No bad hair, no bad talk­ing!

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

ICOULDN’T get a job teach­ing English in any gov­ern­ment school. It’s not just be­cause I’m over­age. It’s my hair. I’m sport­ing a mo­hawk. And it’s coloured. Green­ish. Not pros­per­ity green but a more sub­tle shade – teal. That’s one of those colours your av­er­age Ja­maican man just can­not com­pre­hend. It’s clearly not in his black and white colour scheme. By the way, gen­tle­men, teal is blue-green – a colour def­i­nitely de­signed to con­fuse you.

The last time I went to my hair colourist Eu­gent at Pulse, I met a pri­mary school teacher in the salon who gave me bill and re­ceipt on the hair is­sue at her school. Teach­ers can­not colour their hair. But she has de­fied the rules. She has a lovely patch of three colours at the back of her head. Way back! When she has to speak with author­ity fig­ures at school, she makes sure to back away. It’s not def­er­ence. It’s cau­tion. She can’t take the chance that her un­der­ground hair colour might at­tract at­ten­tion. She could be fired.

I had a good laugh. But the more I thought about it, the more ridicu­lous it seemed. Adults must be free to choose how they style their hair. Even for work. Why are schools sti­fling cre­ativ­ity? What’s wrong with a splash or two of colour in your hair that gives you pos­i­tive vibes? And what about all those self-de­ceiv­ing old peo­ple who dye their hair black? Isn’t that an unnatural colour for grey-haired peo­ple? They fool no one with their rather op­ti­mistic young hair on their old face. They don’t know they would look much younger with a hair colour that matches the age of their face.

RIGID STAN­DARDS

Then don’t get me wrong. I’m all for school uni­forms. For stu­dents, not teach­ers. Es­pe­cially in our class­con­scious so­ci­ety, uni­forms help to level the play­ing field. But they can’t com­pletely erase class dif­fer­ences. There are still hi­er­ar­chies. I re­mem­ber the son of one my friends ask­ing me get a back­pack for him on my trav­els. But he in­sisted that it must be JanS­port, the sta­tus sym­bol at the time. He was not pre­pared to get stuck with a pre­sum­ably in­fe­rior brand.

And as for who comes to school by bus or car! But it all de­pends on the car. An­other one of my friends told me that her daugh­ters used to ask her to drop them off at the cor­ner so they wouldn’t turn up at school in her lickle old car. It was, ap­par­ently, worse than com­ing by bus! Well, you know she made sure to take them right to the school gate ev­ery sin­gle day. She would not put up with their folly.

Athough I do sup­port uni­forms for stu­dents, I can­not de­fend uni­for­mity. Even for stu­dents, there must be room for in­di­vid­u­al­ity. But it’s so much eas­ier to reg­u­late con­form­ity than to cul­ti­vate cre­ativ­ity. School ad­min­is­tra­tors ex­cel at mak­ing up rules. It makes life so easy for them. All staff and stu­dents must march in a sin­gle line of re­lent­less com­pli­ance.

Those creative types who stray out of line, for what­ever rea­son, have to be po­liced. They must be forced to conform. The school sys­tem sim­ply can­not ac­com­mo­date de­vi­a­tion from its rigid stan­dards. De­vi­a­tion de­mands re­flec­tion. De­viants ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions about why things are done a cer­tain way. And they don’t ac­cept fool­ish an­swers.

SIGN LAN­GUAGE

Then even more dis­tress­ing than the hair story was the pri­mary-school teacher’s re­port about prob­lems com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her stu­dents the first week of school. The chil­dren sim­ply don’t un­der­stand English. I can’t re­mem­ber her ex­act words but she said some­thing like, “Chil­dren, let us go out­side!” Not a soul moved. Then she trans­lated: “Mek wi go outa yard!” Ev­ery­body im­me­di­ately re­sponded.

Ja­maican re­ally isn’t English. We con­tinue to think of our lo­cal lan­guage as noth­ing but a lit­tle bad English that can eas­ily be fixed up. So we don’t teach English ef­fi­ciently as a sec­ond lan­guage. It’s up to creative teach­ers to find a way to get through to stu­dents. The first­grade teacher said she some­times has to re­sort to sign lan­guage to get the stu­dents to un­der­stand English.

Some of us re­ally don’t want things to change. I was re­cently told about an ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion who an­nounced that she wasn’t bothered by the low pass rates in CXC maths and English. If ev­ery­body passed those sub­jects, who would be her helper and her daugh­ter’s helper? The op­pres­sion must con­tinue from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.

This woman has such lit­tle re­spect for house­hold work­ers! She doesn’t un­der­stand that a lit­er­ate and nu­mer­ate em­ployee is an as­set. In other so­ci­eties, skilled do­mes­tic staff are paid de­cent wages. But this ed­u­ca­tor prefers low-skill work­ers she can un­der­pay. And she doesn’t mind if dem chat bad. Dem must just work out dem soul case fi nut­ten.

Bad hair and bad talk­ing have a lot in com­mon. Bad hair isn’t just coloured hair worn in the wrong style. Bad hair grows up and out. Not down. It’s black peo­ple’s hair. The same black peo­ple who talk bad. In­stead of polic­ing hair, our schools should be mak­ing sure that all stu­dents know the lan­guage of in­struc­tion. It’s what’s in the chil­dren’s heads that mat­ters. Not what’s on them.

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