There are numerous achievements of the government-operated primary through secondary school system. We can boast of fine teachers like Emile Hunt at C. V. Bethel and dedicated administrators like Cheryl Samuels at H. O. Nash.
Amidst success stories, there are outsized failures, inadequately and partially measured by low standardized test scores and a trickle of graduates attaining diplomas.
The public education report card includes poor grades assessing the system’s inability to graduate greater numbers of students competent in English, the grammar of citizenship, and the language and practice of civility.
Martin Luther King Jr. often thundered: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The algebra of failure in our public schools -- of poor letter-grades, of poor statistics, of crime rates associated with the failures of this system -- are symptoms of conscientious stupidity by various stakeholders of public education.
If granted the responsibility and the opportunity to unshackle him and unleash his native genius, what would you do?
The meta-failure of our primary through secondary public education program involves a certain complicity propping up a system shackling and suffocating the minds, the imagination, the dreams, the entrepreneurial spirit, the curiosities – and the humanity of scores of Bahamian youth.
We are failing to cultivate critical thinking and competent individuals desperately needed in various areas of national development. We are failing to form and educate young people skilled at making a living and with the moral imagination essential to making a life more worth living.
Much of what ails public education can be arrested and reversed. At the recent US Democratic National Convention, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick inspired with this story of hope and reform:
“The Orchard Gardens Elementary School in Boston was in trouble. Its record was poor, its spirit was broken, and its reputation was a wreck. No matter how bad things were in other urban schools in the city, people would say, ‘At least we're not Orchard Gardens.’
“Today, thanks to a host of new tools...Orchard Gardens is turning itself around. Teaching standards and accountabilities are higher. The school day is longer and filled with experiential learning, art, exercise and music.
“The head of pediatric psychology from a local hospital comes to consult with faculty and parents on the toughest personal situations in students' home lives. Attendance is up, thanks to a mentoring initiative. In less than a year, Orchard Gardens went from one of the worst schools in the district to one of the best in the state. The whole school community is engaged and proud.
“So am I. At the end of my visit a year and a half ago, the first grade—led by a veteran teacher—gathered to recite Dr. King's ‘I have a dream’ speech. When I started to applaud, the teacher said, ‘Not yet.’ Then she began to ask those six- and seven-year-olds questions: ‘What does “creed” mean?’ ‘What does “nullification” mean?’ ‘Where is Stone Mountain?’ And as the hands shot up, I realized that she had taught the children not just to memorize that speech but to understand it.”
At home we are wedded to and paralyzed by a model of teaching and learning more concerned with memorization than a child’s ability to understand and think expansively.
Unless we dramatically expand experiential learning platforms and methods in our public schools, we will wring our hands, wail and gnash our teeth year after year upon the ritual release of poor national exam results.
As Opposition Leader, Perry Christie promised to double public investment in education. In office, his government is massaging this promise. During the 2012/13 national budget debate, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald outlined intended reforms in public education.
Mr. Fitzgerald is the latest in a succession of education ministers to speak boldly of what he might achieve in his ministry. His predecessors over the last decade plus can point to various accomplishments. Yet, the central challenge of public education remains: Improving the quality of teaching and learning from primary school to high school.
We are beset still by low test scores and a system of social promotion churning out thousands of students deficient in basic English and math, with tenure for too many teachers lacking competency in their subject matter as well as English.
These challenges will not yield to money alone. It is not simply the amount of dollars spent on public education that makes a difference. It is how funds are targeted that will yield better results.
Gradualism and grandstanding are the enemies of reform. Rather than bold talk, Mr. Fitzgerald will need to act boldly. As a novice minister, it will take time for him to learn the moving parts of the Education behemoth.
But he has an even steeper learning curve. So far, Mr. Fitzgerald’s public pronouncements have been more instrumental than aspirational. Moreover, what is his philosophy of education? Such a philosophy is not esoteric mumbo jumbo.
It speaks to the worldview and the point of view with which he approaches defining questions: What is the purpose of education? How do individuals learn best? Beyond the cloistered advice of his officials, the Minister may wish to do further studies.
He might immerse himself in an understanding of experiential education inclusive of the International Baccalaureate and Outward Bound. For advanced studies on how to transform primary to secondary public school education, he will want to consult a treasury of domestic expertise who blend indigenous and global insights.
Foreign consultants are often a dime a dozen, despite often being paid bookoo bucks for expertise readily available at home. The directory of local consultants the country might call on in the transition to a new model of primary through secondary public education is impressive:
Patricia Glinton Meicholas, Dr. Reginald Eldon, Dr. Elliston Rahming, Marlon Johnson, Dr. Ian Strachan, Dr. Tracey Thompson, Elise Delancey, Arlene Nash Ferguson, Joseph Darville, Casuarina McKinney, Gail Wisdom, Dr. Jacinta Higgs, Jeffrey Lloyd, Teresa Butler, John Cox, Sarah St. George, Cleophas Adderley, Lynn Gape, Mark Humes, Lisa McCartney, Alessandra Holowesko, Marvin Dames, Chris Maxey and many more.
It is a striking example of conscientious stupidity how often many confuse schooling with education, and memorization with understanding. This is the very same conscientious stupidity that blames our children and youth for our failures as adults to fashion a system of public education that provides greater access to learning and opportunity and fewer barriers to the same.