Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Ronald Thwaites | Values and valuables

Published:Monday | June 17, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Students of Ascot Primary School in Greater Portmore St. Catherine, participate in ‘boys’ day’ event. Ronald Thwaites writes:  Young people need influence and example towards personal and civic virtue.
Students of Ascot Primary School in Greater Portmore St. Catherine, participate in ‘boys’ day’ event. Ronald Thwaites writes: Young people need influence and example towards personal and civic virtue.

It was career day at a large high school in the western cane belt. There was I pontificating to the 10th and 11th Graders about the nobility and good purpose of careers in agriculture. This seemed most appropriate given the environment from which most of the students came. They listened politely – even the girls. Until … .

Halfway through the session a shiny red and silver crissas growled its way into the school yard. A young guy emerged, later identified as a recent graduate of the same school. As the attention of my audience shifted to what was happening outside, he flashed his bashment threads and displayed the gold adorning his wrists, neck and one prominent tooth.

That was the effective end of my career day exhortation about the profitability of working the land. The visitor was who they wanted to see and to become; not someone who talked about the worthwhile hardships of growing coffee and raising livestock.

Later I engaged the guy. He had transported several older female students who he was ‘checking’ to class. He openly defended his profession of scamming and berated a progressive (sic) man like me for not supporting “reparations”. Disarmingly, he related how he had “points” in BPOs and hotels who provided data and, he asserted, amply shared in the proceeds of trade. “Mi no teef like palitishan”.

“Aren’t you afraid of the police”? “No”, he said curtly and with a smirk, before peeling off through the gate next to the canefield. Before that, he had glanced sympathetically at my 10 year old SUV. “A dat you drive, big minister”?


Last week the very wise Livern Wright of the Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, made the important distinction between the valuables about which we teach children and the values which we largely ignore. Since the craze is for money and ‘t’ings at any cost, then the children at my school turned their attention away from me to the right direction. Young people need influence and example towards personal and civic virtue. Our schools are not equipped to lead them.


The nexus between home and school is not sufficiently established to be able to assume a serviceable partnership. Without it, the processions of mal-adjusted ‘graduates’ this month will morph into the underperformers, the cannon-fodder for criminal or police bullets, and worst of all, the socially, intellectually and spiritually inadequate danger-points of our society.


During his tenure as a member of Parliament, Damion Crawford was one of the very few representatives who went beyond back to school assistance and actually taught remedial classes to good effect. He is correct that the education sector is the cornerstone to a peaceful and prosperous society; the major key to national security. And that is more than is acknowledged by many who preen in high government offices. But the additional money he says the sector needs does not have to come from new taxes at all.


If the educational and training bureaucracy and the school system were comprehensively improved, as Professor Patterson recommends, huge savings would be realised – enough to cover the extra $25 billion Damion assesses. Recently highlighted theft and profligacy in the state sector, if checked, would also yield plenty cash. And I will not yield in insisting that parents above the poverty line, must prioritise educational spend beyond the tax and in priority over bashment, fashions and liquor. Money need not be the biggest obstacle to deliver inclusive quality education.

If he ever becomes Minister of Education, Damion will find himself incapable of effecting the culture change needed for transformation unless he can forge a difficult alliance with political opponents and professionals with intransigent personalist agendas. Mediocrity, complacency with failure and inequality are as deeply entrenched as King Charles.

Our unwillingness to take the Patterson findings seriously while we indulge in the self-deception that implementation of them is well underway, will be sadly evident today as once more, the anguish of the PEP results is experienced by probably twenty thousand families with cruelly disappointed young people. “Cruel”? you object. Yes, pain and disadvantage which are avoidable, repeated and visited on the most vulnerable, deserves the description of cruelty.


For the sake of transparency, scholarship and salvaging legitimacy, the verbatim notes of the Constitutional Reform Committee ought to be available to the public. Why not? If the government wants the citizenry to trust the process and the word of the CRC, then show us those words. Let us read the representations made on our behalf.

It is only fear and a subliminal acknowledgement of their illegitimacy that would prevent the full disclosure of the views expressed by persons who have been styled as representatives or experts. Who decides, and with what right, how much the public should know?

By their secrecy and arrogance, those who govern are forfeiting already diminished moral authority not only for themselves but for future administrations as well. If you look at the warp of public opinion and declining participation, this government is already a victim of the very malady they continue to perpetrate by how this misguided reform effort is being conducted. If there is no radical shift towards public engagement, future administrations will suffer the same fate.


Relatedly, while we work up a tizzy about Kartel’s fate, Mark’s passport and the alleged dalliances of our leaders, check out the shame of our construction sector being consigned to the ‘what-lef’ of one of the largest road rehabilitation projects in our history. Since only foreign contractors can qualify to ‘Spark’, the conclusion must be that, without the lavish concessions demanded by external contractors, Jamaican road builders do not have the backitive or competence to be any more than their satellites?

And who is listening to the droll Mr Hunter of the NWA warning how improbable will be the efficient (and honest) spending of $45 billion on roads in all constituencies over a 24 month period in the midst of an election campaign. He should know. Don’t we see what happened with the South Coast Highway and Cornwall Regional Hospital projects. When leaders do these things, is it surprising that those bright students I told you about, follow fashion?

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at The UWI. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.