all…he does just let the ting go rahhhhh…and that’s his statement on the issue.

  11. Maybe we need to have different types of schools – ones that continue with the traditional grammar school education, ones that are performing arts schools, ones with a greater focus on sports etc etc. that way maybe there’ll be room for every student to find an environment in which they can excel instead of forcing everyone to row on the same river.
    Because I don’t know that we can do away with exams as they are a tool for measuring knowledge and improvement.
    And at the end of the day I think people want to know that the people they go to have a certain amount of knowledge whether that person is a doctor, electrician, or sports coach.

  12. Happy to see Brian participate in this discussion because he can elucidate on beneficiaries or victims of this system