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Gordon Robinson | Why Campion is so loved and hated

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Students leaving Campion College. The elite high school perennially draws the best and brightest from prep and primary schools.
Students of Campion College hard at work in science class.

I entered Campion College in September 1965 a terrified young introvert.

I'd always wanted to go to Campion, but private-school costs were beyond my parents' limited means. Campion's Jesuit founders wanted to produce a special type of graduate, hence their reluctance to accept government 'aid' (strings attached). As deeply religious persons committed to Christian principles, they believed in student diversity but were restrained in practical implementation by fiscal realities. So Campion held an annual entrance examination open to all and offered free tuition scholarships to the top three.

I secured one such scholarship, but this still wasn't enough for a teacher-housewife couple with three children to educate. I was lucky enough to win a Common Entrance Government Scholarship (paid everything including books, meals, pocket money) to Jamaica College, but sufficiently ungrateful to refuse to go. Why so stubborn? My father taught there, my elder brother was a student, and JC was famous for corporal punishment and ragging.

I held out. My father applied for, and obtained, an unprecedented transfer of my Government Scholarship from JC, a government-aided school, to Campion, a private school.

I've vivid memories of my first class (Latin) by Father John Ruddy, legendary dean of discipline, who paced the aisles repeatedly chanting, "Amo, amas, amat, amamus amatis amant ... ." After about five laps, he stopped at my desk. "Dr Robinson, I presume?" My worst nightmare! I stammered something. "Well, sir, you are our first Beadle (student leader responsible for attendance records, etc.)."

Don't ask me what he saw. Perhaps he was simply making a subtle point about diversity. What I do know is, for the rest of my time at Campion, Father Ruddy, whose gruff exterior terrified every student, became my mentor and fiercest ally. When, in fifth form, after an unblemished disciplinary record, I was given my first (and only) demerit, he was devastated. He took it worse than I, who knew I'd deserved many more. The lesson I learned from knowing the real Father Ruddy was that nothing is ever as it appears. Thereafter, I've had no problem with grumpy facades, which I knew only hid some social disability.




I remember two hugely popular American Jesuit volunteer teachers, Thomas 'Whitty' White and John Gannon. Their strengths were never taking themselves seriously and treating students as equals. Still, I was difficult to handle. Even now I've kept a third-form report card with Gannon's frank comment: "Cranky in class, especially when he doesn't get his own way." (Plus Ca change ... ). One Sunday during third form, I fell ill at home and was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Monday evening, my first visitors were Messrs Gannon and White ("Cute plot to skip school, Robinson" was Gannon's opening salvo). From that, I learned real leaders cared about their followers and walked the talk.

Some lessons were subtle; others obvious, but always geared towards real life. Campion's methods were driven by Jesuit philosophy to produce a well-rounded Christian person of competence, conscience and compassion to be of service in the world and with the generosity to make a contribution. Jesuit philosophy insists that the liberal arts, natural and social sciences, and performing arts, linked with all other branches of knowledge, are powerful means of developing leaders with the potential to transform society. If only this was Jamaica's national education policy.

Students were encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities (otherwise, honours were impossible), but these weren't limited to 'manly' sports. Debating, drama, community-service clubs and journalism carried identical credit as sports. Within sports, badminton, tennis, swimming, table tennis or chess were as important as cricket, football or track. Merit was the watchword. NOBODY's grades were manipulated so he could play sports. Nor was sports downplayed. Seminal football coach Winston Chung-Fah first made his mark at Campion College.

Academically, the pass mark was 60 per cent (Why would any school have students believe less than 60 per cent is OK in life?), but students' pride and determination ensured any grade below 70 per cent was embarrassing. In my class, long before accusing Campion of getting the pick of primary and prep-school students became the preferred reflex, 90 per cent average placed you outside the top 10. Campion's principled methods and respect for student's individuality (while others concentrated on buying athletes) produced phenomenal results. Consequently, ALL now want to attend.




Campion College's student bodies, despite never experiencing corporal punishment, were among the Jamaica's most disciplined. Pride, ambition, and competition were our motivational and disciplinary tools; excellence our only goal. Teachers commanded respect by example. I discovered a trick formula proving 1 = 2 (flaw impossible to spot). My maths teacher, retired JC headmaster Hugo Chambers, when shown this formula by me, took 10 seconds to identify the defect. He commanded my respect, yet never once raised his voice.

The great Bramwell 'Sheppy' Shepherd taught Spanish with a guitar:

Ay, ay, ay ay!

Canta y no llores.

porque cantando se alegran,

cielito lindo, los corazones

I remember every word and can translate, too, but all credit to Sheppy, that song means more to me in Spanish than English.

So, Campion began graduating truly rounded young men (and, as of 1972, women) dismissed by 'traditional' schools as sissies. Campion graduates were encouraged to embody Jesuit philosophy's four Cs: compassion, competence, conscience and contribution. Campion graduates know, once these are mastered, all else automatically follows. Campion graduates don't posture, boast or trumpet self-aggrandising gimmickry like 'The Brave May Fall but Never Yield'. Campion graduates know bluster isn't bravery.

Campion graduates know true bravery often requires one to yield to compassion or conscience, thus making an important contribution possible. Campion graduates avoid greed or lust chasing neither profit nor sex. Campion graduates concentrate on the four Cs secure in the wisdom that whatever they truly need will chase them.

Campion graduates occupy positions of leadership and influence everywhere. Two of Jamaica's most compassionate and competent political leaders who've made deep personal sacrifices to contribute positively to Jamaica's future, despite the cesspool of a political system within which they're forced to operate, are Kamina Johnson Smith and Julian Robinson, both Campion graduates.

As a direct consequence of their schools' short-sightedness, many who called Campionites sissies are struggling to grapple with life's realities and have wasted their potential by following rather than leading.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,

ya no puede caminar.

porque no tiene; porque le falta

marijuana que fumar.

Versions of La Cucaracha abound mostly to do with who supported who in the Mexican revolution. I learned the version mocking Pancho Villa and supporting Jose Venustiano Carranza Garza, whose faction defeated President Huerta and other revolutionary factions, including Villa's:

Una cosa me da risa

Pancho Villa sin camisa.

Ya se van los Carrancistas

porque vienen los Villastas

In that context, vienen means retreating.

One thing that makes me laugh

is a shirtless Pancho Villa.

Here come the Carrancistas

So there go the Villastas

Toldja! Better in Spanish.

Cielito Lindo is an 18th-century love song popularised by Mexican author Quirino Mendoza y Cortes. The name can be loosely translated 'Lovely little one' and its sentiments are very close to Nat King Cole's standard Smile.

The entrenchment of great teachers at Campion isn't restricted to the good old days, as students exhibited the four Cs in a recent benefit for one of Jamaica's greatest ever educators, Ms Sheila Barrett, whom The Ampersand dubbed 'The Sheila'. Then Sheila taught Old BC's elder sons ('Computer Whiz' and 'Ampersand') economics and somehow managed to convert The Ampersand from an oral-only communicator to a fluent writer with his own movie-review blog ( The Gleaner ('Excellent gesture for beloved teacher', May 23) quoted alumnus David Silvera at the function: "We'll never let you down, Miss B, and we'll ensure you're safe. That's a promise from the Campion College alumni." All four Cs!

Once secondary schools' laughing stock, Campion is now Jamaica's most sought after educational institution. Its principles haven't changed. Despite wear and tear of decades surviving in Jamaica, Campion remains the best by any test.

A terrified young introvert entered Campion's doors in 1965. In 1972, an independent thinker fully prepared to take on life's vicissitudes left. My final two years (in a co-educational, rules-relaxed sixth form) were of the greatest 'growing-up' value, although involving minuscule academic effort. Accordingly, I support Ruel Reid's proposal for seven years in secondary school.

I still hear muted, modern versions of the 'sissies' insult and there's loud, unmitigated joy among traditionalists whenever Campion fails in some public competition (like SCQ). But, whereas, in 1965, these insults were driven by ignorance and arrogance, today's motives are jealousy and insecurity.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law.

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