Category: children


The twenty-first century has seen a disturbingly regrettable trend of more and more parents of academically average children playing less and less active role in their children’s education during the school year here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Every year, even before students can get into their summer flow, the back-to-school hype literally invades their minds via radio, television, and now the internet and telephone advertising. Parents are enthusiastically busy getting their children registered into new schools, buying books, uniforms and paying other preparatory expenses. But where do these parents disappear to after day one of the new school year?

A successful education system, such as we allege to have in SVG depends on the collaboration of the student, teacher, school, home and community. Learning is indeed a partnership. But partners in this education process are becoming woefully negligent and even uncaring. Years ago, it was the norm to find that parents would make it their business to know their children’s teachers, to keep in continuous contact with the school and to reinforce education policies and school decisions at home.

But today, the environment and world of learning that schools offer students in the classroom is tantamount to a fleeting fairy-tale feeling of bliss while at the movies, because after the school bell rings, many children are returning to homes and communities with very contrasting views on schooling and life values.

It is a reality we cannot afford to ignore much longer.

Generally speaking, the education policies, from the Ministry of Education to the individual school regulations, have been doing their fair share of keeping students on task and actively involved in their learning. But there is very little structure and support for the students outside their classrooms. As it is now, far too many children, some as young as those in primary schools, are being just left on their own to literally become young independents. They are home alone after school, they have no set bed time hour, they go wherever they want, they do whatever they want, and on mornings they are told by their parents who go to work and leave them at home, to get themselves ready for school ad go to school.

Of course, many of them don’t habitually go to school, or they go to school regularly late.

So the question is: Why is this generation of parents neglecting their most vital parenting responsibilities as regards their children’s education during the school year? Well, perhaps the following real-life incident might shed light on the causes.

When summer was ending in 2014 I was making my way through the market when some parents began talking about the reopening of school. “Let school hurry up open,” the first parent said. “Yes,” was the quick reply of a second parent. “I can’t keep any food in the fridge for this whole month of August.” A third parent then said, “My electricity bill went sky high because the children home watching TV every day.” Then a fourth parent said: “The other day I go home and meet the water hose turned on. The water run whole day because the child at home and been playing with the hose.”

The above comments suggest to me that the primary function of school for the average parent is to give them a relief from the “burden” of looking after their own children on a daily basis. Something is causing a paradigm shift in local parenting. This is evident from incidents when a parent is highly upset that she has to report to her child’s school because he or she was suspended. Long ago the anger would have been focused on the reason the child was suspended in the first place. Now it is aimed at the school for disrupting the parent’s “vacation” from life without the child around.

This parenting shift is also real when a parent can also declare in front of their child that they don’t love or care about that child; that their money, attention and love is going to the brother or sister at another school. That’s an actual development.

The time has come for parental courses, tutorials, help-a-thons or the like, to be made available for many parents. Many of them are proving unable–or unwilling–to cope with their basic responsibilities of parenting their school-going children.

No child asked to be born, so when that child is born it is the duty of the parent to start living a sacrificial life for the child; however, what is happening is that many parents wish to continue living as though they have no children. That is a recipe for the failure of the child.

Yes, parents may have to work, but they should not just accept that they leave home before the child wake up, or that they come home late at nights hours after the child reached home from school. Parents, you have an equal responsibility to make sure some mature adult is there before and after school.

Children are also  leaving home and returning from school with no adult to inspect or monitor the contents of their bags or pockets. The moral straying in this area is infinite. From not taking books to school to bringing back books, cell phone, drugs or money that does not belong to them, are all possible results because children are unsupervised at home or left unchecked.

When a child can buy their own uniform, stitch in the pants, or wear multiple pieces to school–something is wrong with the way parenting is done. When a child’s report from December is still uncollected in June–something is wrong with the way parenting is done.

Has the time come for parents of school-going children to sign a legal parenting contract which spells out specific things that they must do after registering their child, or getting the new bag, books and uniform for September?

Could it be that the twenty-first century parents are having children as a consequence of sexual activity, rather than having intercourse because they genuinely want to have children?

The answers to  those questions are critically important if schooling has to once again become the noble and proven way of giving indigent children an escape from poverty.

In too many instances, school is being reduced to a mere baby-sitting hub where children only give priority to the after-school lime with their fellow students from across the island when they gather in the capital city and stand at the bus stop for hours each and every evening.

Education is still a valuable asset, and schooling is still a fundamental necessity but we are fooling ourselves if we only make back-to-school an emotional hype of making a social statement and then abandon the children to sink in the academic seas of actual reading, studying and doing home-work. We should really not celebrate back to school without prioritizing going back to parenting.

 

 

 

 

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Diamond Friend

 (NB: This post has been updated on January 5, 2017)

Today’s world is in dire need of good news. Literally. This post strives to do just that by introducing you to a youngster from the country of Guyana who is proving himself a diamond friend to all in his sphere of influence. Cardel Hunte is not ashamed to be identified with his Christian upbringing–even at the early age of sixteen. This is a young man who is indeed proud of his identity and God-given blessings. In fact, in the past week Cardel just completed his CSEC examinations which saw him writing twelve (12) exams in the field of science.

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One of Cardel’s talents is that of writing poems. He has written multiple poems. Here is one of his poems called “Courage”.

“Always be the brighter not the darker,

always be the eye in the storm,

beware some may try to break you but be wise,

open your eyes. tear the veil off of your true friends,

they might not be what you see,

some say seeing is believing.

but no, believing is seeing

how can you preach to others when your life is a mess?

whiten your garments before you can talk about others,

know yourself and always be confident.

it’s not he mirror that tells the answer

it’s the reflection you see after”

In an age when many people use social media merely as a place to find out other people’s business or to add to the many troubling social issues of the day, Cardel often uses his facebook page as a tool for spreading positive influence which seems to be always oozing from within his inner being. Below you can read for yourself one of his posts from 2016.

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It’s interesting to note that Cardel introduces this particular post in his usual creative style: “The number you have dialed is not in service”. And certainly, it’s a message that people all across the globe can be encouraged by.

Cardel has a very active role in his local church in Guyana. for some time leaders and decision makers in the region have been lamenting the absence of our men folk; hence, it is encouraging that this young man is doing what he can to actively combat male marginalization. Cardel is a gifted singer. Indeed, he is an enthusiastic worship leader among his youthful peers and youth department.

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The picture above shows a celebratory pose after Cardel and a group of friends emerged winners of a church night of drama.

In the summer of 2016 Cardel had the opportunity of a lifetime to be one of a handful of young Guyanese nationals to travel to the USA as a Youth Ambassador. While in the states he was involved with relevant training and sensitization on issues affecting his life and culture. Asked what made the most impact on him as a Youth Ambassador to the USA, Cardel says it was “visiting an organization called Appetite For Life that cares for homeless.persons, providing them with shelter and.food for however long it takes for them to get back on their feet. My three weeks in the US were simply amazing!”

But 2016 had one more breakthrough experience for young Cardel. When the external examinations results, CSEC, were released Cardel learned that he passed all twelve subjects which he sat in May and June of that same year. Although he was filled with joy at the results he admitted that he felt sad because he knew that his happy days in secondary school had come to an end.

Here’s one solitary life that is making a unifying difference not only in Guyana but across our region and beyond. I’m confident that, should life last, our region and our world will get to know and benefit from this young man as a valuable diamond friend.

You can see some  of Cardel Hunte’s poems here

St Martin's Secondary School

St Martin’s Secondary School

With the death and burial recently of one of my high school teachers, Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher, I started to purposefully reflect on my times at St Martin’s Secondary School in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was the best a boy could get in terms of a quality education at a conducive and learner friendly environment.

I entered St Martin’s in September 1987 and I can honestly say that the next five years were among the very best years of my entire life. They were really golden years. This is a sentiment being echoed by many of my classmates and schoolmates who were privileged to be enrolled at the institution in that golden era.  Prior to 1987 I had never known or heard about St Martin’s; however, it was after I was only one of two boys from Evesham Methodist School lucky enough to pass the 1987 Common Entrance exam that my teachers told me about St Martin’s.

I was immediately excited and thrilled about the prospects of attending a “town school” because it would mean that I would be riding vans every day. Vehicles and rides were scarce luxuries in the Evesham of 1987. I can still vividly remember jumping up and down when I got the confirmation slip from the Ministry of Education that said I would be going to St Martin’s Secondary School.

One of the first challenges was having to be in “town” on my own. So far, the only place I went to on my own was the village next door. So my brother and mother accompanied me to the school on registration day. That event happened in the library. It was my first time meeting the Christian Brothers—Br. Alfred Marshall was the principal and conducted the exercise himself. Up to that point I had only seen “white people” on TV and so it dawned on me that my world was really expanding.

That summer we were invited to attend Math classes being taught by Mr Bradley Brooker. I shall always remember walking out the gate after the first session and realizing I was lost because I had not memorized the immediate street. Panic gripped me but then a voice said to me just follow the other students and see where they go. That idea got me back on the right track.

I would never lose my way again.

The rest of the summer was a new adventure everyday. As I began meeting the other boys I realized that I was meeting children from all over St Vincent and the Grenadines. We shared our respective memories of our various primary schools at every chance we got.

Then the 1987 school year began. During the summer there was just a handful of us new students—about twenty or so—but on the first day of school I felt totally lost at the awesome sight of literally hundreds of boys in blue and white. It was like I walked into an ants nest of blue and white. I had no idea what to do, where to go, who to talk to. So guess what I did?

I followed the students who were in front of me when I entered the gate. So I stayed in that bright blue and white traffic. I kept climbing the steps. On the second flight of stairs, a friend I made at the summer lessons, Clinty Joseph, was on his way down. He said to me, “Is you I coming to look for you know. Come see where our class is.”

If there ever was a Godsend, that was Clinty right there!

He told me to check on the door to see which of the two form ones I was in. Back then the class lists were placed on the doors. I scanned the first list and found my name. Clinty could not be happier because he, too, was on that list.

Even though I had been at summer school, the classrooms looked quite different. They were cleaner and shone just as brightly as the uniforms and book bags of the new students occupying them. As the years went by I would later learn and see that it was Mr Butcher who used his summer to lead a school painting taskforce every year.

One of the first things that struck me about my new class was that it was so roomy and clean. It had louvers on both sides and so very well ventilated. I smiled to myself. I already loved my new school. When I later heard a man speaking over a speaker I was astonished. The school had a PA system. I automatically gave the school two thumbs up and all five stars!

St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS) was a family. I saw that in operation every day. There was a real sense of caring and sharing. Looking back, nobody seemed vexed with you or having “bad mind” as the youths say of themselves these days. There were 38 students in my Form 1 Set 2 and I honestly can say there were no “haters” in that large group.

St Martin’s taught me a lot about friendships from day 1. I had met Marlon Roberts who lived in Questelles and had attended the Petersville Primary School. I tried sneaking up behind him one break time to cover his eyes with my hands. It was a game we played. But somehow Marlon must have known I was there because he turned around just as I was about to clamp my hands over his eyes.

What happened next I would never forget. The plan backfired in that my finger got in his eye and he was immediately upset. He said: “Alyo man always a do stupidness you know!”

I felt so guilty and embarrassed that I ran away and tried my best to avoid him from then on. Then a day or two afterwards it was Marlon who sneaked up on me and actually apologized to me. That showed me who a real friend was. It was the first time in my life another person was apologizing to me.

Marlon did one other thing that year to make me understand friends are really people who care about your best interests. It happened when our Algebra teacher, Mr Best, had given us the option of attending either algebra or camera lessons after school. I went in the camera group, which had upper form students.

After a while Marlon came over to me and he said, “Ashford, you can always learn to use a camera you know, but you can’t always learn how to do algebra.”

That struck me to the core.

Never before had anyone analysed my actions and given me advice for my benefit. Additionally, because it came from somebody my own age, I was totally impressed and realized I had a real friend. Without saying a word, I left the camera group and joined my friend in the algebra lessons.

In those days we used to have what we call a “Special Schedule” on Fridays. Classes lasted only 35 minutes. There was no break; however, lunch was from 10:40 to 11:15. School used to over at 1:25 PM every Friday.

Our Form Master, Mr Kelly, used to stay back with us and do fun activities. Often, we would join with the students from Form 1 Set 1 and their Form Master. That is how I learned to make and fly a kite.

Other notable experiences that first year included getting licks for doing home work in class. Mr Sarkar was the Dean of discipline. Homework was to be done at home. The first time Mr Sarkar came to teach us Geography, he wrote four Ss on the board. The first S meant “stand up”. The second S meant “shut up”; the third S meant “Sarkar”,  and the fourth S was for “Sir”.

It was not that he just wrote and told us about these Ss. He bellowed them to us new terrified students. I could have sworn I was in the military! I won’t be surprised if some boys with bladder problems did wet their pants that morning.

But Mr Sarkar also wrote four other letters on the board. H.A.R.P. That would prove to be his motto for teaching. The letters stood for Honesty, Ambition, Respect and Pride.

We enjoyed Geography class after that unforgettable introduction.

St Martin’s Secondary School gave us local boys a chance to meet people from around the world. Mr Kelly, for example, was a young American who was volunteering a year teaching us English. There were different volunteers each year. We also met other boys who were in St Vincent but citizens from overseas—from Caribbean islands to America and Canada.

As we did our work we soon realized that our teachers wanted us to also have fun. There were times when all we did was just tell jokes and old talk.

And we did not just learn about the academic syllabus. I remember the first time I experienced a sex education lesson was from Mr Butcher in his form four Social Studies class. Up until then I didn’t think teachers ever talked about sex or relationships in class with students. But it helped us. It was a real life lesson.

In a Form 3 Religion class, Br Robert made us all sit up with mouths open and eyes popping out of our heads. He began his lesson: “What does somebody really mean when they say fuck you?”

No body slept in that class.

St Martin’s Secondary School made a name for itself in sports as well. Apart from the usual inter-House and Inter-School athletics events, we were a force to be reckoned with on the football and cricket field as well. In 1smss football news story990 the St Martin’s football team won the finals of the secondary schools football competition after beating the Bethel High School. I still can see students like Curtis Greaves (now principal of the Emmanuel High School in Mesopotamia) stamping the wooden stands at the Victoria Park so passionately that I really was expecting the stands to collapse.

In 1991, the St Martin’s football team was back in the finals of the secondary schools football tournament. We faced off against the Barrouallie Secondary School. The match went into overtime and the boys had to have penalty shootouts. Christmas came early at St Martin’s that year because we won the game and were football champions for two years in a row! We all left the Victoria Park pretty hoarse that day.

That same year, in 1991, Mr Brooker led the St Martin’s cricket team to the finals of the secondary schools cricket competition. NBC Radio, back then known as 705 Radio, broadcasted the match live. I remember clearly, sportscaster Mike Findlay asking student Grant Connell (yes, he is the lawyer of today) who he believes will win the match. And Grant simply told him that St Martin’s already has it wrapped up. Mike was just impressed by the smarts of the St Martin’s student.

St Martin’s secondary School did win the 1991 secondary schools cricket championship. So in that year we were both football and cricket champions of all the secondary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines!

But it didn’t end there. In 1992, guess who was back in the finals of the secondary schools football competition? Yes, St Martin’s. And guess which school we came up against? None other than the St Vincent Boys Grammar School. Now this was poised to be an interesting and historic match indeed. You see, there was always this unspoken competition between the Grammar School and St Martin’s to see which of these two all-boys schools was really number one. Because the match was played at the end of the calendar year, my group had already graduated from St Martin’s. In fact we were now in 6th Form (what is now called Community College).

The sole Sixth Form on the island was attached to the Grammar School. Nonetheless my classmates, St Clair “Herbie” Stapleton, Ronnie Daniel, Harold Lewis, Sheldon Venner, and I, all came to support St Martin’s that afternoon. Now our Sixth Form teacher came and sat among us in the section with St Martin’s students. As if that was not odd enough, she had the Grammar School flag. I just felt she was “in enemy territory”. She made the mistake of waving the flag when Grammar School had made a goal and all I saw was the Grammar School flag flying in mid air to the ground at the front of the stand. Almost immediately someone ran and tossed it into a green garbage bin nearby.

The entire stand erupted in an uproar that would have drowned out any Carnival Monday jam.

By the end of the game St Martin’s Secondary School had created history by winning the secondary schools football championship for three years in a row! And we did it by beating the St Vincent Grammar School. Coach Gary Thomas had really worked very hard. Players such as Rohan Keizer, Dominique Stowe, Terry Anderson, Jimi Jack and Maxion Richardson, among others on the team, really were top football players in the country, even though they were teenagers.

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This is the football team that won the 3rd title

Now, just before we had graduated in June of 1992, our graduating class also did something that I don’t believe any other graduating class has done. We re-enacted the finals of the football championship between the the champs, St Martin’s, and the opponents in the finals, the Barrouallie Secondary School in a floodlight football match at Victoria Park. The moon was out in all its glory. We had students picking up ticket monies. We had students in charge of Bar be que. We had students manning the bar. It was an unforgettable night. Oh yes, I was responsible for getting the event advertised and so Chester Connell, a past student of St Martin’s who was a top radio announcer at 705 Radio at the time, did the ad for us.

There are so very many other precious memories from St Martin’s. It struck me during times when school was closed that other students who were not from my class would actually say hello to me whenever and wherever we met. That comforted me so much. I knew I was not just a student in a school. I was a brother in a large family.

Up to this day those of us who grew up at the school in that era, refer to each other as “Brother”.

And we saw it even as the news spread of the death of Mr Butcher. Old boys came to the funeral dressed in their St Martin’s uniform. I was one of them.  Seeing all the other people associated with the golden era of St Martin’s made tears come to my eyes.

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Mr Butcher’s body leaving the Anglican Church in Kingstown

We were mightily blessed to have been at St Martin’s in those times. A lot has changed over the years. The Christian Brothers are no longer in St Vincent. That wonderful cadre of men and women that comprised the teaching staff has long since disbanded to various other endeavours in life.

I know many of us past students wish that our St Martin’s was still engulfed in that magical atmosphere of love, hope and excellent academic pursuits and results.  We may not be able to wave a magic wand and reverse the hand of time but what we can do is let the spirit of SMSS live in all of us.

St Martin’s role was to prepare us for life. That is what Mr Butcher was eagerly doing over all those years of his life. So it is up to us to live out the life lessons we learned within it’s happy walls. It was encouraging this year that the child who came first in the CPEA—the exam that replaced the Common Entrance exam, is the son of a past student of St Martin’s Secondary School.

Let us all use whatever talents we have and make our mark. We can still change the world. I believe in doing so, the present crop of students and teachers at St Martin’s will see the rich legacy of the school powerfully at work and that will keep inspiring them to up their game as well.

Mr. Butcher

Our teacher Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher at school

I end this lengthy but necessary post with the very words Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher wrote in my graduation souvenir book when I graduated in 1992:

“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. All the best. May your inspiration come from the Lord at all times.”

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Protesters outside the Florida court house after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting death of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin

 

Trayvon Martin’s death, followed by the calculated acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, has become a powerful searchlight on the perennial issues of ethnicity, demographic residence and social stereotyping in the “greatest country” on planet earth.

Like many people, I have been told that prevention is better than cure. No matter your take on this issue, the events of that February 26 evening in 2012 has forever changed the lives of the two individuals and also the rest of the world’s tolerance for racially imbalanced murders.

A professionally trained 911 dispatcher distinctly advised George Zimmerman to desist from following or intercepting Trayvon. George obstinately refused to comply with the instruction.

Now another innocently unsuspecting black youth is dead and will never breathe under the sun again.

Supporters of George Zimmerman are anxious to voice their understanding that George is the person being unfairly treated and even hated in the whole tragedy. They say that Trayvon is the one who started the altercation and the fighting. They say that Trayvon Martin was much taller, faster and stronger than the captain of the elite neighbourhood watch in this gated community, where such good neighbours refused to even show their faces outside upon hearing—what George Zimmerman’s friends say—was their neighbourhood watch captain yelling for help as his head was repeatedly being bashed against the concrete!

I don’t dispute that Trayvon may have passed some blows on George Zimmerman. But if you were a young black person, walking all alone in a neighbourhood where you do not live and you are approached by a mysterious stranger who infers that he thinks you are up to know good, wouldn’t you automatically go in defensive and attacking mode?

What are the words George Zimmerman used to open the dialogue at their ill-fated meeting? Or, did Trayvon spot George Zimmerman stalking him and attempted to tell George to stop following him. That probably happened, along with a not too racially nice comment from George Zimmerman, who for all intent and purposes had already concluded that Trayvon Martin was representative of the undesirable people in his socially upright neighbourhood.

It was probably upon hearing the remark, that the skittles-toting Trayvon Martin decided that he had had enough of strange white adults treating him like an ineligible American citizen. Instead of apologizing, George Zimmerman probably repeated what was said and the rest became a cause for a 911 call.

I believe in this scenario Trayvon did use his comparative advantage and  would have given this neighbourhood watch captain a superior lesson in who and how to watch for alleged suspects. When George realized he had barked up the wrong tree, he went for his gun. At this point Trayvon Martin would have raised his hands and said words to the effect of “you got me”.

An embarrassedly enraged George Zimmerman still pulled the trigger after reflexively pointing the gun at Trayvon Martin’s heart.

Martin Bashir, the famed reporter whose exclusive documentary of Michael Jackson resulted in the arrest and trial of the pop star, has now released a most critically balanced video on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman hapless meeting.

You can view the video by clicking the url  at the bottom of this blog post.

If only George Zimmerman had been an obedient captain. It is a tragic lesson in learning the importance of following orders before one is elevated to a position of giving orders.

It is ironic that George Zimmerman was acquitted because of an obedient jury who were given a push in that direction by the judge and the evidence which focused only on the mental state of George Zimmerman the moment the trigger was pulled: it was to spare his own life.

How many more must die? How many more must be acquitted because of blind spotting evidence for the sake of following unjust laws written in state law books for the preservation of traditional human welfare?

It seems not likely that George Zimmerman will be able o resume an average Joe’s life but he might be gaining access to silent transactions for works of literature and other productions. We could not prevent George Zimmerman from meeting Trayvon Martin but we had, and still have, a right to make sure no racially clouded murder becomes a speck of oblivion in our history.

 

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For generations in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Common Entrance Examination was the sole determinant of which primary school children would get a secondary education. In its hay day, only the successful candidates who passed the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) were chosen to attend a secondary school. As there were very few secondary schools, competition was stiff and many primary school children were left without a place in the secondary school system when the new school year began.

The top students in the CEE were automatically selected for the top schools on the island. The top school for boys was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Boys Grammar School. It’s female equivalent was the St Vincent and the Grenadines Girls High School. Both of these schools were—and still are—located in the capital city and adjacent to each other.

The CEE was therefore a life changing event for many children, especially for those who lived in the country side. Once they passed well and were selected for a “town school”, it was a whole new life about to begin. For example, in my own case, my first trip into town on my own was only as a result of passing the CEE well enough to be placed at a secondary school in the town.

I can still vividly recall upon leaving the school premises after school one day during the first week of classes, feeling horrified because I wasn’t seeing the landmarks I had memorized. Luckily, panic gave way to calm as something inside told me to just follow the other students for a while. It turned out the landmarks which I had mentally encoded were on another street farther away from the school.

Forgive my enthusiastic running ahead of myself there. Let me resume the reflection on the topic at hand. Age played a significant role in deciding who would write the Common Entrance Examination. Most of my classmates in Junior 5 (Common Entrance Class, as we called it back then) had two and even three chances to write this exam. Me? I had only one.

So I told myself that I was going to either Form 1 or Senior 1. It was some kind of 1 for me. Now Senior 1 was the next primary school class after Junior 5, occupied by those who either failed the Common Entrance Exam or who were ineligible to write the Common Entrance Exam in the first place.

Besides one’s age, academic ability played a huge role in determining who would end up in the “Common Entrance Class”. As I was usually placing first in my primary school class (and I still have a report from my Junior 4 class to prove it) I was automatically selected to go to the Junior 5A which was the group who would be prepared to write the exam.

And even in this large Common Entrance Class (there were over twenty of us), the teacher split the class into a smaller group 1 and a comparatively larger group 2. Group one was seen as the group with the higher likelihood of passing the CEE.  Although students from both groups would eventually write the exam, only six of us in all passed: two boys and four girls.

My best friend and I were the two lucky boys that year. I can still remember that some days before the exam, he must have seen my worried looks, he said to me,”Ashford, don’t worry, If I pass you are going to pass, too.”

That really cheered me up because I knew he was just as bright as I was. (I was always fortunate in school to experience peer power rather than peer pressure).

In my time in primary school the Common Entrance Exam was sat on the first Friday in May. In my year the date was Friday May 1, 1987. As I lived in the rural Marriaqua valley and attended the Evesham Methodist School, I had to journey to the nearby village of Cane End to write the Common Entrance Exam.

And that was another life changer that the CEE facilitated. It was the first time in my life I would be sitting in a classroom with other students from other schools. You can imagine how utterly foreign I felt, never accustomed to being around strangers and suddenly having  to write the most important exam of my life in a room with strange classmates and equally strange teachers and invigilators.

I wonder if that made some students over the years freeze with fear and failed the exam?

Anyway, I left home bright and early that morning and walked with my older brother through the London short cut over to Carriere, a neighbouring village, through another shortcut called “Bottom Road” and then on to Cane End.

As early as I was, some of my classmates were already there, and that helped a great deal in calming my fears. That day proved to be a very fun day where socializing was concerned. Not that I made any new friends, but that day I discovered those long hot dog sausages that tasted like heaven to me. I remember buying at least three different ones.

That made me fall in love with that school (it was the Marriaqua Secondary School, now called  The St Joseph Convent Marriaqua). I told myself I did want to come to this school and eat hot dogs—if I passed the CEE.

My CEE number was 276. We had four exam papers that day. The first exam began at 9:00 AM and the final exam ended at 2:30 PM.

I think the exam papers were English, Maths, General Paper and Science.

One other thing I must mention about the actual exam day. I had developed the habit of bowing my head and praying before writing an exam (a practice I still follow today). At first, several of my foreign classmates joked and made fun of my silent prayer.

But after a moment I realized the room was very quiet. Thinking that maybe a teacher had entered the room, I opened my eyes, and found much to my surprise that many of the other children had their heads bowed in silent prayer as well.

For some reason that day, the girls from my primary school class ran on ahead of us when we were ready to go home. So I had only the company of my male classmates. It made me sad at first but then I forgot about it as we started to raid and pick mangoes like joke from the many mango trees that we met on our way home. We had taken a longer route home, going through Mesopotamia (also called Mespo), La Croix and then back to Evesham, passing our primary school on the way).

The 1987 Common Entrance Examination results were released on Friday June 19th. I know because up to this day I have a copy of the results which were printed in the sole local newspaper at the time.

I remember on that Friday morning while walking to school a female school mate of mine ran out of her home in a place we called “Tanchin” and said breathlessly to me: “Ashford, you pass! You pass Common Entrance!”

Well that took away all my nerves and fears. She also told me of two other persons from my school who had passed. I never found out how that girl knew I passed but I can only assume that there was an adult in her home who worked with the newspaper or with the ministry of education.

So by the time the teacher got to school with the results, I was no longer afraid about whether or not I had passed. However, that day proved the last day of my primary education because my mother decided it was not productive for me to go back to school after that.

But I can still see in my mind’s eye some of my classmates literally crying because they had failed the exam. I wept inside for them too, because to fail Common Entrance in those days was to fail at getting a secondary school education.

It has been many years since I wrote the Common Entrance Examination. Now this year, 2013, has been the last year the Common Entrance Examination was used. Since the year 2005 every primary school child who wrote the exam was being placed in a secondary school.

It made those of us who had to toil so strenuously feel a bit cheated; however, it is life and it seems many of the present day children do not appreciate this “free ride” to a secondary education. So many of them are unable to read well and still don’t care about how they perform, even though they know they come from poor families.

In our time, we tried hard to make something of ourselves in secondary school because it was clear to us that we had been given an opportunity which many others of our own age never got. But today’s crop of primary school leavers seems content with just  cursing F-words, playing with their electronically expensive gadgets and trying to find somebody to have sex with. My, how times and values have changed!

Finally, in June this year, I was saddened when Iheard the obituary of the man who was my head teacher at the Evesham Methodist School. His name was Bernard Williams. I still have his signature on my report card I mentioned earlier.

Last year he actually visited the church I attend (he was a Gideon and had come to promote the distribution of Bibles), and we had a very memorable talk—going back down memory lane. One of the last things he taught us was a simple poem. He just came into the class, wrote it on the blackboard and then left as suddenly and as quietly as he had entered.

The poem read:

“There are four things that come not back—a sped arrow, a spoken word, a past life and a neglected opportunity—H.E. Longfellow”.

I have never forgotten that poem.

But when I heard his obituary I was also pleasantly surprised that it also said “…better known as ‘Master Willie’ ”.

That was his nickname that we were all terrified to call him. But somehow I believed he smiled from heaven because he realized he was more than that nickname.

Interestingly, one of my primary school classmates who now lives in New York, came across my blog a few days after his death. I told my lost-and-found primary school buddy about our head teacher’s death and we quietly reflected on those good old days.

Oh yes, from next year the Common Entrance Examination is to be replaced by an examination called Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment, the CPEA.

The slaughter of young children, ages five to ten, in Newton, Connecticut, USA, yesterday has been the latest in a violent spate of shootings in public places traditionally known as safe havens and violence free. young lone gunmen have shot and killed innocent people in schools, church, a movie theatre and even in their homes. Everybody wants an answer to the WHY question whenever these atrocities happen.

I believe the answer is that the American society, in all its liberal new age movements for equal rights, freedom of speech, lifestyles and actions is beginning to pay the piper for such radically tolerant societies. The unfortunate thing is that America is a world leader. We have a local saying here in St Vincent that when you see your neighbour’s house on fire you must wet your own house as a preventive measure. What we see erupting in America represent the slow and steady push of the social magma and lava of social violence and intolerance being hugged delightfully by a new breed of young people, eager to identify themselves as separate from the generation which preceded them.

Each weekend the American society, and the rest of the world, want to know how the box office did as regards new movies of entertainment. Hollywood has captured us so powerfully well with their non stop on-screen action, violence, revenge, explosions, betrayal, gang pacts and glorified pariahs that those actually seeking social reprieve in the real world are seeing violence as the most gratifying solution. After all, it works so very well on television, right?

The practical importance of values such as respect for human life, having pleasant relationships with one another, extending  and accepting forgiveness, actually TALKING and LISTENING courteously to the other person  are all being marginalized. In their place new values of revenge, self centeredness and violent reticence are now shining on the stove top of the social blue print of the twenty-first century American society.

Where do we go from here? On this tangent, I’m afraid that violence will get much more prevalent before it becomes non-existent. I suggest that the American authorities begin to implement new and never before used, security measures at all public places which traditionally have no connection to violence. For example, what is in place to prevent a shooting or murder spree aboard a cruise ship in international waters? Is “America’s favourite pastime” safe at the many public venues where base-ball is played so regularly? And what about concerts, parks and home for the elderly?

If security measures are only changed at venues after a mass shooting has happened, then that is just playing catch up. These mass murders are only effective when they come as a surprise at places where the last thing on the victims’ minds is dying.

Somebody also has to be brave and wise enough to stop the glorification of guns in America, be it in the movies or in the gun shops. So far, Americans have chosen to sacrifice the lives of their innocent loved ones for the sake of gun and ammunition profits. America, why would you prefer to lose your citizens rather than lose your money?

While many people are now expressing their grieving support with the American people, I am using this blog post to turn a light on a path that may not be what America wants to see but which can keep many of the innocent people reading this alive so that they may succumb to a natural death at their appointed time.

 

save the future

“School shootings are in the news again. An Ohio teenager opened fire on five classmates, killing three students and injuring two others (see raw video from scene at Chardon High School). In Seattle, the 9-year-old boy who brought a gun to school and seriously injured a classmate when it accidentally discharged in his backpack was released on bail, after he appeared in court wearing an orange jumpsuit, in tears.

Children are injured and murdered every day, but school violence carries a symbolic potency because we like to think of schools as safe havens from the harshness of adult life. It’s horrifying to think that the institutions to which we entrust our children for hours every day could be a place of injury or even death.

(MORE: A Parent’s Perspective on the Ohio Shootings: All About Gun Safety in the Home)

But our focus on the word school — and even on whether the shooter was bullied by classmates, as it appears was the case in Ohio — obscures a key issue. The shooters didn’t get their guns at school. The guns weren’t fashioned in wood shop. The guns came from home, and they were obtained by adults.

Politicians and taxpayers like to hold teachers accountable for their students’ failures. Most of the public’s dissatisfaction with education seems to circle back to what’s wrong with teachers, and the assumption that drives our endless rounds of flagellation and reform is the belief that a child’s fate rests largely in the hands of the teacher in whose care he or she spends approximately 1,000 hours per year.

Yet the remaining 7,760 hours are on someone else’s watch: the parents. That’s right, children spend on average only about 11% of their childhood lives in school.

But we rarely talk honestly about what can happen during the other eight-ninths of their waking and even sleeping hours. Children arrive at school poorly nourished and too fatigued to work. They spend too much time on television and too little on exercise. They are poorly socialized in ways that inhibit learning and kindness. They also bring unsecured weapons to school and use them on innocent people, including, sometimes, themselves.

(MORE: Eighth-Grader Killed by Police: What Went Wrong)

There’s an eerie void in our discussions of school violence. Where are the adults? Where is the same cry for accountability in parents when things go wrong at home that we have for teachers when things go wrong at school? We aren’t suggesting that one human being can be responsible for every misstep a child makes. Nor are we suggesting that parents shouldn’t be allowed to make their own, often serious mistakes without fear of being criminalized.

But children are being injured and killed through the shameful negligence of the adults who are responsible for them. Roughly one-third of households with children report owning at least one gun. Forty-three percent of these homes report keeping firearms in an unlocked place, while only 39% of these homes keep the guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition, as recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics and many gun-safety advocates.”

To read this article in its entirety, click on the link below. It is an article you should read as you empower your critical thinking skills.

School Shootings: Do We Blame Parents When Kids Have Guns? | TIME Ideas | TIME.com

Ryan White

I never knew Ryan White while he lived but like so many who have come to learn of his life in the years following his death I am committed to celebrate and promote his mission.

Ryan White died at age eighteen, a time when the average person is expecting to just begin living—the sky is the limit in early adulthood. But Ryan never had this luxury.

It seems his life was meant to be lived for humanity’s moral education and edification. Ryan White was a born haemophiliac who eventually picked up the HIV/AIDS virus when he was just age 13 back in 1984.

Because the disease was new and therefore unknown at the time, Ryan was unfortunately subjected to gross resentment, isolation, hatred and prejudice because of his innocently positive status.

Even within the walls of his church was this young champion of human rights being victimized and made a pariah.

But I am so very glad that this often lonely teenager never gave up on trying to make the world a better place for all people, regardless of their health condition.

Eventually, Ryan became a national spokesperson on and for AIDS in the renowned United States of America. Along the way, he made several high-profile friends including entertainers, movie stars and politicians.

Ryan White never asked to be made a famous person; he just wanted a normal life for himself, his sister and mother. But he taught the world how to face crises with daily hope and perseverance.

If you have not yet read Ryan White’s autobiography you do need to get a copy like since yesterday. I guarantee you that it is a book that will positively impact your life and enable you to value your own existence and that of your fellow men with new understanding purpose.

We all would have wished for Ryan White to be alive today. We all miss him so very much. We all feel badly not being able to be there with him as he faced his final illness.

That is why each one of us who get to know how and why Ryan White lived and died must now pledge to keep the flame of his life burning brightly.

It is a torch we must pass on to upcoming generations.

Ryan never got to enjoy many of the simple pleasures and happiness that should precipitate the life of a teenager. In his book, My Own Story, Ryan explains how it was even challenging getting a date and finding a girlfriend. Most teenagers today will find it incomprehensible to think of dying when they have not even had a girlfriend or had sex.

Throughout his struggles and travels, Ryan kept pushing for the public’s acceptance of people with AIDS, who were just as scared and confused as those without the killer disease.

So even being expelled from school, being victim of vampire-like rumours and having a bullet penetrate his home window, Ryan White refused to keep quiet and disappear from life just because many people thought he was not fit to be among them.

The way we celebrate Christmas has been changing quite a bit over the last decade or two. The older citizens would tell us of their days of serenading during the night’s cold hours. Sleeping families would be awaken by a chorus of voices echoing Christmas songs in the lonely and otherwise quiet night.

The use of spirited alcohol has continued to be a favourite drinking choice during this season. So, too, have the traditional black cake and home made bread remained with us. Those of us who grew up in the 20th century would have looked forward to playing with our toy guns. After lunch on Christmas Day, it would have been much “popping” of gun shots among the village boys as they played Shooting.

Of course, toy guns have since been banned after it became clear that the real guns were being heard more than the toys.

A recent addition to Christmas now is the opening up of the stores on Sunday afternoons for shoppers. At first it was a rather relaxing new experience to go into town on a Sunday with one’s family or just to take in the quiet scenes. But now Sunday afternoon shopping has more crowds than even the national Carnival held in the city each year.

It has become a definite boom for the commercial sector. But it also shows that for many people, the importance of Christmas is directly linked to commercial spending and not on heavenly blessings. As the world’s economy finds it harder to keep money in the pockets of the consumer it is safe to predict that Christmas as we know it today is dying a commercial death.

Because Christmas means buying and getting all things physical and new,   when money is hard to come by then persons will not  be able to “celebrate” Christmas any more.

It is then up to those of us who know what Christmas is all about to celebrate Jesus all year round. Our commemoration of His birth in December must never be left to the business community’s ability to afford some sales promotions.

 

if men don't cry...society will

Western societies continue to evolve on all levels. The shifting focus and inter dependency of gender roles on our social well being is taking a somewhat obviously subtle turn towards violence and retribution. In the twentieth century it was the women and children who were regarded as being the helpless ones in the context of situations involving domestic violence or relationship breakdown.

The empowerment of our independently driven women over the last decade has brought a fair deal of balance to the vulnerabilities of the sexes. In fact, our females have almost been enclosed by a legal regulatory frame work that acts as a force shield from the traditional domestic disputes and conflicts.

The socialization of both genders has seen our females in general not being invited to empathize with any emotional vulnerabilities of the opposite sex. The men also have been ruthlessly trained that a critical criteria which determines manhood is to not show any sense of emotional fear, intimacy or failure, especially as it relates to their relationships.

The unwelcomed reality is that after many decades of man being the sexually dominant figure and the economic centrepiece in the home, men are now having to face some hard changes. Their women are no longer willing to just be a frightened puppy when the treacherous situations of cheating and insensitivity pop up in their intimacies. Ladies are actually prepared now to move out and move on with their lives, largely due to the supportive frame work put in place over the years.

On the other hand, men are finding that, as their home lives deteriorate, they have no one or nowhere to really go to for some sort of solace or resurgence. They definitely cannot approach their brethren with whom they hang out and share their inner pain or pending family loss. The vibes from the Gaza culture and Hollywood instant retributive side leaves them with a seemingly easy and cost effective alternative of violence and swift murder.

Each time a man goes on the killing spree and slaughters his girl friend or woman there exists another man somewhere in the dark heartlands of despair, fear and frustration with his own family who is all the more encouraged to follow suit and rid the world of the persons he sees as representing his pain and loss. Such persons in effect have taken away his manhood. And a man without his manhood is no man.

The growing sense of domestic alienation of our men and young boys is sending a strong wake up call for balanced emotional support for the male gender. Many men now seem to have so very little to live for within a happy monogamous relationship. It is far easier for them to just see the need to satisfy their current sex drive and not necessarily to value “settling down” with one woman and their resulting offsprings.

The many teenage boys who have little choice but to become a man before they see puberty because of a missing father represents a flashing amber light in the social dynamics. Upcoming is a generation of tomorrow’s men who have much disappointment, anger, hurt and confusion as to why their should-be role models never stuck around practically in their lives. They have to somehow deal with all the resulting pain before they can even think of having their own successful family.

Women and men have been hurt so much in relationships that a growing percentage of both sexes is starting to have little or no expectations of a future relationship that is built on stability, trust and commitment. The sweetness has been removed from many homes and so there are little incentives to anchor the heart there.

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