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Education success begins at home

In the third and final part of his series on education, Bryant Trew spells out how public schools can return to their former glory if we, as a community, take greater responsibility for our children and our neighbourhoods.

“From the beginning we’re taught as boys to lock down our emotions. We can’t talk about being afraid. We can’t talk about being hurt. We could talk about being pissed off. We could talk about being angry. We can’t talk about being sad.” — Tony Porter, The Mask You Live In

Several years ago I was introduced to a teacher who had switched from public school to private school. I asked her what’s the difference, and she replied that previously she used to spend 80 per cent of her time disciplining the class and 20 per cent teaching. Now she spends 80 per cent of her time teaching and less than 20 per cent on discipline.

I find this teacher’s personal view quite interesting, because discipline played such a major role in the success of the public schools I attended 25-plus years ago. In both the case of Paget Primary and the Berkeley Institute, behaviour standards were set and maintained.

Back then, there really wasn’t any question about consequences being dealt out at school. But at least for me, the greater fear was what would happen when I had to explain my behaviour to my parents once I arrived home.

There was one day in particular that Berkeley students did an abysmal job of singing the school song and had to pay a hefty price for their lack of enthusiasm. Many Berkeleyites will recall that the Deputy Principal was so outraged that he put the entire school in detention. Believe it or not, each class remained in detention until they could demonstrate to the Deputy that they can sing the school song with the level of respect required.

It should go without saying that respect for teachers at Berkeley was a given. If you chose to disrespect one, you were disciplined for it. With some teachers, the mere thought of disrespect was enough to lead to personal discomfort. And even today, there are a few who can still send a cold shiver down my spine.

From my recollection, giving respect was the price you paid for an excellent education. Most parents demanded that you give it, and thus you benefitted. I would best describe it as a co-dependent relationship between parents and teachers. If both lived up to their responsibilities, the child benefitted. If either parents or teachers were negligent, the child suffered.

But let’s not overly-romanticise that era. There’s no question that the 11+ exam railroaded the future of far too many students. There’s also no question that Berkeley produced plenty of condescending elitists. The key point here is that despite its many flaws, the prior system arguably produced better results, because far more was expected and required of students, parents and teachers alike. Further, we simply didn’t have the kinds of severe social problems that exist today.

Twenty-five years ago the biggest threat to your child was a black eye or a motorcycle accident. These days, schools are being locked down due to gang-related fights or nearby shootings. Back in 2009, two students were stabbed on campus allegedly over a fight over drugs. In 2011, several male students were disciplined due to an on-campus brawl. In 2015, a middle school was disrupted by a bomb threat. And in May of this year, a teacher was involved in a fight with a student.

While it’s critically important to point out the failings and shortcomings of the school system, we must not let that be a distraction from the failings in our homes and neighbourhoods. The very best school system will be hard-pressed to turn around a child who’s rarely been disciplined, possibly abused, is in desperate need of love, has no desire to learn, and who believes that being part of a gang is something to aspire to.

So I have to ask, are there not fundamental lessons from how public education used to be that can be applied today? Would we see a transformation in results if we collectively set standards and raised expectations for ourselves and our children? Can public schools be returned to their former glory if we first took far greater responsibility for our children and neighbourhoods?

I strongly believe so. Education reform would be a great deal easier if teachers saw more children who are adequately prepared and enthusiastic for higher learning.

While it can easily be argued that the current state of affairs is a direct result of decades of poor public education and Bermuda’s history of racial discrimination, one thing that’s certain is that if we don’t change our current lifestyles, we are destined to end up with compounded negative results. And if we don’t first address anti-social behaviour in the home, it’ll continue to bubble over into our schools, into the street and thus into the grave.

The harsh reality is that no one is coming to save our children. That’s our job. We therefore need to get back to a place where our teachers are spending the vast majority of their time on teaching.

Readers can contact Bryant Trew by e-mail at bryanttrew@mac.com