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Education’s problems: real or a figment of our imagination?

Cheryl-Ann Griffin. Remember her? The Shelly Bay resident who was central to the protests in her neighbourhood that led first to the withdrawal of Tom Steinhoff's development plans at Shelly Bay Beach and then to the Bermuda Tourism Authority's very public and submissive concessions climbdown?

But, inarguably, Ms Griffin's greatest contribution to the island has been as a former educator, having honed her craft at the Berkeley Institute over decades.

Today, it is education — or, better put, public education — that has got Ms Griffin worked up to Shelly Bay proportions. In particular, the media's perception of public education. And by “the media”, she means pointedly The Royal Gazette.

In a Letter to the Editor published today, Ms Griffin pens an impassioned plea in defence of public education and black youth, but in doing so she makes numerous allegations against this newspaper that cannot be left in isolation for the reputational damage that they cause or, better still, aggravate.

To edit or censor her writings would be counterproductive and get us no closer in agreement over a topic that should be near and dear to the hearts of many Bermudians: the future success of public education.

So Ms Griffin has been allowed a free run at us, but that free run should not come without consequence.

The media cannot be said to be at fault for what has befallen public education; nor can we justifiably be seen as culpable in favouring private schools over public schools.

If warts in the private-school system have not been publicised, it is because they do not exist to the extent that concerned parents would kick a fuss, making them public and national issues.

In the categories of “real” and “imagined”, few of the following events can be said to fall into the latter:

A conveyor belt of education ministers well into double figures that comfortably outnumbers any other ministry over the past three administrations; instability in the post of Commissioner of Education; the aforementioned position becoming a legal matter, first with Freddie Evans, now with Gina Tucker; a bungled delivery of standards-based grading; subpar grades in mathematics; a teachers union on a constant war footing with the ministry; principals on a work-to-rule; mould; TN Tatem Middle School; illicit drugs and weapons brought to schools; unruly behaviour on school bus routes; full-scale brawling in public places; grooming for indoctrination into gangs and an inevitable life in the penal system; a seriously undersubscribed P1 class; more mould.

These are all real events, not imagined — none of which can be laid at the doorstep of private schools. Why? Because they have not existed there; at least not to the scale that would get parents up in arms and thus draw wider attention.

The media can go only where the news takes us and where the public demand we shine a light. We cannot go where it is not, just to balance the scales of perceived bias between public and private, and black and white.

On the flip side, it is true that the successes of private schools are publicised. Why should they not be? But the successes of public schools have been publicised as well. And The Royal Gazette has more than played its part by promoting endeavour through the Young Achiever and Young Observer series every Monday and Thursday, as well as the very recent renewal of the annual Bermuda National School Salute.

And, apart from the minister's selective memory when he wishes to have a dig at us, who can forget the exceptional spreads that were committed to Berkeley and CedarBridge Academy on their momentous anniversary celebrations in 2018?

You do not make such commitments to education and our young people if you are hellbent on portraying them solely in a negative light.

But what we cannot control is public perception. Either of those who read between the lines to see the worst in an innocuous headline, of those who wish a story would go away before it is fully told, or of the greatest uncontrollable — those who engage on our comments threads.

The thinking is that our commenters, largely anonymous though they are, are no more scathing of the public-school system than could be found in other local media.

So it's over to Cheryl-Ann Griffin. Make what you will of her protestations. In the meantime, we will continue to provide a public service, often going in places in search of the truth where some would rather we not.

All in the name of aspiring towards the best in education for all our children. Public school or private school. Black or white.

The mould situation at TN Tatem Middle School in Warwick, leading to its closure during the school year, has become synonymous with the woes public education has had to contend with for much of the past decade. These woes are not of the media's making (File photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)

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Published May 20, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 20, 2019 at 8:27 am)

Education’s problems: real or a figment of our imagination?

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