Violence in our schools confirms the coming chaos. We have had pupils taking over the prinicipal’s office at the Marabella North Secondary School and setting fire to the toilet blocks; the abominable brawl involving female pupils of the Mucurapo West Secondary School; nine male pupils of ASJA College, Charlieville, on $3,000 bail each for disturbing the peace; and now a 12-year-old pupil of Jordan Hill Primary School in court for slapping and choking a teacher. President of TTUTA, Devanand Sinanan, says there is “violence on a daily basis” in our schools. Like the epidemic of teenage pregnancy, this bad situation will get worse.
Student violence is connected to the prevalent decadence in the adult world. Our youth hear of thievery in high places and nothing is done; high officials with bogus certificates and none jailed; hundreds of murders committed and no incarcerations; and they emulate the lawlessness around them. We give millions and “iconise” the purveyors of depraved soca and chutney lyrics, applaud triteness and carnality as “The Greatest Show on Earth”, so the children think sub-human conduct is the norm. They hear a plausible story of a cabinet minister intoxicated and boorish on an aircraft, threatening the flight attendant with, “your days are numbered” and wonder how different is the minister from them.
Keith Rowley came out in strong condemnation of the pupils, recommending correctional institutions. There has been no such statement from the Government, displaying dereliction of duty. Sat Maharaj, too, has again spoken forthrightly saying the errant minister should go because he “cannot be an exemplar for our children. We have problems in the schools.” Leaders must speak out as did the Archbishop and others on the dangerous degeneracy in the present Carnival and now, Chairman of the Integrity Commission, Ken Gordon, rejecting decadence masquerading as art at an awards function.
The interrelated phenomena of corruption, degeneracy and violence have created a self-perpetuating, widening cycle of national decline. Raffique Shah writes that “this society is hurtling towards a collapse in just about every facet that defines civilisation.” It has been a gradual descent into social chaos. After getting independence, we failed to establish the foundations for civilised living. And we could have done it.
Colonialism was oppressive and stultifying but there was order, industriousness and some striving towards refinement. The best of England was also our heritage. And most important, our forbears had triumphed over slavery and indentureship, giving us material and spirit for the journey ahead. But narrow nationalism was rampant at Independence. All of Massa had to go. History had to be rewritten, new heroes found. Some even called for the local dialect to replace the English language. The masters of English Literature were to be supplanted by West Indian writers. In hollow hubris, unnoticed by the universe, we further miniaturised ourselves.
But with tragic irony, we kept the worst of Massa, the authoritarianism of colonial governance perpetuated in our constitutional arrangements and mainly responsible for the maladministration and corruption that have diminished us. In 1962 we merely transferred our dependence to the new governor general. We never took responsibility for ourselves as a nation and therefore built no society to protect the children. We have been drifting downhill ever since.
Things will get worse. Politicians will never change the Constitution to empower the people to protect themselves. The present bunch will continue the delusion that our stagnating economy is doing well until the facade disappears, when we can no longer borrow without conditionalities. Then there will be little to disguise our vulnerability defined by our failed institutions, uninspiring cultural life and a society that did not develop the capacity to regenerate itself because it never assumed responsibility for its destiny.
It is tragic. Billions flowed into our coffers, so much of it stolen or misspent, whilst poverty and underdevelopment worsened among the lower levels of the society, and cultural impoverishment spread everywhere breeding selfish individualism, materialism and hedonism among generations of youth, the educated and professional, the unskilled and unemployable.
Our governments focused on externals mainly. We built huge new secondary schools but with no system to ensure quality education. For decades, these schools annually churned out thousands of dysfunctional youth with the vast majority ending up unfulfilled adults, incapable of lifting themselves from their economic and social conditions and producing offspring to grow up in the same debilitating environments in a self-perpetuating and ever-widening cycle of underdevelopment, the sins of the fathers falling on the children. Today a disproportionate number of children below the age of 14 are to be found in the San Juan/Laventille area where 40 per cent of single-mother households can be found.
At another level, lacking inspirational teaching, and with marginalisation of the humanities, the school system produces a soulless educated class, a major problem for this country. Today it is extremely difficult to find a young or middle aged professional with a genuine concern for his society. They are obsessed with wealth, pleasure and prestige. So that whilst physical violence, student and adult, comes largely from the lower economic ladder, the white collar violence, now more prevalent than ever, has always been perpetrated by the professional class, the products of our prestige schools which have seen a generational decline in the quality of graduates.
Unsurprisingly therefore, in 2013, the financial sector intercepted transactions totalling $1.12 billion with one quarter of the 554 suspicious transactions involving lawyers, other professionals, and senior company officials in the public and private sector. Our new parasites are busy with illicit enrichment, inflicting their own brutality on the society and growing up children to continue their legacy. And from this sector must come our future leaders. Our descent into chaos is assured.
• Ralph Maraj is a playwright and former government minister