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Schools that smadify

Monday, January 15, 2018

Remember my story how five years ago, swaying beneath the stage of his Savannah temple, David Rudder lost my attention, as my pores raised watching this 20-something near me singing each word by heart.

I didn’t yet understand how lovingly Jayron “Rawkus” Remy held our musical heritage in his hands. Wednesday night Shadow opened the third season of his hour-long CNC3 show, Vintage Unplugged. Over Kyle Peters’s guitar chords and the occasional cough, the 76-year-old’s vocal chords slid into:
Poverty is what dictate
To make such dangerous mistake
About who is somebody
But when a woman makes her son
From the time that child is born
He is somebody
Everybody is somebody
Nobody is nobody
The pauper or the wealthy
Jamaican scholar Rex Nettleford intellectualised this core Caribbean idea as smadification: how our culture and institutions (fail to) imbue people with human dignity, upholding each of us as “smaddy.”

This work ought to be the core mission of our nation’s schools. To turn those amazing, precious, and sometimes already damaged souls their guardians and parents turn over for half their waking day into somebodies.

As one of the school system’s arguable successes—first in Common Entrance, and 1979 National Open Scholar—I think it’s one of our biggest failures. By age 10 we’ve turned a majority of our students into failures. Even though the denominational leader with most schools labelled our culture and procedures for stratifying children into secondary schools “child abuse,” government education ministers hide behind the Concordat (a 60-year-old policy framework for state-faith educational collaboration) for why we cannot create evidence-based, child-centred educational reforms.

During crosstalk, you can also still hear members on Fitzy’s bench sneer across at Kamla for making secondary education universal—and bringing a certain element into our schools.

And then there’s that notorious comment about duncyhead children.

One goal of colonial education was to reproduce orderly subjects, to civilise us into obedience to authority, acceptance of injustice, and away from our native immorality. Another was to reinforce inequality, to train and anoint those whose leadership would uphold the system, distinguish them from the rest. A key post-Independence educational goal was therefore, logically, to expand access to the credentialing that was the gateway to mobility. So we’ve ended up with an extraordinary focus on examination and certification, producing thousands of people with papers, who cannot reason or imagine, and lack skills for the globalised economy or postmodern social life.

Education commands the largest share of the budget—15¢ of every dollar—yet is designed to serve only the brightest minority of students. Perhaps it is the national sector in need of most urgent reform.

A change-leader is needed. Dr Rowley promised Tony Garcia would be a curriculum reformer, but his tenure has been consumed with simply getting schools open, mega-corruption in the school-building special-purpose company, ideological resistance to schools’ roles in healthy development of already sexually active children, and a tragic misunderstanding that school violence is “ill-discipline.”

Until we have a big vision for schools, and leadership that listens to evidence and prioritises the needs of those least likely to “succeed anyway,” the return on that $7.3 billion investment will be low.


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