Olive Nelson | Calabar needs to raise the bar
T he Gleaner’s leading Sports story of Friday, March 22, 2019, is quite scary, to say the least. A member of staff of a prominent government-aided high school has been allegedly assaulted by student athletes, and the chairman of the board, a high-ranking member of the clergy, in the face of the teacher’s call for justice, declares that “what I can tell you is that I would be very surprised if this does anything but provide greater motivation (to the Champs team)”.
The story was really a continuation of The Gleaner’s front page headliner of the same day, ‘Running Scared’, in reference to the teacher who, out of concern for his safety, opted not to attend a last-minute meeting called by the school five days before the start of the much-anticipated Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships, no doubt in a bid to stave off any potential fallout.
We learn from that story that a senior administrator of the school – Calabar High School – responding to the teacher’s call for suspension of the students, announced that “the students are ambassadors of the school. What are you telling me? To suspend the ambassadors?”
The Gleaner, quite fittingly, did not allow the story to be overshadowed by the other big story of the week – Ruel Reid’s precipitous fall from power – giving it the full treatment in its editorial of the Sunday edition and again on Tuesday, March 26. One should not lose sight of the fact, however, that there is a significant co-relation between the two events.
The former minister of education was riding high in his ministerial posturing until it all came crashing down. And he was forced to give up everything – ministerial position, senate seat, bid at representational politics, principal’s cottage, and not least of all, his respectability.
The administrators of Calabar High School were riding equally high on their enviable Champs reputation when a very believable member of staff, physics teacher Sanjaye Shaw, in his search for fair play, publicly removed their veil of respectability.
On both sides, the embarrassingly frantic scramble for face-saving damage control was equally pathetic.
EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING
In modern Jamaica “everything is everything” and “a nuh nutten” are apt descriptions for everything, however outrageous. It is all right to do wrong, so long as one can get away with it, so long as no one finds out, so long as the consequences do not outlive the proverbial nine days. The fact that this philosophy has so insidiously infiltrated our institutions of learning, once considered bastions of integrity, is itself quite painful.
Public and title-sponsorship outrage forced a school out of its silly comfort zone and everyone on Red Hills Road was now running scared that the groundswell of criticism would adversely affect the performance of their star athletes. Did it? The initial smug reluctance “to discuss internal matters with the public” has been quickly discarded, and everyone at Calabar is now rushing to give his side of the story.
Based on its own accounts, Calabar was willing to accept a student’s word above a teacher’s. Yet to be explained by the school is why any respectable institution would ask a head of department to provide proof of an injury before accepting a claim that he had been set upon by a group of students.
In how many schools do we now have an elite group of untouchable students whose words (without proof) are favoured above their teachers’? Has our value system gone so haywire that blatant discrimination passes as acceptable school policy in the quest for athletic fame? Is there no fame then to be earned from the longer-term nurturing of excellence in other disciplines? Must art, science, and technology now take a back seat to athletics?
These are not lessons we should have our children learn if we really care about them and the future of this country.
But it seems not to matter to acting principal Calvin Rowe and his merry co-administrators of Calabar that their students are being unwittingly encouraged to face adulthood with no respect for authority, no sense of justice, and no ability to distinguish between right and wrong. It seems not to matter to them that a great injustice is being perpetrated, not only on the rest of the school population, but on their young athletically gifted charges who are unwittingly being molly cuddled into a sense of entitlement to privilege.
A sense of entitlement is a dangerous quality. It is neither informed by conscience or principle. It is driven only by a desire for instant gratification. Today, it may reflect a corporate desire to win Champs at all costs. Tomorrow, it may translate into something much worse at the individual level. Ask the former minister of education.
In this astonishing development at Calabar, the school has thrown away an opportunity to strike a blow for discipline, even-handedness, and justice. It may not have lost everything to the same extent that Mr Reid has, but it has lost a lot of respect from well-thinking Jamaicans even worse than losing at Champs.
There is clearly a leadership gap at the institution. The old boys (and dare I say, the Ministry of Education) must act quickly to ensure that the bar is raised at Calabar.
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