‘Poor children are victims of circumstance/ In life they never really get a chance/Or have opportunities as privileged children do/ The road from the poor suburb to prison leads them/ From broken homes they are condemned to fail/ Their abusive and drug-addicted parents serving time in jail/ Their parents too homeless in their teen years/ On no hope street no laughter only tears.’ — Francis Duggan (2008).
In a period racked with national pain, it has been instructive to read both Professor Theodore Lewis (24 January) and Dr Lennox Bernard (11 February) in the Express newspaper. To understand and repair our national situation, we need to appreciate what they wrote. Should we read the columns, we would engage with the societal problems differently.
Professor Lewis identified the schools’ failures in what Dr Bernard called the ‘urban fringe and rural areas’. The named schools in East Port of Spain form a border around where most murders and robberies occur.
Could we imagine the trauma that infuses the daily lives of the school children?
Lewis laid the blame for the poor educational performance on the RC Church, but all the silently complicit churches in the area should share the responsibility. Remember those who were agitating last year to have their church doors opened? What are those pastors doing for the poor in their communities?
Lewis named two Jamaican schools as exemplars, but they are an ‘uptown’ and a boarding school—both with distinguished and supportive alumnae.
Large businesses visibly support the ‘uptown’ school. That formula exists in some fortunate local schools albeit with less money. His is not a fair comparison for the schools in the distressed areas.
But Professor Lewis is right about the history. The ‘Christian Education’ provided for in the Emancipation Act of 1833—the religious and moral education of the Negro population—had a narrow view, which was social control and not the liberation of proud citizens.
The rationale underpinning the educational thrust in the elementary schools was to enable the (Negro) population ‘to take kindly to labour, to persevere in it and be proud of it… and to make themselves better labourers’. This mindset still influences our thinking about the schools in East Port of Spain and wherever poor children are.
Dr Bernard’s contribution exposed the hypocrisy of the protests and the shutdown of this week. He pointed to an aborted plan to help the named primary schools in East Port of Spain.
A distinguished committee of educators prepared the project, but Dr Terrence Farrell, the chairperson, could not win financial support for its execution. There was ‘little evidence of propagation of the faith’ among the Catholic benefactors, philanthropists, and Archdiocese by Dr Bernard’s account.
The price tag of the pilot? TT$23 million over five years. To contextualise this sum, check the annual profit made by our listed companies.
Honourable men set aside the transformative power and spirit of love expressed through Christian charity. The potential benefactors refused to give ‘the preferential respect’ due to the poor—a position espoused by popes since the 1980s.
The most fortunate among us declined to place their good generously at the service of others. Christian philosophy affirms the pursuit of the dignity of the Human Being and seeks the Common Good. It says, ‘all are responsible for all’.
But we balked. We have given enough, I suppose.
In Denmark, a place with low social inequality, a study showed that children from the bottom 20% were thirteen times more likely to commit crime than those from the top.
What children go through does have a powerful effect on the outcomes of their lives. The longer a child lived in more impoverished circumstances, the higher their subsequent risks for self-harm and violent criminality, and vice versa for time spent living in affluent conditions.
Associations were stronger for violent crime than for self-harm. (Mok et al, 2018). How applicable is this to our unequal society?
The lost five years of the proposed pilot programme in East Port of Spain have complicated our national future. It sets us up to have a never-ending chain of prayer vigils and wringing of hands; or worse yet, capital flight born out of despair.
Instead of supporting a deeply researched programme created by some of our best educational professionals, we opt to finance and encourage the police to brutalise those same children when they strike out in chaotic rage. Law and order!
Do we genuinely want to shut down the crime factory? Who cares? Why are we closing businesses to protest violence when we keep laying off workers, thereby destroying families?
Is Andrea Bharatt—the essence of our dreams for the young—merely a convenient political tool? Why goad the police? How consistent are today’s actions with those of less than a year ago?
We are not stupid, forgetful people.
Amos 4: 1 – 5 speaks of pretentious religious folk callously insatiable in their greed. The pretension is not new, but the end is assured.
Micah 2: 1 – 5, which warns about those who plot evil and covet what the poor has, is appropriate in discussing the redevelopment of East Port of Spain and the Central Business District.
We should stop the pretence. We have a nation to save and get ready for the new generation.