The state of our education
As far back as 1968, the Progressive Labour Party platform called for comprehensive schools or neighbourhood schools. The failure of Bermuda to move in that direction over the past 60 years is a mark of the PLP’s failure to pursue its stated goal of equity.
The idea for the comprehensive school, where children of all backgrounds and abilities would be educated in a single school, goes back to the 1920s. The idea is nothing more than the concept of the family itself. Sending one lot of children to grammar schools, from which they could continue to university and beyond, and others to secondary moderns, whence opportunities were severely limited, was no longer acceptable. There was also a particular concern about the reliability of the 11-Plus Exam as a mechanism for categorising children.
Bermuda, with its racial divide, saw this as a device for limiting opportunities in a society that was determined to maintain white privilege. Consciousness was growing about the enormous wastage of ability among such children, particularly black males, in such a school system.
From the 1950s onward, the government of the day fought tenaciously to head off the revolt. As the political winds shifted towards the PLP, and the United Bermuda Party felt that it could no longer fight against the tide, the UBP shifted the debate entirely by introducing the concept of middle schools.
Unfortunately for the UBP, it was too late. Bermudians had always seen education as the route by which they would escape the damage caused by racial discrimination.
In addition to whites, blacks were transferring their children to private schools in increasing numbers. Nor were they fooled by the adaptation of the middle-school system. Perhaps more than any other single factor, it was the disaffection with educational policy that finally brought the UBP’s hold on political power to an end in 1998.
But by 1998, the political misfortunes that had overtaken the UBP had also affected the PLP. After 35 years in Opposition, the new leadership of the PLP had abandoned the ideals of equity and was anxious to become a part of an emerging new upper class. They therefore retained the middle-school system.
Despite being in place for more than three decades, the middle-school system has never found acceptance in Bermuda. So having lost a term in power between 2012 and 2016, the PLP promised a change from the middle school.
Unfortunately, like the UBP before the 1998 election, it has again gone to North America and introduced the concept of signature schools. These schools segregate children on the basis of ability in particular subject areas. Signature schools are promoted by organisations and businesses, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, which wish to ensure that they get the best trained people. Their interest is limited to their own organisation without regard to the community as a whole.
The PLP has failed to recognise that this is nothing more than a return to the era of discrimination before middle schools, beginning in childhood. The voters are no more likely to be fooled by this devise than they were by the implementation of the middle schools.
Technologies and methodologies may change, but in the long run, human goals and aspirations are shaped by moral values. Further change, to be worthwhile, should be based on such values. Above all, the lessons to be learnt from past experience, should provide the right kind of education for all young people irrespective of ability or aptitude, social class or money, or religion or race.
Comprehensive schools aimed to provide educational opportunities for all children, not to divide them at an early age into different “opportunity groups” on the basis of questionable instruments of selection. We would not introduce any such system within families, nor should we be content to have such a system within communities.
Reforms should be about much more than individual opportunity. Individual opportunity is certainly a factor, but there is a link between schools and the wider community. Can we have a cohesive society where the members of that society are separated at an early age? Ought we not to recognise the wide range of talent and forms of intelligence, and organise education accordingly?
The arguments for a comprehensive system of schooling should not be lost on higher education; the Government’s refusal to develop the Bermuda College as a first-class university is further evidence of Bermuda’s lack of interest in providing the greatest development of its young people.
Attracting a year-round student population would not only increase opportunities for learning for our Bermuda student population, but would have a significant positive impact on our economy.
The comprehensive system has deep roots that go back for thousands of years. It is worth examining these roots.
When we speak of education, we usually think in terms of buildings, where what takes place is somehow different from “bringing up children” in the home.
In reality, our schools should be nothing more than a parental extension of what takes place in the home. If a distinction is to be made between school and home, then a proper view of education would be that families are simply coming together to provide what each one of them would provide individually, but which they find convenient to provide cooperatively.
One of the interesting debates that is taking place in education today is the question of the extent to which “home schooling” should be allowed. It would be more appropriate if home schooling is taken as a given and we debate the extent to which we should create a bureaucracy for the administration of what we call an educational system.
The inadequacies of educational bureaucracies are not unique to Bermuda. Therefore, we should be thinking in terms of providing the ideal model for the rest of the world to emulate us.
In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, we find enunciated what we can call the educational policy that was to be implemented in the new nation of Israel.
This passage of Scripture raises what continue to be the core issues involved in education. It deals with the question of curriculum, administration, health, economics, gender relationships and politics.
Based on this model, the curriculum for any child’s education, using modern terminology, would include religion and ethics, history and geography.
For religion and ethics, verses 20 through 25 provide a basis for the entire moral character of the people, setting out a philosophy for the nation, or what we might call its self-image.
Political independence is a prerequisite for the proper implementation of a national educational programme. Continued colonialism is probably the single-most important factor preventing Bermudians from discharging their moral responsibility for the development of an educational system suited to the next generation.
This is not surprising when one considers that the oldest and most prestigious universities in the Western world were established to propagate Christianity; the University of Bologna in Italy being the first, followed by the University of Paris and the University of Oxford. Harvard University being the first in North America — of the first 110 universities in America, 100 were established for the propagation of the gospel.
In today’s Bermuda, religion and ethics have taken a back seat to the rest of the curriculum. Much of the indifference to moral values is justified under the guise of religious tolerance, but it is really a part of the dominant influence of the United States and the shift in values taking place in that country, where most of our teachers have been trained.
Everyone has values of one sort or another. Many fail to appreciate that in arguing for religious tolerance, they are merely coming in the back door with their own brand of religious values.
Far from being irrelevant, the present climate on the question of values has led to much of the nihilist or meaninglessness attitudes of so many of our young people. The idleness of so many of our youths, the murders and suicides, the drugs, premarital pregnancies, along with so many of the other ills in our society are the direct result of a lack of a moral philosophy.
There is never a question of whether or not we should teach moral values, but rather which moral values do we teach as the values of the community.
Education is the responsibility of parents. Children learn through repetition and association.
Many of Bermuda’s young people are on drugs and many are unemployed. Thousands fail to support their children and domestic abuse is rampant. Few men are expected to live as long as their female counterparts. In 1999, the year of the PLP’s ascension to office, 120 students graduated from Bermuda College. Only 20 of those were males.
There are those who consider this to be a natural social occurrence. Historically, the PLP has always considered this to be a direct result of misguided public policy, particularly as it is expressed through our educational system.
But, as stated earlier, the new leadership of the PLP is abandoning its roots. Undoubtedly, the causes of social disorder are multifaceted, but one of the questions we need to ask is whether or not we can do anything with our educational policy to improve social cohesion.
The “defathering” of children is reinforced in legislation. Where a child is born out of wedlock, the father has no responsibility to register the birth of his child, as is the father in cases where a child is born within wedlock.
One of the early planks in the PLP platform was a promise to have elected boards of education. This is, of course, one of the reasons that the PLP advocated the re-establishment of elected parish councils that would take responsibility for our schools instead of educational policy being driven by a bureaucracy that by definition is more interested in the ease of administration rather than parental responsibility for student learning. The Government must insist that parents, particularly fathers, take responsibility for their children.
Because less than 40 per cent of our children are born out of wedlock and 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce, an inordinate amount of the responsibility for educating children falls on the mothers.
Only 60 per cent of our children are educated from the public purse. This means that 40 per cent of the population are paying twice for their children’s education: once through a tax system that supports the public schools and again through fees to the private school.
We pay more per child to educate them in the public system than is paid in the private system. The private system also provides a superior outcome for each child. The willingness of parents to pay double for their children’s education is a testimony to the commitment of parents to their children.
Because people learn through association, a child’s curriculum should always begin with a knowledge of themselves and continue by building on this self-knowledge.
One of the most important weapons utilised to oppress the black segment of the Bermuda population over the past 400 years is the reading of black people out of our history.
A prerequisite for any school curriculum is a system of birth registration that will enable children to trace who they are so that such knowledge can be built upon, such that they not only can learn more about themselves but how they relate to the rest of the world.
It must begin with a reform in the system of registration of births so that a child can trace his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents and his great-great-grandparents.
We need to be sponsoring research into the genealogies of the island. All of our textbooks must be written as being Bermuda-centric and building out to embrace the world.
History, of course, can be taught only in relationship to places. Therefore, geography is an integral part of the teaching of history. Again, we need to develop a Bermuda-centred study of the geography of the world.
Our public education system caters to the poorest and least healthy portion of our population.
The consequences of a sound education is health and wealth. The greatest causes of early death and sickness are the direct consequences of unhealthy lifestyles. There are the obvious causes such as smoking and drinking, but our educational system often encourages the ingestion of fast foods and soft drinks, as well as the lack of exercise. Far too few of our schools have an adequate physical programme, which should be encouraged through training in occupations requiring physical exertion.
It is through sound education that we are able to get wealth. Economic wellbeing is more a consequence of proper living than proper living being a consequence of economics.
It has always been amusing that too frequently we ask that politics be kept out of education.
This no doubt is an appeal to renounce the idea of an unfair advantage being given to the propagation of one set of ideas over another, or one set of politicians over another.
But when we see politics as having to do with governance, we readily see that it is impossible to educate children without advancing some notion of governance.
The present school curriculums advance the notion of colonialism. We send children home to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. We teach them about our leaders, whose leadership we honour because they have been honoured by the Queen, and so on and on it goes.
The essence of colonialism is that it recognises the legal right of one set of people to rule another. In Ancient Israel, colonialism was a punishment to be eschewed, not embraced. That we are teaching our children to embrace colonialism is a display of just how perverted we are as a society.
Colonialism is in direct opposition to the concept of democracy or Christianity. Because of our espousal of colonialism, we have refused to move forward on the PLP’s early idea of democratic local government, where children can get the opportunity of becoming involved in what democratic governance is all about by seeing their parents and neighbours involved in the governance of their school.
• Arthur Hodgson was a Progressive Labour Party MP, a former Cabinet minister and chairman of the Sustainable Development Department. He was speaking at the Hamilton Rotary on Tuesday