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Fair chance for children

Not so long ago there was a newspaper report of a schoolboy whose mother was extremely concerned about the fact that more than a year had passed since he was suspended from school.

Based on the content of the article, it would be hard for anyone not to conclude that the youngster had serious problems — perhaps of a psychological nature, but journalists are not psychologists so we should not attempt to diagnose.

What struck us, however, was the section of the report which suggested that the boy faced what looked like the end of his school days when he was found to be engaged in a lewd act in the presence of a trained officer to whom challenged children would have been sent when personnel in a school felt they could no longer get through to them.

It would appear that the lewd act with the trained officer was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and immediately the question popped to the mind: If a troubled child can’t show the extent of his troubles in front of the person who is supposed to be helping him, then where is he to get help?

We accept readily that we were not there and we don’t have all the intimate details, but our concern now, as it was then, is: if a child is referred to an expert for constantly swearing, should he or she be surprised if that is the behaviour displayed in his or her office?

If a child is referred for marijuana use would it be a shock if the child turned up for help smelling like a marijuana party? If the child has anger management issues, would a trained counsellor not expect aggression during their sessions? If a child is consumed by sexual activities should it shock a counsellor if she makes a pass at him?

Too often “our system” is responsible for compounding problems and turning youth who are struggling with challenges into monsters because we treat them as such — rather than as sponges looking for anything liquid to soak up. Yes, we know from the international news that from time to time we will come across children whose conduct suggests they are beyond help, but they are the exception.

On the other hand, our society is replete with examples of children who in Bajan terms would have been described as anything from “wuffless”, “tyrant”, “will amount to nothing”, “vagabond”, “crook” to “good fuh nuttin” who are today gainful contributors to our development and giving splendid direction to today’s youth.

We say all this to lend support to some comments last Friday to teachers by Minister of Education Ronald Jones. He might not have been as diplomatic as he could have been, but as far as we are concerned that does not subtract from the rightness of his statements.

Here’s an extract from one of the articles we published from the ministers address to educators:

“Those in secondary schools … have a more difficult journey because you have students in their teenage years and the turmoil of their beings taking place. How do you deal with that? How do you deal as a young female teacher with a bearded fifth former who comes to you and say ‘Ma’am I like you!’?” he asked.

“Do you say ‘Get far from me boy!’? Because he doesn’t see himself as a boy anymore. He is 16 years old, he has parts on him that are longer than your hands. This is the real world, you work in the real world. This is no movie that you pay $3 to go and watch. How do you deal with that young male? The first thing you do is rush to the principal and complain.

“He is not rude, he is searching for a purpose. You have to help him find that purpose… Is that a teaching moment or is that a moment of condemnation? Every moment for teachers must be a teaching moment, so you take that which you were confronted with and turn it into a teaching moment and the respect grows. If you do something else, there is no respect, problems ensue and you have an enemy as a female teacher,” Jones said.

There is absolutely no doubt that our schools are not nearly as friendly as they were 25 or 40 years ago, but it is really no excuse for failure on the part of education professionals to be discerning. Society has a duty to all its children to give them a fair chance at success — and that includes the “rude” (in Bajan terms) and the aggressive.

In many ways today’s society is forcing our children to grow up too early, to make adult decisions as pre-teens and teenagers, then when they act like “school men and women” we want to raise up the inferno of hell to consume them.

Again, we are not supporting inappropriate behaviour in any form, but if we are honest with ourselves we would accept, as the minister said, that in many instances the children are in a search of something they are not yet able to properly identify or articulate. We would do well if we take the approach of condemning the act and not the child.

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