EDITORIAL – A no-compromise commitment to public education

“Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems.”
– Dr. M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled”

The Alameda Unified School District School Board, which presides over Oakland, California, and cities in the San Francisco Bay area, this week amended its student dress code to allow students to attend classes in halter tops, tube tops, ripped jeans and pajamas. Sombreros apparently are out (offensive to certain ethnic groups).

In contrast in Cayman, where students will return to public schools on Monday after their summer break, they also will be adjusting to a revised dress code, announced on Monday by Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Education Council Chairman Dan Scott.

No tube tops here. The code itself is no-nonsense – uniforms, pants worn at waist height (not halfway down the butt), short hair (no Mohawks or shaved lines or words), no flip-flops and no jewelry other than watches. Clearly, this new policy is about more than simply attire and couture. It is intended to send an unambiguous message that the classroom is a serious sanctum for learning, order and decorum.

It is a message we wholeheartedly support.

In recent years, teachers in exit interviews just before they depart the Cayman school system have consistently cited lack of discipline, especially at the high school level, as a key factor in their decision to leave. One quote is illustrative of many others – and of the problem:

“I think it is of great detriment to not have an alternative education building that is large enough to house the students on island that need such a thing. This resulted in students that had absolutely no interest in pursuing an education, wandering the grounds, disrupting the learning of others.”

According to a recent report on Cayman’s primary schools, the discipline problem was evident even in Cayman’s lower grades. Sir John A. Cumber Primary School was singled out: “Poor student behavior and teachers’ ineffective classroom management were common features of the lessons observed in Year 4-6 classes.”

Let us be clear: Effective learning cannot take place in a disorderly or chaotic environment. Period. No single student, or clusters of multiple students, should EVER be allowed to disrupt the education of an entire class. Toughness is called for here – “understanding” can come later.

Most important, principals, the education ministry, the education bureaucracy (meaning the administration), and parents, must privately, and publicly, support our teachers in their quest to do what they were hired to do – teach. Everything else is secondary to that basic mission.

As we begin the new school year, we would encourage parents to take a MUCH greater role in the education of their children and the performance of their schools. We are a huge supporter of competent caring teachers – we think they deserve, and will get, a free pass through the Pearly Gates – but we are not so naïve to think that ALL teachers meet the high standards we must demand.

Again, we will be direct and declarative: Bad teachers must be identified and fired – no “retraining,” lateral reassignment, transfers to “administration,” or never-ending labor appeals – none of that. All good teachers know who the bad teachers are. So do the principals. Ask them with this thought in mind: An ignorant teacher multiplies his or her ignorance by the size of their classes.

We can assure our readers that going forward, the Compass will be reporting much more frequently and in much greater detail on the performance of our public schools – and on those charged with preparing our precious children for meaningful and productive lives.

In 1980, Compass Publisher David R. Legge wrote in “D” (Dallas) Magazine the following in an editorial entitled “This Chaos Must End”:

“The seeds of social unrest are sown in the classroom but flower in the street.”

We still believe that, and we must not allow it to happen in our beloved isles Cayman.