Peter Espeut | Miseducating our youth
Everyone knows that the mission of schools everywhere in the world is not just to educate in subject areas like language, chemistry and history, but also to socialise students in the appropriate norms and values necessary for a modern society, economy and polity to function efficiently and effectively.
We humans are not born with virtues like discipline, punctuality, diligence, and consistency. These have to be taught and learned, often by demonstration and example.
When teachers come to school late and suffer no consequences, that lesson is learnt. In this country, we are famous for 'Jamaica time' - whenever we please. When adults break the lunch line, this teaches onlookers that the way to get ahead is to disadvantage others. If teachers bestow special privileges to their pet students, the next generation learns that the way to get ahead is to curry the favour of those in authority, and to seek favours and 'blys'.
This is why it is so important that school administrators make sure that each student is treated equally, and that there is no hint of favouritism or discrimination; teaching proper inter-personal relationships by example, and witnessing to honesty and proper decorum, is an essential part of the curriculum of every serious educational institution.
This is why the recent impasse between the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) and the finance and education ministries was so negative in its impact on the socialisation of young Jamaicans and the wider society.
If you believe you have a just grievance (and I believe that the teachers have that), and you believe that a work stoppage is the only mechanism that the Government will listen to (sometimes action speaks louder than words), strike for your rights, and face the consequences. This itself will be an important lesson that you will teach your students, which will stand them in good stead in their adult life.
But for the JTA to call on their members to report that they are sick when they are not, is to teach - by example - the lesson that the telling of bare-faced lies is acceptable when it suits you.
Over the years, students have learnt this lesson well from their teachers, and in consequence will lie to them in return, and to their future employers, and to their future spouses, and to policemen, and in court. And if they rise to positions of authority as members of the security forces, or as public servants, they will tell bare-faced lies to protect themselves.
When workers go on strike, employers are entitled to withhold their pay for the days they are off the job; but if you believe that your cause is just, you will be prepared to taste the sour now, so that later you can taste the sweet.
This is a lesson that every schoolchild needs to learn: that sometimes you have to make sacrifices now for the greater good later on. It is this sort of attitude that can mobilise Jamaicans to work tirelessly for the development and progress of our young nation.
Clearly, the JTA believes that justice is cheap, and that you can retain your cake even as you eat it. They want to go on strike, but not call it a strike, and then afterwards apply for paid sick leave. As board chairman for two schools, I expect to be presented with a sheaf of applications for sick leave (which I know are not genuine) that I will be required to authorise. I am going to be drawn into this public subterfuge.
The Ministry of Finance, aided and abetted by the Ministry of Education, is not innocent in this whole imbroglio. Seeking to pay retroactive monies in the absence of a new wage agreement is a breach of industrial relation rules, and a thinly veiled attempt to weaken the teachers' union. If there are unbreakable fiscal rules that demand paying the retroactive amount before the end of the financial year, why was adequate notice not given of this in advance? The Government, which so often breaches guidelines, has undergone a spectacular conversion and must now obey all rules!
These two government ministries are giving us a master class in political expedience and spin.
The JTA continues to provide evidence that it is not a professional organisation holding their members to high standards of ethics, but rather is a vulgar trade union prepared to use underhanded means to achieve its selfish ends.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.