Ronald Thwaites | Weak foundations holding us back
“Married”, she scoffed. “Married? You madda did married? Or you granny? Dat a a when you old ... . When di pickney pass the worst. When you have money fi look good. Dat is not for poor people.”
The conversation among the women in the yard had drifted from the details of the video of the black woman, few traces of earlier good looks remaining, who had taken to social media recently to curse out the man who had given her seven children and then “ yu gone go married to the ugly brown woman and yu no give mi nuttin,” she was heard wailing.
Outside on the street, the grade-11 schoolgirl in uniform coming from the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) prep class, drew the guy on the bike aside from the others. “I never see my period last month.” “So why you a tell me dat for?” Look at her face when she hears that; and he rides off.
Then there was Mr Dixon, old and dying, who said he had given his heart to the Lord and wanted to be married now, before he expired, to prevent, as he put it, his death notice having to read “ leaving ‘dear friend’ or ‘significant other’”, either of which would, he said, make him “feel shame”.
These true stories are about weak or confused foundations; of brittle relationships and cultural forms which are not serviceable for a strong society. It does not matter if they are deeply ingrained from slavery, quasi-normative according to postmodernism, or almost inevitable due to poverty. They are Jamaican reality.
Casual, uncommitted sexual relationships make for weak families. Weak families are not good for raising balanced children. Without strong bonding, a massive, unfair burden is placed on single parents, usually women, and their children. Productive, peaceful economic participation will continue to elude us if we carry on this way.
Right now, it is these weak foundations which are holding back the country.
MUTUAL RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITY
Households founded on bad marriages are not the solution, either. Relationships based on mutual respect and responsibility for children are the primary values and habits required for a happy, ordered and prosperous nation.
The 14-year-old girl in the nearby yard has been missing for three days now. She boxes between her mother, who really does not care (she never sent her to school for the whole of grade seven) and her grandmother, who has no job and is already caring for two other grandchildren. The child really just goes wherever she thinks she can get something to eat. She has been taken off PATH because she does not attend school regularly.
Last year, her 16-year-old cousin had also gone missing. After a week, her body was found on the train line downtown. The granny looks to the MP for help. But remember, he isn’t supposed to dispense ‘patronage’. Corruption! But there is a provision for him to help with funeral expenses. Food? No! Coffin? Yes!
Schools are scheduled to reopen in September. The Government has ignored the suggestion to use the summer period to recover some of the lost ground academically and, even more important, socially and morally. Even when classes resume, the health and family curriculum is inadequate to address the situation faced by the majority of our youth. It needs recasting.
In the meantime, children are learning so much. They are absorbing the lifelong lessons of idleness, of hedonism from unlimited exposure to immoral and banal media and, for those with some means, of consumerism and leisure divorced from effort and productivity.
Time now to rethink what are the social outcomes we desire from education. Beyond time to promote stable, committed man-woman relationships as a prerequisite for parenting. Because, right now, we are trying to build back a post-pandemic growth path on weak foundations.
Remember what was the result of the guy using seawater to build the foundations of the palace in Port Antonio? It is called Folly!
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to email@example.com.