‘Train up children in the way they must go…’
The issue of violence in its various forms (criminal, domestic, police brutality, school), has again, within past weeks attracted a significant amount of discussion. This heightened attention could be an outcome of the Ministry of Education’s current public consultations to garner views on the use of corporal punishment in our schools. It is, also, more likely to be a recurring theme about to reach a crescendo. Some readers may recall that the Guyana Review (February 25, 2010), reported: “Violence in schools poses serious challenges to the fabric of the country’s education system. The authorities are yet to fashion a workable response.”
And once again, many views have been expressed, and many solutions proffered. But, as pointed out (SN, June 5), unless the scale of the problem has been fully grasped and understood, the suggested solutions would, in all probability, be inadequate and fall short of what is really needed. Indeed, many of the arguments are characterized by apportioning blame to homes, single parenting, teachers, and even the young, who are described “as not wanting to work.”
It should be realized that the issue of violence is one of vast proportions and great complexity. In order to craft possible solutions, it is essential to have knowledge about the sources of violence – environments and processes that nurture and sustain violence. It is necessary to have the knowledge about ‘how’ these environments and processes can be manipulated and transformed, so that they not only mitigate violence, but also, “seek to change the flow of human interaction in social conflict from cycles of destructive relational violence towards cycles of relational dignity and respectful engagement”; environments and processes that embrace reconciliation and aspire to a higher level of human dignity. Put more simply, a variety of knowledge must be available if we are to successfully confront the challenge of gaining universal acceptance of the golden rule: ‘Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,’ at every level of Guyanese society.
If Guyanese can arrive at some general agreement that the social conditions described above are desirable goals, and are worthwhile striving for, then the following ‘five’ broad guidelines, or things to bear in mind, are offered for consideration:
1. Above all else, we are engaged in building a nation of one people with a common destiny that must be democratic and free.
2. What we want our nation to be, we must first put in our schools. If our goal is a non-violent and democratic society, then our educational environments, policies, practices and processes must be non-violent and democratic in every sense. There must be a shift of emphasis from narrow academic excellence to the more encompassing and enduring educational excellence. All who come to school (students and teachers) must experience success. All must feel good about themselves. All must experience joy when engaged in learning, in sharing, in helping, and in caring. And, all must love school and regard it as a home away from home.
3. In order to achieve the above, serious attention must given be to the issues of school and classroom organization; social justice (contest mobility versus sponsored mobility), and curricular justice. Schooling in Guyana has evolved into a middle class institution, but the majority of its clientele do not have middle class backgrounds. Ways will have to be found to bridge the divide.
4. Education policies and practices must be informed not only by best practices elsewhere, but also, buttressed and contextualized by the findings of sociological and other studies of social realities in Guyana.
5. Policies must be put in place that attract bright males back into the classrooms of our schools who will function as role models for both male and female students especially those who are from single parent homes.
Since the school system is the only institution through which every Guyanese must pass, it has been chosen as an appropriate and most strategic point at which to intervene in order to transform “cycles of relational destructive violence into cycles of relational dignity and respectful engagement.“ ‘Train up children in the way they must grow, so that when they grow older, they will not depart from it.’
The attainment of educational excellence will cost far more than that which is presently expended to achieve questionable academic excellence. There are some who will ask, ‘Can we afford to…?’ The response of all Guyanese who are concerned about our economic and social predicaments must be: ‘Can we afford not to… From all indications there’s lots of money around.’ What has been suggested is by no means sufficient. But, the longest journey begins with the first step.
Clarence O Perry