By Jaevion Nelson
Every so often a picture or video of students having sex, fighting, or gyrating goes viral and incite very emotional responses about indiscipline and misconduct among our young people. Some of us are repulsed by the images and some of us are actually enthralled by students in their uniform, carrying on - unperturbed by the glaring eyes of a judgemental public - on school compounds, buses, restaurants, and other public spaces.
This makes many of us uncomfortable (although we often implicitly encourage these behaviours) and we quiver in anxiety as we beseech a gullible public to save our children and protect them from plunging further into moral depravity.
The situation seems to be out of control now(?). The transport centre in Half-Way Tree (St Andrew) has allegedly been transformed into a "haven for sex, fights and robberies". Students are fighting and robbing their peers and adults. They are refusing to go to school to, among other things, cruise around in 'party buses'. They disobey their parents, teachers and even the police! What on earth is happening to our children? What on earth are parents teaching their children?
The concerns heightened last week subsequent to a video of students (girls and boys) of Maggotty High in St Elizabeth gyrating and grinding to popular dancehall music. Not surprisingly, it raises many questions about what parents, educators, school administrators and other relevant persons are doing to address this lewd, filthy, crude, and ostentatious display. I must admit I too was saddened by what I saw. I sunk in despair as I watched the video. I suspect my reaction is because there were so many of them - all in their uniform - without any care whatsoever but I do not subscribe to the practice of banishing these future leaders with negative comments about their "gross portrayal of their humanity".
This makes me very tense because the popularity of these viral images seemingly cause us to retreat to ill-advised and ineffective ways of instilling 'discipline' as well as serenade them with negativity.
I am not one to pretend the students' behaviour is new; it's just more accessible given we are far more technologically advanced. This is not to say we must not find ways to curb indiscipline and (better) encourage orderliness and 'good' conduct before it is too late. But we shouldn't expect young people - students or not - to dance any differently than we adults do. Do you really expect them to do the 'Butterfly' and 'Bogle' to a 'Daggering song'? Come on, let's be real!
The principal's (of Maggotty High) response is even more frightening than the video, which we now know was recorded in 2011. According to news reports, the principal intends to suspend student(s) who were in the video and are still enrolled at the institution. What? Really? Suspension?! I doubt they can identify the majority of students in the video, but that's beside the point. I continue to question the use of suspension and expulsion, which are ineffective methods of disciplining students (see 'Stop Suspending Students', October 3, 2013 http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20131003/cleisure/cleisure3.html). Can the school even suspend the students for dancing in their uniform?
No power to suspend
Based on my research, Section 30(1) of The Education Regulations of 1980 give principals power to suspend students for a period not exceeding 10 days if:
(1) in the principal's opinion the student conduct 'is of such a nature that his presence in that institution is having or is likely to have a detrimental effect on the discipline of the institution;' and
(2) the student 'commits any act which causes injury to any member of staff or to any other student in that institution.'
Importantly, Section 30(7) advises that a student can only be suspended or expelled in special cases. The act explicitly states that 'Except in special cases (my emphasis), a student shall only be suspended or excluded from a public educational institution after other efforts have been made to effect an improvement in the conduct of the student.' Is this video recorded from 2011 a special case?
Truthfully, there is no one way to deal with this but the suggestions to punish these students to send a strong message to other students that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable is overwhelming. I suspect much of this is a consequence of how we romanticise corporal punishment in Jamaica. I doubt who we are today has much to do with the beating, thumping, kicking, tying up, etc., that we experienced at the hands of our parents, caregivers and teachers. In fact, perhaps our draconian ways of instilling discipline is why we are in the (negative) position that we are as a nation, especially where disorder, lawlessness and crime and violence are concerned.
An alternative to suspension that Maggotty High might consider using is what is called Positive Behavioural Interventions and Support, which seeks to 'teach students appropriate behaviours that promote academic and social engagement'.
Let's create structured behaviour plan programmes that can actually help and support our young people rather than cast them aside and leave them to become 'problems' that we will grapple with in another few years. Let us refocus how we discipline our young people.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.