Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sewage, rats, bats: flip side of ‘bullying’

Lennox Grant logo47

Mark Fraser

 By some diabolical curse or sabotage, schools are shut and schooling put on hold, because the pipes and pumps and tanks fail in their function of containing human waste. 

Schools are today places where this kind of thing can happen, almost as regularly as children fight, and assault their teachers, and are held with weapons. About which media reports generally inflict on the rest of us a version of psychological terror. 

For most people know only what the media tell us about goings-on inside the closed systems that are T&T’s schools. Not even the media appear to have such access as would allow for “a day in the life” stories, reporting on the “normal” experience of school. Hands-on familiarity with school life today is afforded only to those who share it—pupils, teachers, help staff, security guards.

As one media consumer, I could hardly bear to watch the epic footage of teenage Mucurapo schoolgirls in uniform clawing and tearing at each other. Nor can I construe the accompanying narrative of “bullying”.  

Nobody helpfully connects “sewer problems” with the “bullying” by which a 12-year old slapped and choked a (presumably adult) teacher, leaving her with “throbbing pains at the back of her head”, pleading for a transfer out of Jordan Hall Presbyterian Primary. But what makes up the elements of those two slices of school life: reeking, overflowing sewage, and the sensational violence viewed under the rubric of “bullying”?

The sewer failure can probably be plotted. My file yields a November 2013 clipping: “Tim: School repairs no quick fix”. The Education Minister’s actual words, reported under the Newsday headline, were: “There are a lot of problems to be fixed and these cannot be done overnight.” 

Dr Gopeesingh was mostly talking about failures of newly installed air-conditioning systems. He referred darkly to a “forensic enquiry” into the award of multimillion-dollar installation contracts to local and foreign outfits equally incompetent and unreliable.

Aging and ancient school buildings, 50-plus years old, and more than 100 years old, respectively, long under-maintained, he said, present a nightmarish assortment of “problems”.  

 Later stories detail Princes Town Methodist, where “raw sewage is flowing from the teachers’ washroom”. At Vance River RC Primary, a “rat infestation” has left classrooms polluted with “rat and bat droppings”. 

A “persistent sewer problem” at Elswick Presbyterian Secondary closed doors for most of last year. For six months, Woodbrook Presbyterian Primary has been shut because of “acute vermin infestation including rats and pigeons and general dilapidated condition”. 

The stories are played side by side with others reporting a 17-year- old schoolboy arrested with a gun in Marabella. Form Two and Form Three pupils are arrested for fighting at Cunupia High, the setting for “daily fights and seizures of weapons”.

At Toco Secondary, two pupils are suspended for fighting. Notorious Mucurapo West Secondary records its third fight in a month.

Vivid violence, tagged “bullying”, and helplessly witnessed infrastructural decay, then, come over as highlight features of today “schooldays”, in at least some parts of T&T. In this meditation, what got me started was Raymond Ramcharitar’s Guardian column, in which he blamed the violence on the influence of Carnival: “A good place to start fixing the education system, and stopping scenes of children fighting in the streets from becoming common place, would be to take Carnival out of schools…”. 

Without endorsing Dr Ramcharitar’s broad-brush delegitimisation of Carnival, I remain of the likely old-fashioned persuasion that Carnival is a passionate, “big people”, avocation, the preserve of consenting adults. If children are to become socialised into Carnival, it should be at their own prompting, and not through ideological brainwashing into exalting it as a mark “Trini” cultural identity.

So I’ve had my doubts about “kiddies” Carnival, when that means costuming children like miniature adults, and egging them on to jump, if not also wine. It shocked me to discover that, at least in some schools, all of the week preceding Carnival Monday and Tuesday is given over to Junior Panorama, Junior Calypso Monarch, Junior Soca Monarch, Junior Parade of the Bands… 

Everything about soca today assures me that it’s an adult turn. It’s discomforting to see teens and pre-teens waving flags and rags and wining before judges.

T&T pupils should, however, learn about calypso in schools; those minded to sing it, should be coached in writing the words and the music. Similarly, junior mas players should learn to make at least part of their costumes. 

Such modest propositions fall short of any “carnivalising” of the school experience. Carnival qualifies as a valid discipline to be taught and learned. Children should know as much as possible about the mas they see and may play, All this stops short of idealising Carnival as a way of life.

Inevitably, in T&T, soca, or calypso, rhythms are likely to power demonstrations of protest. Putting placards into the hands of school-uniformed youngsters, however, and pressganging them into protests, even against fungus and bats and rats, and overflowing toilets in their schools, must qualify as child abuse. 

For thus are two slices of school life brought as the noxious “sentimental sandwich” that, as a calypsonian sang “is yours and mine”.