Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Is the controversy deeper than ‘dunce’?

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2023 | 12:05 AM


Does ‘Dunce’ emblazoned on school bags signify mental retardation, rebellion against education, mere fad or fashion among pupils craving attention, or a glaring reflection of society in transformation and confusion?

Principal of Jonathan Grantham High School Dr Ankle should not be condemned for his stance, nor should Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Leighton Johnson, who publicly endorsed him.

Sunday Gleaner columnists Fr Major-Campbell and Gordon Robinson were quite insightful on this controversy. I reflected deeply when Robinson revealed that these school bags range from $10,000 to $20,000. Certainly pricey.

Who is a dunce? We think in images and express ourselves in different ways, like dance, music, painting and words, etc. Words, in a sense, are ‘blank’, meaningless without context, and acquire significance only by our generally accepted or even individual relation to them. Many words like ‘’lives’’, ‘’minute’’ and ‘’plant’’ change meanings depending on context. ‘Field’ has at least 22 different meanings in English; and words like ‘aggressive’ and ‘personality’, over time, acquired new meanings. It’s also accepted to ‘killing her softly with a song’, be ‘really bad’ at doing something good, and even ‘’lick shot for, or blood dem up for Jesus!’

Is there a new meaning to, or an emerging dunce appeal? The entertainers and entrepreneurs capitalising on ‘Dunce’ did not create those feelings or views many now have towards dunce. Legendary American marketer Gene Schwartz famously cautioned marketers that they cannot create a desire in any marketplace. Marketers can only stir and channel an existing desire in the marketplace towards the purchase or acquisition of specific goods and services. To dominate any market is to first know and understand the desires, beliefs, fears and the lifestyles of those being targeted.

Behaviour never lies and is always benefit-driven; even though there are often detrimental consequences. In applying this fundamental principle of psychology and Schwartz’s theory to the current controversy, it’s prudent to research and understand why so many parents, children and influencers are embracing dunce and any new meaning or associated symbolism.

Are valuables superseding values? What common core values will we agree and adhere to for societal order? To change behaviour, we should first try to change how people think. This controversy is an awakening because its significance and potential impact are deeper, much deeper than whatever meaning is given to dunce.