C. Jama Adams | Discipline and the imagination: KC style
Earlier this year, the dean of discipline at Kingston College, Ainsworth Walker, sent home quite a few students whose hairstyles were not 'conventional'. There was no reason to believe that the hairstyles were a health hazard, nor were they offensive.
Schools are asked to tutor the imagination of their students. They must assist them to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, creative, productive, and to care about others. School authorities also face the daunting challenge of encouraging students to use good judgement, while protecting them from the consequences of poor judgement.
In carrying out these tasks, schools must always seek to intervene in a way that is sensitive to the developmental ages and needs of the student. School authorities cannot treat teenagers as if they are basic-school students.
Teenagers question authority, as they seek to understand and assert themselves in the world. They are going to push the limits in doing so.
So one wants a disciplinary style that manages well the need to encourage students to be creative and autonomous while protecting them against their excesses.
Based on the little we know, Kingston College's hairstyle policy does not meet this standard. It seems as if the notion of 'contemporary' hairstyle being enforced is frozen in time, as is typical of so many ways of thinking among our leaders. Armies have hairstyle policies where the aim is to ensure unit cohesion and to limit individuality. A high school is not a military organisation and should want to encourage individuality and creativity. Such rules are in the interest of keeping students safe, and having them respect and care for others, while nurturing their creativity and individuality. It is very risky to ask a teenager to follow a rule because it is a rule. One must explain the reasoning behind the rule in a way that makes sense to a reasonable person. It is difficult to see how this current hairstyle policy achieves this goal. Here is a brilliant idea: What about working with the students in the construction of a hairstyle policy?
ORDER AND CHAOS
Teachers, supervisors, parents or anyone in a position to tutor the imagination of others struggle with finding a balance between order and chaos. The imagination of the individual is a chaotic and fertile place that knows no rules, no order and no sense of time. It is, therefore, a very creative place in which anything can be thought and justified. Ideally, the only limit on your imagination is your imagination. It is also a place that in its most
elemental form lacks morality, and, therefore, can be harmful to the self and others. The imagination is, therefore, a hired gun that can be used for good and for bad. So the challenge is to find a way to nurture creativity and limit chaos and amoral acts. Too few limits and the lack of a constraining moral compass, and creativity is in the sole service of pleasure and aggression. You see this in the alleged actions of certain local pharmaceutical companies where a creativity unconstrained by ethics was used to produce shoddy drugs to enhance the pleasure of garnering greater profits. You see it in the sad young men, who experience no need to control their aggression and the resulting frustration, using their creativity to successfully stalk and kill their peers.
When there are too many of the wrong rules, creativity is unduly constrained. The British and their successors understood this all too well. They knew the Black masses were creative and that they should be feared. In the fertile imaginations of their minds, the masses questioned unreasonable constraints and their sense of being dehumanised.
So to constrain an Afro-Jamaican creativity that might lead to their demise, the British banned the drum, they seized the paintings that reflected Afro-centric creativity and they disparaged the language. Their successors oppressed Rasta and banned Walter Rodney and innocuous hairstyles. They continue to promote colourism and give us wishy-washy curricula. Many have become depressed as they are tutored to believe that they are idiots, that they lacked sense and that they are not beautiful.
Others rejected that message, and for some, their creativity was in the service of fleeing or breaking rules and pursuing their often poorly tutored self-interests. No matter how hard you try, you cannot kill creativity, neither can you abolish chaos. There are over 500,000 unemployed people in Jamaica with fertile but often inadequately tutored imaginations, and time on their hands. We lack the desire or resources to incarcerate, hospitalise in Bellevue or encourage them all to migrate.
OLD RULES AND IDEAS
Among our elites, we see gradualism, bargain basement ideas well past their sell-by date, and anxiety. They have profited from a certain kind of tutoring that places an emphasis on small creative acts that do not challenge the old ways of doing things. So we promise illusory tax relief, but our banks, run by supposedly really creative people, cannot come up with profitable and imaginative ways to fund people with good ideas. We cling to rules that are not well thought through and create chaos.
Doing well at CXC is a life-changing event. Often times, the student gets one attempt. Which caring and thoughtful person would say to a student 'I can help you pass one of the most important exams you will ever take, but mi nuh like yuh hairstyle, so leave dis place of learning and go home and waste yuh time'? Where is the logic in that?
We all sense that, as a country, we are not doing well. Many who can flee do so. Many who can steal do so. Many who are frustrated kill themselves or others. Too many just suffer. We are turning our creativity on ourselves. Where is the hope?
- C. Jama Adams, PhD is a clinical psychologist with publications and extensive experience in the areas of child and family psychology, at-risk youth and organisation psychology. He is also an associate professor and chairperson in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice - City University of New York.