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Of schools and strikes and Endians

Barbados will always be some distance away –– geographically at least –– from Lilliput and Blefuscu.

Let us also assert from the outset that the union movement has served this country magnificently, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.

But as one followed the threat of industrial action at the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School, one could not help but conjure up the vivid imagery of Big-Endians and Little-Endians fighting feverishly over which side of the egg they should crack to gain access to the substance therein.

We are informed by the Barbados Union of Teachers that there is a problem with principal Jeff Broomes’ “management style”. We have not been told by them, however, whose management style they wish to impose on him or from which manual they propose Mr Broomes adopt another. We might all be made in the image of God, but that does not denigrate individualism.

The teachers would seek not to teach because they have a problem with issues including timetabling, curriculum and lack of verbal communication. There also seems to be a problem with the introduction of a computer technology component. As BUT president Pedro Shepherd described it: “It is, for Mr Broomes, his way or no way.”

But somewhere in the equation it would appear that Mr Broomes’ role as principal is being undervalued. We are all for consensus and discourse, but at the end of the day the principal of any school must answer for its administration, its successes and its failures. The buck stops at the principal. What this furore appears to involve, from this distance, is again a clash                 of personalities and a refusal to accept roles and chain of command.

How else can one explain the unthinkable occurrence of a principal making a policy decision, proceeding on convalescent leave, only to discover on his return that his dictates had been reversed in his absence? It was quite noticeable that Mr Shepherd glossed over that deed during his chat on the issue with the media.

Language is a powerful tool. People often make blanket statements to set agendas, and act as if the spoken word is the culmination of action. Thus, when the blanket statement emanates from Mr Shepherd that the teachers spoke of “having the highest respect” for Mr Broomes, one cannot but query the respect of which he speaks when a principal’s policy is changed without his knowledge.

And further blanket statements from Mr Shepherd: “I want, at this point, to categorically state that the staff at the Parkinson School is fully committed to the school, to the children, and the full delivery of education, and would therefore go beyond the call of duty to ensure that teaching and learning [take] place.”

We believe Mr Shepherd’s sincerity, but we suggest the entire nation would unhesitatingly believe him also if students at the school were not without some teaching staff for more than three hours yesterday. Perhaps, no one would detect a hollow sound if that BUT meeting, and all such meetings in the future, were held after teaching hours or on Saturdays or Sundays –– and not to the disadvantage of students.

Mr Broomes has been accused of communication by memos. Perhaps, this style of instruction or communication is a result of the fiasco at The Alexandra School where charges and countercharges proliferated as to who said what, when it was said, and to whom it was said. Sometimes, putting everything in black and white erases confusion and provides an excellent source of record rather than remembrances.

It is noteworthy that there has been no complaints or threatened strike action related to working conditions, health and environment, payment of staff, school equipment shortages, security, vandalism, indiscipline, and the like. For this, Mr Broomes and his entire staff can feel pleased.

Perhaps, life would be much better at all of our schools if teachers simply taught and allowed principals to set policy and administrate. Maybe it would be beneficial if both teachers and principals leave their egos at home, fulfil their individual mandates as soon as they reach the Government’s property, and embrace their egos the moment they return to their respective domiciles. Perhaps principals can also learn more from previous conflicts.

We do not expect to see anyone towering over Parkinson Memorial Secondary School, male genitalia mimicking a water hose, attempting to extinguish any small, dying ember. The millions spent in our educational system since 1966 dictates that such instructive folly should reside only in the literature we consume.

But can we risk being complacent that Gulliver would never mistake Barbados for Lilliput?

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