Arising from the courts system is a case study that crystallizes the severe struggles of the Cayman Islands public school system.
When we discuss education, we tend to hone in on the smallest space possible – the pedagogical connection between a teacher and a student, where the act of learning actually occurs. But in order for that fundamental “nexus of learning” to exist, broader factors must of course be taken into account.
For example, the physical learning space should be comfortable and free of distractions; administrators should support teachers and enable them to perform their key function (“teaching”) with as few obstacles as possible. Outside the school system, public officials should have the proper priorities in place to promote broader societal health, safety and accountability, that, in turn, will foster the educational mission. And, in the home, parents should be the first, second and last line of defense to ensure their children are responsible, well-mannered and prepared to capitalize on their educational opportunities.
The case of the primary school teacher charged with assault – for holding a student’s ears – highlights failures at every level, resulting in injustice for the teacher, for the student, and ultimately, for the schools and Cayman as a whole.
As with many catastrophic avalanches, this disaster began with the equivalent of a single flake of snow. In April 2016 at a government primary school, the principal made an announcement over the public address system. The teacher told the class to listen, augmenting her message by telling her students to hold on to their ears. One 7-year-old boy didn’t follow instructions, so the teacher held onto his ears for him, asking him if he knew they were for listening. An errant slip of her fingernail resulted in the boy “suffering” what was described in court as being a scratch, a cut that did not break the skin, a bruise or an abrasion.
The boy went home and told his mother what happened. The mother complained to the school, and – instead of the matter being settled with a mild admonishment of both the teacher and the student – the matter somehow ended up before Crown prosecutors.
In so many instances, when the allegation involves a machete (instead of a fingernail), injuries requiring hospitalization (instead of a “scratch”) or, worst of all, serious physical or sexual abuse of children, it would be easier to get through the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys than to get a case through the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and into the courts.
And yet, of all the substantive matters that pile up in their inbox, public prosecutors picked the case of the teacher’s fingernail to pursue before a magistrate – who, in the only sane moment in the whole ordeal, declined to record a conviction against the teacher.
In the meantime, while charges were pending against the teacher for more than a year, the teacher lost her job and her reputation.
There’s one more detail in the story worth highlighting: In the teacher’s defense, her attorney produced a letter the 7-year-old boy had written to the teacher, in which he stated his apparent affection by saying, “You are sexy and hot.”
Now, since the boy is only 7, his cherubic innocence must be presumed. Simply put, the boy was trying to tell the teacher he liked her as a teacher. What is so troubling is he expressed those sentiments using a prematurely sexualized vocabulary – “sexy,” “hot” – which is indicative of his environment and influences outside of school.
Instead of pursuing criminal charges against a teacher, why wasn’t the boy’s mother’s attention focused on addressing this bright red flag in her son’s own words?
Except for harming the teacher, what did the prosecution accomplish? It certainly didn’t help the student. And it sends a deleterious message to other government teachers, potentially unruly children and delusional parents who subsist on the toxic fantasy of “my child can do no wrong.”
Taken altogether, the salient question does not concern this particular teacher or this particular student, but whether or not Cayman is serious about reforming our under-performing schools.