The Springer Memorial imbroglio

EVERSLEY FilesWhen it comes to nurturing and maintaining good, healthy, harmonious human relations, a little empathy always goes a long way. Empathy, sad to say, is a quality which is woefully lacking in our harsh and often uncompromising Barbadian society. Indeed, the lack of empathy is a major obstacle standing in the way of Barbados becoming a kinder, gentler, more caring and understanding society.

What do I mean by empathy? It involves, to use the words of contemporary British philosopher Roman Krznaric, “stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions”.

Another explanation says it is “a constant awareness of the fact that your concerns are not everyone’s concerns and that your needs are not everyone’s needs and that some compromise has to be achieved moment by moment”.

The lack of empathy is seen in the terrible way people are often treated in Barbados, especially persons who are considered poor, powerless and can be easily walked over by the so-called system. By so doing, society unwittingly creates monsters out of inherently good people who come back later to haunt us by exacting revenge for the injustices earlier meted out to them.

It seems empathy has been lacking in the issue involving the 15-year-old student at the centre of the Springer Memorial School imbroglio, which has dragged on for the past several weeks and has been dominating public discussion. Keeping the child out of the classroom for eight weeks for simply refusing to pick up a piece of garbage, and then unilaterally transferring her to another school without the agreement of her parent, is, to my mind, unreasonable and excessive.

Notwithstanding the need for discipline in our schools, the bottom line is: however you look at the issue based on the information in the public domain, the order amounts to an injustice against the child who obviously saw it as an indignity. Her position is understandable if empathy is applied.

In schools, children who are disciplined are sometimes the butt of jokes for other children. Children can be quite cruel.

When I was at school, boys who received a flogging were sometimes laughed at for days, especially if they were known to have cried after receiving the punishment.  Imagine what it would be like for a child to be ridiculed by her peers as a garbage collector in a society that is known to look down on such workers who perform a vital and invaluable social service.

In the eyes of some people, garbage collectors are nobodies. I have heard the shameful story about a sanitation worker who asked for a glass of water from a household, only to see the same glass in the garbage the following week when he returned to do the pickup. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand about these things.

We sometimes take strong objection when Peter has to pay for Paul, but somehow, in this case, it seems all right with some people based on their criticisms of the child and her mother. Justifying their position, some critics say they too had to pick up other people’s garbage in their schooldays, so what is the problem?

I too had to do so in my time, but that does not mean it was just. In fact, children in my primary school days, as part of the sanitation team swept the school, cleaned the drains with a bass broom, and the yard. Such would be considered child labour today; but it was accepted back then. The practice ceased when a janitor was employed.

Regrettably, Barbados has a tradition where children were always seen as not having rights. I grew up in that dark era where a child was supposed to “learn to take its place”, including passively taking whatever was dished out by adults. Total obedience was expected.

We were not supposed to raise as much a whimper of protest. Fortunately, I was raised differently by an enlightened great-grandmother.

That dark era happily is now behind us. However, some in our midst, especially a few pedagogic dinosaurs who continue to extol the “virtues” of beating, are struggling like drowning men against the strong tide of change which, thank God, has brought us into a more enlightened era with a much more humane approach to discipline.

Discipline within the school system must be maintained but it must be applied with fairness and empathy. I am not one of those Barbadians who will say teachers are always right. They are not. Some teachers, from my own experience, can be biased and unfair, especially if they dislike a child for whatever reason.

I cannot say this is so in this particular case. I have encountered a few unreasonable teachers in my time who picked on children but, on the other hand, there were several others who genuinely cared and earned our enduring love and respect. A good example of the latter is the immortal Colin “Couchie” Reid, revered Foundation Latin teacher.

I lay no claim to be a legal expert, but the child’s treatment, in my layman’s view, does seem to be in contravention of some of her rights under the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child. The Government of Barbados is a signatory to this international law and is obligated, through its various agencies, including the Ministry of Education, to ensure delivery on the commitments.

The articles which seem relevant in this case are 12, 13, 28, and 36.

Article 12 states that “every child has the right to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously”. Article 13 gives every child the freedom “to say what they think . . . as long as it is within the law”; Article 28 emphasizes the right of every child to an education and states that “discipline in schools must respect children’s dignity”. Article 36 commits signatory governments to protect children from unfair treatment.

The big question is: why couldn’t this matter have been amicably resolved much earlier? Was it a case of adult egos? A child refusing to comply with a teacher’s order to take up a piece of garbage is a minor issue, considering the bigger and, in some cases, more dangerous problems in our schools today. Unfortunately, the child has already been exposed to ridicule, which is unfortunate.

At long last, Minister of Education Ronald Jones is expected to intervene in the impasse tomorrow. Hopefully, from this meeting will come a settlement satisfactory to the parent, the child and the school so that the child can get on with her education and also receive the necessary support to get over what obviously has been a traumatic experience.

I wish her and her mother well. They have suffered enough.

(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.

24 Responses to The Springer Memorial imbroglio

  1. Shane Agard
    Shane Agard February 12, 2016 at 10:10 am

    United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child. The Government of Barbados is a signatory to this international law and is obligated, through its various agencies, including the Ministry of Education, to ensure delivery on the commitments.

    The articles which seem relevant in this case are 12, 13, 28, and 36.

    Article 12 states that “every child has the right to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously”. Article 13 gives every child the freedom “to say what they think . . . as long as it is within the law”; Article 28 emphasizes the right of every child to an education and states that “discipline in schools must respect children’s dignity”. Article 36 commits signatory governments to protect children from unfair treatment.

    Rights vs ego vs justice.

    The new Rock Paper Scissors.

    We seem to think life is an episode of a prime time drama.

  2. Valerie van der Meulen-Sheppard
    Valerie van der Meulen-Sheppard February 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Thank you, Mr. Eversley for this excellent article. You are right and enlightened.

  3. Margo Byer
    Margo Byer February 12, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Sharon Henry thought to share

    • Sharon Henry
      Sharon Henry February 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks am guessing the ministry of education don’t know that this exist. And the school principals need to be introduced to it

  4. Rosalind Eastmond
    Rosalind Eastmond February 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Eye Opener to Some Folks ….

  5. Stanton Peace
    Stanton Peace February 12, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Amen Sir excellent article,was telling someone just moments ago about an article you wrote last year about the demise of printed newspapers versus on-line news like Barbados Today.

  6. Angela Maria
    Angela Maria February 12, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Excellent article, Mr. Eversley.

  7. Anthony S Welch
    Anthony S Welch February 12, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    Very good article. I have asked, but did not get an answer, was the wrapper dropped by that pupil? If not, why was she singled out? The media is reporting incomplete details. For any one to come to a reasonable conclusion, we have to have pertinent data.

  8. Bernadette Simpson
    Bernadette Simpson February 12, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you. When I make these same points at work, the reaction was so negative that I kept asking myself, am I the only person who remembers the brutality of peer pressure. Did none of these people ever witness a child being picked on at school? Good to know someone understands.

  9. BaJan boy February 12, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Reudon the most intelligent assessment and balanced pronouncement to date. They don’t want people your age around forgetting that is where real knowledge is. Excellent discourse wish those who were advising the Minister not to throw the headmistress under the bus had this knowledge,common sense and empathy.

  10. Hyacinth Boyce
    Hyacinth Boyce February 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    great article, very accurate

  11. Sheldine Dyall
    Sheldine Dyall February 12, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Very good article.

  12. Candice Elenor
    Candice Elenor February 12, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    It took this for people to open their eyes…wow…

  13. Patty Loo
    Patty Loo February 12, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Finally a written piece that makes perfect sense…. Hope it comes to an amicable settlement

  14. Sam King
    Sam King February 12, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Great article.

  15. Sam King
    Sam King February 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    I think it’s time that the powers of these school principles be modified and curbed, it seems that the moment they are placed in charge, they seem to believe that they own these schools, thus become judge, juror and executioner without trial, or reason and with no right to appeal ones sentence in this shambolic court that is supposed to prepare us for real life after reaching adulthood.
    These over zealous principles believe they have a right to draw lines in the sand, create mexican stand offs, make mountains out of molehills and punish with impunity with no recourse to destroying a child’s education.

    Their egos have an air of toxic proportions to them, enough to enable them to start wars created from mere straws, and that no one has the right to question their decisions. Do they think that kids are mere imbiciles, and should gleefully accept their forms of programming with no questioning of right or wrong. do as you’re told and shut up. We’ve seen the results where kids have been forced to close their moths and accept abuse, verbal, emotional and sexual. We don’t need dictatorships in schools where kids have no voices.

  16. Ronnie Goodridge
    Ronnie Goodridge February 12, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    If this child had belong to a white person this would have never happened. Andonijah song is so true two Barbados.

  17. Shirley Cumberbatch February 13, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Good morning, this article is written with common sense . Paragraph 15 jumped right out at me in a very personal way, because I experienced the same thing way back in the 70’s at the same school. The teacher’s pet had her desk stuffed with wrappings from sweets and other sacks and the teacer ordered me to clean it up which of course I refused because the student was present and as far as I knew she wasn’t sick or unable to move so I couldn’t understand why I had to clean her garbage. The teacher went on to tell me that “all I would amount to was a maid in the white people kitchen “. Years later 2011. That retired teacher walked into the Land Tax Dept requesting a bill and I printed it and place it in her hand and looked her full in the face and gave her one of my sweetest professional smiles and wished her a good day. I don’t know if she remembered me and I had no intention of reminding her who I was.

  18. Michael Clarke February 13, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Excellent article and thoughtful analysis. The issues at hand were not the tasks themselves but the motivation behind those tasks. Motivation is not always transparent and since I, like most commentators, was not present it is difficult to ascribe blame.

    I will say that something is clearly obvious: teachers and administrators in Barbados clearly need training in effective discipline, and effective communication skills. It is important for teachers and administrators to know how to de-escalate situations and it is very important for them to understand that discipline is not about punishment or revenge but it is about teaching young people how to make better, more effective, choices.

  19. Maxi Bayne February 14, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    As a person who has legal training I must say that I consider your article to be well thought out and presented. I would also add that a punishment had been served (albeit unfairly). Further, how many punishments must be served for the same “offence”? It would appear that there is some personal vendetta on the
    teacher ‘s part. There is more that I can say. However, keep up the good work!

  20. jay mac February 16, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Well argued and presented article devoid of the emotional outbursts from some other public utterances. Even if for peace sake we say the child was disobedient isn’t one week suspensionppunishment enough?

  21. Maureen Johnson February 16, 2016 at 8:05 am

    I have spent 5 yrs in Barbados and find the people to be very selfish uncaring and self centered especially those in authority they look down on you like trash once you’re not a bajan…. this situation with this student could have been handled in a more humane way

  22. nanci November 1, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    i agree, some bajans I think are very judgemental and quick to criticise and enjoy how the person process the insults. Do you think it have something to do with low self esteem. I dont know, but I see it more regular and a normal way of life, and for the person that dont live in that kind of environment, its hard to understand why adults, including educated adults act this way. Its also a way to demand who is the boss. Years from now, that child I hope will further her education and become a well rounded person.

  23. nanci November 1, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    i hope she will come upon the same head mistress, that could not give her a chance, because its not about winning, and demanding all this respect, its about empathy and not going the 100 yard dash, to see who win the most rounds. i know that some school kids have lots of lip, but if the mother come at the school and apologize, why deny the child her learning. Teaching should always be about love and caring involved


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