Wed | Oct 4, 2023

Kristen Gyles | What to do about the ‘Dunce’

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2023 | 12:08 AM

The merchandisers are at it again – this time with a backpack that literally has the word ‘DUNCE’ in big bold letters, spread across it. Some brands will do almost anything to make a quick buck off pop culture, no matter what’s at stake.

Well, a few students have turned up to school in the fashionable ‘dunce’ branded bag and the question still confounding many is what should school administrators do in response, if anything? Some have threatened to send students back home should they turn up with a ‘dunce’ bag and others simply frown upon those students who sport the bag and move on to more important things. What’s the better approach?

Aside from the fact that school administrators would find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they started refusing students entry into classes because of a bag, it’s important to remember that within a few months’ time, the ‘dunce’ bag will no longer be trending, and some other silly thing will be crowned as trend of the year. When it’s not the wearing of guard rings or the ‘dunce’ bag, it’s a special shoe brand or new hairstyle. And for almost every new trend, there is some conflict with the uniform and hair grooming policies commonly enforced in schools.

It’s not that the upcoming generation is any more averse to law and order or any more indisciplined than the previous generations. But the world is becoming more and more fashion-driven and every season there is a new style or trend for students to join and keep up with. As long as consumerism continues to consume the world, the many controversies surrounding school deportment will only increase in number.

With that said, it seems our schools are typically most absorbed by issues relating to everything else besides teaching and learning. Many Jamaicans will rightfully lament the willingness of a student to wear the label of ‘dunce’ and will lament the willingness of a parent to facilitate their child wearing such a label, but are we falling into the noose of what was meant to be nothing more than a distraction?


Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if the constant focus on combating ‘dunceness’ isn’t helping to make more notorious a trend that should have died long ago. Clearly, the ‘dunce’ bag was expected to draw the ire of school administrators, many of whom start losing their hair when they see students wearing tunics one inch shorter than the prescribed length. Well, mission accomplished.

Sometimes rewarding ridiculous behaviour with overwhelming attention just fuels it. Remember, the class clown gets the most laughs and the most attention, and the class clowns are certainly getting the attention they want from the principals and teachers who are running wild trying to fight against the supposed ‘dunceness’.

While it is easy to understand why an educator would cringe at seeing a student carrying a ‘dunce’ branded bag, it is important to assess whether the schools’ response achieves the desired objective of addressing the deep-seated issues at play. A student who just wants to sit and learn in class without creating a disruption doesn’t sport a bag with the word ‘dunce’ printed over it. More importantly, a parent who wants their child to sit and learn in class without creating a disruption doesn’t buy such a bag for their child to carry. So, there is a need for the school to address both student and parent in a way that hits the issue at the root and also doesn’t make VIPs out of attention-seekers.

The ‘root’, in this case, is the parent. Parents are typically the primary authority figures in a child’s life. If a parent is comfortable seeing their child refer to himself or herself as ‘dunce’, it is indicative of serious issues. To start the intervention with the child is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Perhaps instead of getting caught up with trying to punish the student, the intervention should be cleverly targeted at the parent. Although they are less impressionable, many parents are in fact open-minded enough to consider a teacher’s counsel and that of other professionals within the school community.


And no, sending the student home is not useful intervention.

This may come as a shock to some principals and teachers, but hardly any student goes straight home to cry when they are turned away from school. Sweeter music a disengaged student has never heard than the words “go home” from the lips of a school principal. So, why do schools think there is wisdom in rewarding students with time off from school to roam the streets, when they are disruptive?

Furthermore, I would think the worst place for a self-proclaimed dunce to be is out of school. Consider that many of the most disruptive students are those most prone to falling behind academically. If they are not in class, let it not be because they were sent away. Ironically, locking the students out of school would only make hypocrites of school administrators who are trying to convince students that school attendance is critical.

In any case, it seems this new ‘dunce’ trend has presented an opportunity for increased dialogue with some parents, many of whom could benefit from targeted, deep-rooted social intervention. This is an opportunity our schools can’t afford to miss.

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to and