Of rhetoric, zero tolerance and tradition
We are a peculiar lot.
Our social leaders, whether they be politicians, police, clergymen, or other pontificators, usually express notions that suggest they have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in our society. They make lofty statements from various platforms, often to applause and approving nods, receive wide media coverage, and then everyone retreats to his or her respective domicile, confident they have truly made a significant contribution to nation-building.
But let us digress.
Some years ago, we watched with spontaneous amusement as a man with several convictions for predatory acts of a sexual nature was brought once again before the law court for a case of petty theft. His occupation at the time of his arrest –– security guard at a primary school.
More than a decade ago, when leading players in the judicial system were once again spouting their rhetoric about zero tolerance for criminality, two young men were convicted for robbing and shooting a taxi driver in the face, permanently disfiguring him around one eye. The penalty meted out? Four years’ incarceration.
The church as an institution is one of the principal shapers and guardians of our morality and social civility; some would suggest a harvester of souls. An unarmed law-abiding citizen was recently shot down in the streets and our church leaders to a man and woman have all become afflicted by acute collective laryngitis.
Farmers complain about praedial larceny and politicians respond with bland statements about introducing more legislation, as though pages will be ripped from new statutes and stuck strategically in vegetable grounds to deter thieves. Police echo the zero tolerance mantra and larcenists are supposed to baulk and discard their large bags and forks.
In a time of a depressed economy, where Government remains cash-strapped, foreign investments minuscule and inadequate productivity and work attitudes needing the prodding of ethereal entities that are NISE, our nation’s teachers are now demanding more money for the other half of their responsibilities. And so it goes.
Yesterday on the occasion of The Lodge School’s Speech Day, Minister of Education Ronald Jones highlighted a problem that has existed before him and will more than likely be present long after he has gone. He noted the occurrence of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers of both genders, and said there would be zero tolerance to such situations.
The minister said that in an attempt to curb child molestation in Barbados’ education system, officials in his ministry had recently stipulated that contact between teachers and students should be formal.
“There is and will be zero tolerance for any sexual exploitation of our children by any teacher. Find a job somewhere else. I do not care how good you are, how good you are loved by children and your colleagues say how brilliant you are. Once you cross the line, there is no more time for you in education in Barbados. None!”
Mr Jones added: “These children are there for us to protect, not to exploit. Today, because of different proclivities, there is female on female and male on male. I do not want to see a female teacher lying across the lap of a female student. There is a respectful distance that must be observed.”
But Mr Jones, his predecessors, and those to come, had and have a difficult job, especially at the secondary level. Secondary school children are historically not known to report alleged dalliances with teachers. Indeed, for some, if not most, they more than likely would view such relationships as quite an achievement.
The primary school level offers more hope of weeding out undesirables. We are aware of one case some years ago where a primary school teacher was suspended from a St Michael school for an alleged sexual encounter with a female child. He subsequently beat the criminal charge, was removed from the school and transferred to another. He remains in the system –– still an innocent man.
There have been other reports over the years which have not reached the law courts but have been subject to internal investigations within the Ministry of Education. To the best of our information, these have led to nothing more
The point is that whether it relates to sexual deviancy in schools, praedial larceny, separating teaching responsibilities from trade union activities, dragging the church screaming off the fence or adding substance to “zero tolerance”, we tend to be a nation of excellent talkers; providers of pretty speeches; and purveyors of sound and fury that signify little.
Perhaps, Mr Jones’ latest verbal salvo will buck tradition.