Optimising potential for all children
During my preschool years I spent most of the time with my maternal grandmother, Inez Darrell (née Outerbridge), in Flatts Village. It was my extended family’s influence that anchored in me an appreciation that all the children of the world were precious ... Red and Yellow, Black and White. This, I was reminded, while singing my favourite song at Sunday School at St Paul AME as a five-year-old; eventually, as I grew, I viewed this in the context of both race and class.
Today — 2022 — while some progress has been made, we still see much evidence clear across the globe of forces undermining that premise. However, there are legacies that root the human family — here and abroad — with regard to optimising the potential of all children. This includes the movement highlighted on Labour Day, albeit mainly on May 1 in most of the world. May 1 marks a tragic and transformative milestone which occurred in Chicago in 1886, involving workers pushing for the eight-hour day.
Over many subsequent decades, the labour movement spread globally and improved the conditions of working families and all children. This movement had an impact on Bermuda in the 1940s under E.F. Gordon’s leadership, during which a significant push occurred for social progress. Many seeds were planted at that time, with one sprouting in 1949 when free primary schooling was made available to all children — albeit in segregated schools.
Another legacy that spoke to this matter is the collective character of the founders of Berkeley Institute, the first sustained secondary school that was accessible to all children.
September 6, 2022 marks the 125th anniversary of the beginning of the Berkeley Institute. The founders of that school “kept the end in view” — respice finem — guided by their exceptional character. Together they exemplified a passion for maintaining principle, notwithstanding the significant challenges they faced in a regressive society. They offer today’s generations guideposts in facing the madness apparent in the challenges of the 2020s.
The gestation of Berkeley proved to be extraordinarily long, beginning way before the school’s opening on September 6, 1897. The seeds of the institute date back to 1725 when Bishop Berkeley from Ireland hatched a plan for a training school in Devonshire for priests to service British expansion into the New World. That idea never came to fruition, but a century and a half later the Bermuda Parliament split those original funds in order to finance two separated secondary schools in 1870.
The 1870 legislation, 36 years after emancipation, proposed one school for Black boys and one school for White boys. There was principled opposition by the Black community, given the apartheid nature of the proposal. An attempt by activists to transform this legislation proved unsuccessful in 1875.
The Berkeley Education Society was formed in October 1879 with the “end in view” to open a secondary school. However, the society maintained its stand on the principle of inclusion and refused the offer of opting for the conditions of the funding that maintained segregation and excluded girls. These pioneers retained their principle to have an inclusive school — open to all children, regardless of gender and race.
The funds for a school for White boys resulted in the opening of Saltus in 1887. The Berkeley Education Society continued its principled stand until negotiations allowed it to open the Berkeley Institute to all children in September 1897. It included 14 boys, one of whom was White, and 12 girls.
Schooling in Bermuda over the 125 years since that beginning has been through a variety of iterations. Significantly influenced by the class-biased origins of schooling from Britain, as well as to some extent the more democratic foundation regarding schooling from America, it is arguably evident that this period has not done the best for all children.
That said, as a community facing the dangers and opportunities of the 21st century, together leveraging these legacies we share the capacity for working collaboratively to optimise the potential of all children.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda