A LOOK AT OUR CHILDREN’S REALITIES AND WHAT WE NEED TO REMEMBER
“What you know ‘bout stress?”
“Yuh nuh have a ting fi bodda yuh.”
How often have we heard these words said, maybe to us, or to the children around us?
Have we uttered them, or even considered doing so?
I’m pretty certain, we’ve given it thought.
Before the pandemic, the average Jamaican, at least with whom I interacted, would perhaps agree that a Jamaican child could possibly be consumed with nothing more but needing to “go tek up him book and go study.” Agreed? We understood their feelings of worry and fixation with exams and only really at the end of semester or the school year. We could and would often validate their feelings of anger when family issues like separation ensued. And of course we knew the stress caused by the bullying whether it was done virtually or face-to-face.
However, since the start of the pandemic, I have come to realize just how severely stressed out our children are by those and the continuous medley of feelings they have minimal control over and are centered on and around anxiety, anger, overwhelm, unease, sickness, distrust, hurt, lack, disconnect and loss.
Here are a few examples of what realities look like:
AJ was shot. His father was also shot and later died. AJ is triggered every time there is a flare up of violence (specifically a shooting, which there is almost daily). Soldiers and policemen walk past him several times a day, with high powered rifles around their shoulders or pointing directly at him as they drive past his home within a corporate area Zone Of Special Operations. He isn’t alone feeling that way; his friends from the community and even classmates regurgitate the bloody experiences whenever he gets silent. No one knows that one day he may in fact avenge his father’s death as he has already played this out repeatedly in his mind and has committed to doing so in honour of his father.
Mariann is afraid to walk home from school every time it rains because her little neighbour, who she used to babysit sometimes. was washed away by a downpour. Guess what? It’s been raining since the start of the school year and perhaps the reason why she loses focus by midday daily. At this time, her preoccupation usually grows as the dark clouds approach and nearby sounds of thunder alert of potential danger. Her journey home is delayed and upon eventually arriving home, she is greeted with a string of bad words from her Granny who is tired of telling her to come straight home after school and to avoid the lay-laying with her friends. She can’t walk any faster and waits at the bus stop for the rain to “ease up” before venturing home. No one knows that she is crippled by the fear that she too will share the same fate as her neighbour.
The boy who lives down the lane that Mariann likes is a “good yute.” He does well in school and for the first time has done exactly what he’s been told to do: “pick up yuhself, go to school, pay attention, make sure and take notes, study yuh book” and other warnings from his mother who repeatedly admonishes “bad man” behaviour and who doesn’t want any “dunce bats” around her. And you know what? He has kept to himself, with the exception of hanging with Mariann of course, with whom he can “hold a reason.” But in the recent heavy rains, his school bag got wet and all his books (texts and notes) were soaked. By the way, have you ever seen a notebook with written notes soaked from front to back? Let me confirm that all notes are gone. Ink merges and notes look like art work. No amount of drying out can bring those notes back. His mother immediately has a stomach ache or is it chest pains? She’s not sure because she has spent every last dollar to send him back to school with the complete book list and with everything that the school said would be needed to guarantee his success. So…this “good yute” gets vex, “cyan bother” and decides to go play Ludi with the other young males on the corner and calls it quits with his school work. No one notices that he is now late for class, sitting in the back and not as engaged as he started the school year.
Little Miss has started to wear (the same) baggy long sleeved clothes all the time. This includes sweaters in the hot sun but… she’s not bleaching. Her mother claims she has gotten out of control since schools closed down for the pandemic. But unbeknownst to the community who has taken side with her mother, who now displays a vehement unwillingness to accept the fact that her new “gentleman” has been sexually assaulting her daughter, who has been cutting her wrists. No one knows her pain, about her pregnancy much less the refuge she’s sought in her new relationship with the slightly older girl who promises to never hurt her.
These examples do not exclusively reflect the sole truths that haunt our children and our edu-spaces but just begin to scratch the surface and expose how triggers serve to prevent them from moving ahead. Without an understanding of these realities, our children stay stagnant. And as a country, we miss our targets and Vision 2030 remains a pie in the sky. These same examples can escalate easily and perpetuate a series of tragedies. How quick we are to say that “dem is some big man and woman” and “what sweet dem going sour dem …RADAM.” Very rarely do we all actually do what we encourage our children to do, day in and day out.
We forget the need to:
- Pay attention
Look out for the Little Miss in your school and in your community. Think of the reasons why there has been a “change” in her behaviour? Or what could possibly make her want to wear long sleeved baggy sweaters in the Jamaican heat? Wonder why does she no longer smiles and remember that there are always signs.
- Say nice things
And I don’t ever mean telling AJ that “you shoulda dead like yuh puppa.” In fact I don’t care if his father was in fact a gunman and his mother was a prostitute. That is no reason for speaking down to the children in our spaces. Pretty often, children disrespect teachers and administrators when upon investigations they have been disrespected at length over and over. Respect begets respect so speak in ways that you want to be spoken to.
Don’t be stingy, share information that needs to be shared. If you know what has happened to Mariann and how thrown off she is by what she’s feeling, do not keep that to yourself. Tell your colleague whose class she’s in after lunch. Let us help mitigate the risk she faces.
- Play nice
And for Christ’s sake remember that we do not under any circumstance pinch, hit, fight, bite, physically and/or emotionally abuse children. Our role is always to pursue a non-violent way of engagement and as such, de-escalate circumstances always.
As we have officially begun this pandemic induced re-imagination of education, let us be guided by practicing what we preach.
by Rachael McDonald
The above comprises some of the scenarios that I have come across as I continue the work of #TransformingEducation in schools and communities across the island.