On May 30, three male teachers at Vauxhall High School allegedly held down a schoolboy against his will and forcibly assaulted him. No, it was not sexual exploitation. But it was certainly a demeaning abuse of power. The adults violently cut the child’s hair while he kicked and screamed in protest. Why did these authority figures feel entitled to act in this shameful way?
I suppose they had determined that the student was a ‘leggo beast’ and it was their duty to tame him. But it is their own behaviour that is beastly. No adult should ever turn a child into an animal by robbing him of his dignity. Especially over a hairstyle!
Vauxhall High School has a dress policy that includes strict rules about how boys’ hair must be groomed. I gather that hair must be the same length all over the head. So no funky hairstyles are allowed. In addition, hair can’t be more than two inches high.
How did the powers that be arrive at that arbitrary figure? Why would another inch of hair not be acceptable? This regulation seems to be a direct attack on black hair, which grows up and out, not straight down. Is the two-inch rule equally applied to all kinds of hair?
I haven’t had a chance to talk to the student who was attacked by the very people who should have been protecting him at school. I would have liked to ask him what his hairstyle meant to him. I’m not assuming he has a grand philosophical reason for wanting his hair to grow past the two-inch limit.
Perhaps, the student was just plain unruly. I was told that he’s a bleacher and wears tight pants. As if those are clear signs that he’s a born troublemaker! But why did this young man feel so passionately about his hairstyle that he had to break the rules? I guess he’s a stylist for whom image is important. Why shouldn’t he be able to express his sense of style at school?
Students whose creativity is highly developed are inclined to be unruly. They are also likely to become the filmmakers, musicians, fashion designers, hair stylists, entertainment lawyers, etc, of the future. They need special care, not abuse. I think all high schools should identify creative students who can be allowed some freedom of expression.
Dress codes, for example, could be flexibly applied to these students. It is pure folly to cling to the superstition that wearing a school uniform and following all the grooming rules will guarantee academic achievement. In fact, all students could be allowed to dress casually one day per month. It just might enhance creativity.
SCHOOLS FOR THE ARTS
We keep talking about the creative industries as an essential component of economic development. But we don’t seem to understand that we have to nurture creativity. School should not be an institution that forces all students to fit into the same mould. There should be room for individuality.
It’s time for the Ministry of Education to establish schools for the arts that would allow creative students to learn in an environment that suits their temperament. There should be at least one school in each parish that would produce talented students, ready to contribute to national development through the creative industries.
Last Friday, I was fortunate to see the University Players’ brilliant production, ‘Garvey the Musical, Roots Reggae Rock’, written and directed by Michael Holgate. It was a special performance for students from Brooklyn College and The Queen’s School.
Holgate, who is tutor-coordinator at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, writes a mythic story. Garvey comes back to life and is alarmed to realise that black people still have deep-rooted issues with identity. Skin colour remains a perplexing issue as young black people say they hate black skin.
One of the most intriguing characters is Jonathan, who refuses to answer to that name. He prefers to be called Scrubs, for obvious reasons. He’s a committed bleacher and a DJ who is dying to ‘buss’ like his idol Vybz Kartel. And, by the way, I keep making the point that if there had been a recording studio at Calabar and if deejaying had been on the music curriculum, Adidja Palmer might not now be imprisoned in the role of Vybz Kartel. Instead of ‘sculling’ school to go to studio, he might have gone to university as well.
The conversations between Garvey and Scrubs are most entertaining. When Scrubs hears the story of Garvey’s two wives who were once best friends, he calls the national hero a “gyallis”. It’s a struggle for Scrubs to understand Garvey’s assertion of an ‘African’ identity. As a youth in Jamaica, Scrubs knows that Africa is a continent of shame. Eventually, he comes to understand Garvey’s message of race pride with the help of the ancestors.
Frederic Aurelien, a freshman student at Brooklyn College, told me that Garvey’s Pan-African vision was still relevant for Americans. And Amelia Smith, a grade nine student at Queen’s, said that Garvey’s message was applicable to her today. This inspiring play should tour the country as one of the premier events for Jamaica 55. And Garvey’s empowering message must again resound across the world: “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will!”