On a warm September morning more than three decades ago, I said an emotional good bye to my family and friends, the bucolic rolling hills and moonlight nights of my close–knit provincial southeastern agricultural community. I jumped on my uncle’s vehicle and headed in a north-westerly direction traveling on the winding roads with hair-pin-turns through the Trois Piton Mountains, Pont Casse and the Antrim Valley. My final destination was the greener pastures of the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) on Valley Road in the capital city of Roseau to acquire a high school education.
My first Head Master at DGS was a Welshman named Mr. J.K. Gough who was followed by Mr. Alexander, Mr. Leevy and Mr. Alwyn Bully. These leaders ran our school with authority and had zero tolerance for violence and disrespect. They were serious professionals with a serious job of educating and transcending their young charges and preparing them for tomorrow and the world. Trouble makers were punished without hesitation and often were suspended and a few were expelled. The take home message was that these men were fully in charge and one cannot learn in an undisciplined and chaotic environment. Our school (DGS) was viewed as a sanctuary for teachers, staff, students, well meaning parents and academia.
I still have the embroided DGS crest which the Head Boy, Prefects and Class Monitors proudly wore on the left breast pocket of the white shirt jacket uniform which has the school’s motto inscribe at the bottom: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano, a famous Latin quotation, which translates, “A sound mind in a sound body.” Today I still sing the DGS song, ‘ When boyhood (youthful) days are over … fare fore to wider lore… living on the old school spirit… craftsmen (and woman) for ever more… a school for human eyes…….
I am struck by what I am hearing and reading about the altercations at my alma mater. Where are the parents and the family and community networks? Do the families, our political and public leaders bear any type of responsibility and blame? In our small country where government ministers are looked upon with such high esteem and as leaders by young people, how many of them are decent role models for our children? Are the public behavior, actions and words of these ‘honorable’ gentlemen and ladies (of all stripes and colours) living up to any high standards that our young people should emulate and embrace?
An obvious example is the manner in which PM Skerrit masterminded and successfully carried out an electoral coup d’état’ in the La Plaine Constituency during the last general elections. Some eighty (80) Diaspora voters were airlifted on paid excursions and bused to the constituency to vote for the Labour candidate. This massive influx of voters was the only way Mr. Petter St. Jean (a born again Christian) could have beaten his UWP opponent by only two (2) votes. Mr. Skerrit, ‘Brother’ St. Jean and Labour won, but history will record and witness that Dominica lost the La Plaine constituency in 2009. In fact La Plaine has already lost because today it is probably the most divided rural community on the island with pro-Labour and pro-UWP supporters at each other’s throats. That was definitely not the experience I had growing up in that once close–knit and supportive rural community.
Adding insult to injury, the ‘declared’ winner, Mr. St. Jean, is now the Minister of Education responsibility for education our young folks and future leaders. The strong, powerful and shameful message and that is sent to students is loud and unambiguous. You can cheat, lie, trick, bend the rules and be dishonest and you will be rewarded. Also the larger policy questions for subsequent elections are far reaching and frigthening for our small country. Whoever the kingmaker is can get boat loads of Chinese immigrants from Guangdong, Haitians and Santo Domingoians to flood and vote in the Roseau, Portsmouth, coastal and rural constituencies. Then Dominica will lose 3 to 18 and the kingmaker (regardless of his political stripe or party colour) will win 18-3.
But loud headline grabbing pronouncements on the DGS issue by politicians are counterproductive. Instead a much broader constructive dialogue and long term strategic plan with timelines, evaluation measures and outcomes by civil society and experts in the field are needed to prevent the current and future parade of school violence. More sincere and fundamental actions and messages by appropriate messengers are needed to communicate effectively with offenders.
Where are the mature and ethical adults, committed parents, elders, community and religious leaders? If adults are behaving in such immature, disrespectful and negligent manners, then the children may just be mimicking what they are seeing and hearing. Today the world has changed and is more complex than ever with increased pressures on young people. The formula; Do as I say and not as I do is not working. These mixed messages are leaving our children with a ‘vikey vie’ don’t care attitude and disposition.
Our children are watching, listening and they are reacting. The saga at DGS is a failure of parenting, family networks and civil society and may be just be the tip of the iceberg of more troubles on the horizon. It is also due to the lack of moral, principled and myopic leadership that is demonstrated and perpetrated by the country’s top religious, social governmental, political and police leaders. This downward spiral and steady decline of Dominica’s moral compass and quality of its top leadership ( e.g. the police brass) should be of grave concern to all who love and care about Dominica whether you are at home or abroad.
But there are some silver linings occurring. The strong message of King Dice’s wining 2012 calypso song about bestowing more respect to teachers and the teaching profession is certainly a powerful and most timely message. The efforts of the Chief Education Officer and his group in formulating some prevention and intervention steps to reverse the tide of school violence are a start and positive step. But in order for Mr. Hyacinth’s plan to succeed and gain momentum, it will need everyone’s support. It will also need a firm pledge from (government and opposition) politicians not to meddle and make the initiative a political football because it will fail miserably. This is not a partisan issue, but a Dominican issue. When the souls of students and teachers are in trouble, then our country, future and democracy are in trouble. Dice, Steve Hyacinth, the majority of DGS students, teachers and some mature adults have heeded that ‘tsunami’ warning.
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