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Lack of public consensus

Maybe it is a sign of old age when one becomes sensitive about subjects such as democracy or the lack thereof. Certainly, day-to-day management items tend rather to look at the implications of broader moves that affect the freedoms and livelihood of society.

However, this latest public furore, whether it be the proposed demolition of Wantley, which touches the legacy of the Berkeley Institute, or Ellen-Kate Horton’s dismay over the proposed closure of West End Primary School, or the protest over the glitzy raft-up — which otherwise was a clever tourist event, but for the optics that it displayed a double standard by a government that is on record to have discouraged and even made it unlawful for similar events to be carried out by locals.

I don’t take a position in this opinion of they being right or wrong in either case; rather, let the merit defend or fail on their own. But what is becoming increasingly clear is the general public’s sense to have a voice in deciding on a wide variety of issues where they should have that right. Instead, they have been handed decisions that in a couple of cases seem to uproot important history for economic expediency, and in another hand out privileges if the right price can be paid. The common denominator here: lack of public consensus.

Maybe these latest protests signal that there is hope and a ray of purposefulness growing that speak to values other than solidarity. There has been the political operative in place for decades — “united we stand, divided we fall”. The missing axiom is, standing for what? Surely, it could not mean we stand for everything.

Yes, indeed, there is value in tradition; particularly if that tradition breeds results. I’m not from Somerset, nor am I a Berkeleyite, but as a primary school student in another parish, I do remember the strength of West End Primary School and many of the adults — too many to mention that came out of that institution — who have contributed positively to the overall Bermuda society. Which would be an understatement for Berkeley.

Ellen-Kate Horton, an opponent of the planned closure of West End Primary School

So, no, while I can rationalise the issues generated by the decline in school population and enrolment, I don't get the picture that there was deep consultation or a fuller viewing of all the options where the parents and parishioners felt they were being engaged in a meaningful way.

Sandys is not the only parish that feels the same sentiment about its primary school closures. We seem to have had Cabinet ministers making a few public consultations, updating on what they deem as a rational response to the enrolment populations. But updating or informing is not to be confused with engaging the populace!

Many of us could remember the Educational Planning Team in the early 1990s that consisted of about 100 persons drawn from all segments of the educational and professional communities who had a wide background of experience that deliberated on educational reform. Thirty years later we are now at another critical juncture. Do we need less deliberation than before?

I openly faulted the last government, back then, for not allowing the EPT take ownership and authorship of the reform and remain embodied as a non-political advisory unit until success was achieved. Instead, the government of that day was too concerned about gaining political points off education reform. It wanted to be seen as the reformer. Seemingly the government of today wants to do better by showing how education reform could arrive on its smarts.

In any event, the Wantley matter will be ploughed into history and forgotten, and the theatrics of the Horton school-closure complaint will be overshadowed by a party disciplinary matter. It is becoming a tired issue within the Progressive Labour Party when disagreement or unfavourable comments about leadership are viewed as dissension and actions to be disciplined.

Scenes of 1965 and 1985 have not taught us sufficiently that disagreement is not dissension. Disagreements can be healthy if the focus is on ascertaining truth. Unity that is based on protecting untruth or disclosure or weakness is unhealthy. However, criticism, when taken properly leads to improvement — or, at worst, brings clarity, particularly when the critic is proved wrong or understands the disparity.

A new form of solidarity based on the right of persons to speak and draw consensus needs to be established. Having freedom of speech doesn't mean all speech is correct or true; it just means having the right to articulate thoughts that are not injurious or slanderous can be made without persecution for thinking differently. It is important that full debate is heard, particularly where there are matters of historical significance. Once destroyed, they can never be replaced.

Let’s see if the latest round of challenges causes a shift or whether the old ship-of-state battens down the hatches and rides out the storm of criticism. Which it has done for more than a half century and survived.

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Published June 25, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 24, 2021 at 6:47 pm)

Lack of public consensus

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