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Former Commissioner of Education Joseph Christopher dies at 77

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Joseph Christopher, a former Commissioner of Education (File photograph)
Joseph Christopher, a former Commissioner of Education (File photograph)

JOSEPH CHRISTOPHER 1943-2021

A former Commissioner of Education and educational historian who documented segregation in Bermuda’s schools has died.

Joseph Christopher was 77.

Dr Christopher, a former principal at Sandys Secondary Middle School, was a physicist who taught the subject at the old Sixth Form Centre, a forerunner of Bermuda College.

He recorded the history of Bermuda’s schools across the second half of the 20th century in his 2009 book A Random Walk Through the Forest.

It was an unflinching account of how segregated schooling had been used to suppress Black people.

Dr Christopher told The Royal Gazette after its publication: "My basic premise is that there has been no equity in the provision of education in this community for probably the last 100 years.

"Education is a form of social control. It determines who is going to be in charge in the future – it determines the opportunities that people have."

He said he had at first planned a career in medicine or research.

But his love of children led him to follow his sister and brothers into education.

Dr Christopher attended Central School, now Victor Scott Primary School and the Berkeley Institute.

He gained further qualifications at university in Canada, and Durham University in Britain.

Dr Christopher started to lecture in physics at the Sixth Form Centre in the 1970s and took the helm at Sandys Secondary in 1974 and stayed in the post for eight years.

Melvyn Bassett, who succeeded him as principal, said: “I was his deputy when he asked me to take over as principal.

“He encouraged and inspired me as he did for the students.”

He added: “He had a brilliant mind – he had a PhD in physics at the age of 26. Being a scientist made him a unique person.

“He was a theorist and a thinker who processed matters differently and faster than the rest of us. Sometimes it took us a while to catch up with him.”

Dr Christopher left Sandys to join the Department of Education’s special services, dealing with testing, computer education and programme evaluation.

He served 13 years as a senior education officer at the department.

He was appointed Commissioner of Education in 1996 and his tasks included helping to redesign the island’s curriculum.

Dr Christopher had planned to retire from the post in 2007.

But he suffered a severe stroke in 2006, the night after he handed in his notice to the ministry.

He said afterwards: "Education is a very stressful business.

"I probably wasn't as aware of the stress I was undergoing as I should have been."

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, paid tribute to Dr Christopher.

Mr Rabain said: “Working with him, you knew he was serious with his belief that it takes the whole community to lift up our public schools.”

He added: “His leadership and voice will be missed. Education lost a good man, a humble and rational voice for equity and unrelenting in confronting barriers that obstructed our children’s development.”

Mr Rabain said Dr Christopher’s book on Bermuda’s schools “made it clear that the failure to give Black parents and families the opportunity to have a say in the management of the schools their children attended must be corrected”.

Dr Christopher’s book took its title from the expression about being able to see the forest for the trees, which means getting lost in detail and failing to see the whole.

It was a comment on the planning of the education system.

But Dr Christopher defended the public school system, saying comparisons with private schools were unfair and that there was an entrenched disregard for public school pupils.

Dr Bassett said: “He was on their side. He spent his whole career in public education.”

Dr Christopher is survived by wife Marlene, a former Registrar General. The couple had three children, Aron, Tarik and Galen.

Joseph Theophilus Christopher, a former education commissioner, was born on July 8, 1943. He died in March 2021. Dr Christopher was 77.

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Published March 10, 2021 at 9:49 am (Updated March 10, 2021 at 9:49 am)

Former Commissioner of Education Joseph Christopher dies at 77

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