Letters & Opinion

It’s High Time for Reflection–Taking Proactive Steps!

By Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declares: “Evil swept across Uvalde yesterday!”

The horrific tragedy which occurred approximately three weeks ago, May 24, 2022, in a fourth grade class at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, South-West Texas, marked the second deadliest school shooting in American history and, in particular, the deadliest in Texas history, according to Fox & Friends and CNN News Channels. Altogether, nineteen children and two teachers (21) were killed by a gunman’s (an 18 year old) mass shooting, while multiple children were injured.

No one could ever imagine the pain, the grief that the children’s parents were going through, knowing that they would never again see their children whom they dearly loved and made sacrifices for during the eight or ten years of their lives. No one could ever imagine the wells of tears shed and grief felt by the spouses, children, and other family members over the loss of their loved ones–the two Faculty members. Needless to ask, what about the horrified, grief-stricken residents of Uvalde? No one could ever, ever imagine the terror that the Texas gunman unleashed in the school as each of those little innocent faces and their teachers succumbed to a raging torrent of bullets from his AR-style rifle, which he legally purchased just after his 18th birthday.

Undoubtedly, the mass shooting by the 18 year old, described by U.S. authorities as a sociopath, had a ripple effect from the Robb Elementary School into communities. The husband of one of the two teachers suffered a fatal heart attack just a few days after his wife’s murder, and their four children are now left as orphans. Truly, evil swept across Uvalde on that day!

It’s high time for reflection! What lessons have we, the Saint Lucian populace–Ministry of Education officials, Government officials, school administrators, teachers, students, parents, counsellors, and other stakeholders of education, learned from the American horrific elementary school tragedy? Have we turned a blind eye, thinking that the Texas school massacre does not concern us? Or, are our Saint Lucian schools immune to such a tragedy?

Back in the early 90’s when I was pursuing a teacher education programme in Jamaica, it was very difficult for me and my compatriots on campus to come to grips with the harsh realities of life that overwhelmed that country: the extremely high cost of living, which was unaffordable for many Jamaican students, the increase in crime rate on a daily basis–homicides (in particular, it was not unusual to find citizens becoming livid very quickly over an argument which, more often than not,  resulted in fatal injuries, rather than it being resolved amicably), robberies, rape cases, and the like, which characterized Jamaica as one of the scariest and most unsafe Caribbean countries to visit. Moreover, what about the overly crowded public buses, which made commuting exhausting and hazardous? The list goes on.

Comparatively speaking, in those days, my peers and I viewed our country, St. Lucia, as a haven of tranquillity; a safe haven, indeed. I can recall us, Saint Lucian students, responding assertively that we were blessed to be from a small island which afforded us comfort and safety in many respects, while being ridiculed by a group of Jamaican students who oftentimes referred to our country as “Small Island” and, us as “Small Island people.”

Unfortunately, Saint Lucians can no longer boast about the orthodox way of life that engendered more positive effects than not in the home, school, community, and the wider societal structure.

From the standpoint of the home, community, and the wider society: no longer can Saint Lucians leave their doors open or unlocked even to visit a next door neighbour for fear of thieves who are likely to be lurking around to rummage through their homes. No longer can citizens and visitors alike walk the streets without some fear of robbery and assault. In a nutshell, no longer can citizens who currently live at or below the poverty level tolerate the Saint Lucian socioeconomic status or the social stratification system, which clearly separates them–the have-nots, from the other social classes–the have-s in this country.

With respect to the education system, could it be said that the escalating crime rate in those various countries–locally, regionally, internationally–is likely to be a strong indicator of a weak education system, and vice versa–more so than not? Let’s take a glimpse of what obtains in the Saint Lucian education system to date:

No longer can school teachers discipline badly-behaved children, without fear of losing their jobs, or being accosted by parents or other family members. On the subject of discipline, let’s focus slightly on corporal or physical punishment. In 2019, “The Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development declared its intention to suspend and eventually abolish corporal punishment in schools” (GIS, 2019). It was further made clear that corporal punishment had been suspended in schools as the Department of Education worked towards its eventual abolition. This action was taken shortly after the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an Order on the “suspension and ultimate abolition of corporal punishment in schools” in January 2019, on the basis of Article 51 of the Education Act (1999). Notably, school corporal punishment had been prohibited by school administrators long before 2019.

Importantly, what does this “new” educational policy mean for the future of the badly behaved Saint Lucian school child–the child who is disrespectful, disobedient to their teachers, parents, school administrators, and the like; the one who starts physical altercations right in the classroom in the presence of his teacher or the principal, or on the playground; the one who engages in bullying or threatening their peers, steals, destroys school properties, and so on? One should realize that this child would eventually exit the education system with a baggage of bad conduct that would be too heavy for them to carry everywhere they go, as it would affect their relational and interpersonal relationships, and would, eventually, take a heavy toll on them emotionally and psychologically.

Based on research, psychologists, for example, Dr. Alan Kazdin–a Yale University psychology professor asserts: “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” Moreover, many studies have revealed that physical punishment–including spanking and other means of inflicting pain–can lead to antisocial behaviour, physical injury, mental health problems and increased aggression in children. Therefore, corporal punishment should be eliminated in schools and homes. This view definitely holds true under one condition: if corporal punishment is administered as abuse, that is, when the teacher or parent raises a hand or a rod in anger or rage and, consequently, inflicts severe pain or physical injury upon the child.

A distinction, then, must be made between corporal punishment that is administered as abuse and corporal punishment that is administered as correction or discipline. When corporal punishment is administered as correction, it is bound in love and not anger or rage. Therefore, there would be no place in the teacher’s heart to inflict injurious physical punishment on the child. Interestingly, the greatest “psychologist” of all time (our Heavenly Father) has instructed mankind on how to correct the child and why it is indispensable to do so. The “Authorized King James Version” of “The Holy Bible” declares: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell” (Prov. 23:13-14). This method (among other Biblical methods which reference other roles parents must play to complement it) is advocating that corporal punishment should be administered judiciously for the greater good of the child. In this light, when psychologists and other professionals suspend or abolish corporal punishment in schools and homes, and not consider the wisdom that has been instructed to humankind to promote peace in their nations, they’re missing the mark, entirely!

It’s no wonder that students and school leavers no longer respect principals, teachers and schools on the whole and, as a result, innocent lives are being lost or left with indelible scars. It’s no wonder that schools can’t function today without security measures for fear of intruders or sociopaths.

In this sense, it will be remembered that at least two Saint Lucian school principals have been seriously assaulted in their schools by individuals who displayed traits and characteristics of a sociopath similar to that of the 18 year old Texas elementary school shooter.

Is the Saint Lucian education system taking a reactive stance, rather than a proactive, by showing that it cares when a massacre occurs in the schools like it did at the Robb Elementary School in Texas–God forbid–before it takes serious steps to alleviate the problems that some Saint Lucian students bring to school, face in school, and exit the school system with, which could very well transform them into sociopaths?

The purpose of this article, then, is to make a plea to the Saint Lucian Ministry of Education authorities, Government officials, school administrators, teachers, parents, counsellors and other stakeholders of education to make a concerted and conscious effort to reflect on the education system’s policies, practices and structures that have been established, relative to the social ills of society, and to take proactive steps to address the likelihood of the occurrence of such a gruesome attack on, not only school principals but, also, teachers and students, and whoever else may fall prey to individuals with aggressive and impulsive tendencies. Those who show no appreciation or respect for life, rules and norms–the sociopaths.

Most notably, the “new” structures that have been put in place for school safety, discipline, and progress don’t seem to be working very effectively. There are more street cries now than there have ever been in the history of Saint Lucia. The unfortunate, the underprivileged, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the poor, the bullied, the silenced, the slow learner, as well as those with impulsive and aggressive tendencies in the classroom are most likely the ones “crying out” for educational reform in Saint Lucia, so as to assist them in becoming productive and respectable citizens like their peers. It is, indeed, high time for reflection; to take proactive steps, rather than reactive, for the safety and wellbeing of every Saint Lucian child and, for the greater good of the island of Saint Lucia, the “Helen of the West Indies.”

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