RESURRECTING DEMONS

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the sons and daughters of working-class black families attended the Berkeley Institute. They went to Berkeley because they couldn’t go to Saltus, or Bermuda High School for Girls [BHS], or Warwick Academy, or Mount Saint Agnes Academy [MSA]. They couldn’t go to these other schools because these schools didn’t accept black children – even if they were academically qualified, and even if their parents could pay the fees.

            In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of working-class black families, after five years at Berkeley, sat the same ‘external’ examinations as the children of Saltus, BHS, and Warwick. In the 1950’s and 1960’s these sons and daughters of black families passed these external exams. Often – most of the time – they got better results than the ‘other’ kids at Saltus, BHS, and Warwick.

            Racial integration and the 1970’s arrived. Some sons and daughters of black families began attending Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA. But white children did not begin turning up at Berkeley.

            In the early 1970’s the government-of-that-day closed the Bermuda Technical Institute [‘Tech’] and began to introduce the Bermuda Secondary School Certificate [BSSC]. The BSSC was intended as a replacement for the Cambridge School Certificate [CSC], set by Cambridge University; and the General Certificate of Education [GCE], set by London University.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley, still a 99.98% black school was having less success at the newer GCE’s and GCSE’s which were replacing the old CSC [Cambridge] and GCE [London].

            Had the students entering Berkeley become generically and genetically less able? No. Not at all. Nor had they become less capable. But the trend in results in these external exams had turned downwards, continually downwards. Finally, in 2000, Berkeley stopped regularly entering its students for these external exams. Berkeley’s decline had reached bottom.

            During all this time, Saltus, BHS, and Warwick Academy, whose students had not become genetically superior, had continued preparing their students and entering their students for these external exams. Their students continued to pass these exams.

            By the mid-1980’s, Berkeley students were no longer entering first rate universities and were fading from the ranks of local scholarship winners. Their places were taken by students from Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA.

            Cedarbridge Academy has no record of past success. Berkeley Institute, in this new millennium, does not produce the quality of product that it produced for most of the old millennium. Within twelve months, further up the hill from the present Berkeley Institute, there’ll be a brand-new building which will also be named as the Berkeley Institute.

            Will this expensive new building be used to house failing policies, shelter under-performing students, and provide jobs for a teaching faculty that delivers a product that is markedly inferior to the product coming out of Saltus, BHS, Warwick Academy, and MSA? If Bermuda’s public education policies don’t change – and change fast – the ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will continue to produce an inferior product.

            White Bermudians have already abandoned Bermuda’s public education system. In the 1980’s blacks began to drift away from publicly funded secondary education.  In the 1990’s, this drift turned into a stream. If this black shift continues, it will turn into a black flood and the expensive ‘new’ Berkeley Institute will fail, and will fail in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the present Berkeley.

            It’s now blatantly and nationally obvious that in the 1970’s two wrong policies were formulated and then implemented. The first was the policy decision to do away with the Bermuda Technical Institute – the ‘Tech’. The second was the policy decision to start replacing the CSC and GCE external exams with an internal exam – the BSSC.

            Both policy errors have resulted in a degrading of the quality of public education that is delivered to those Bermudians who can only afford public education. It has also resulted in the non-delivery of adequately prepared middle level [semi-professional and para-professional] workers for our radically changed workplace.

            Both policy errors have also contributed to the now perceptible increase in certain kinds of social tensions and social pressures. These pressures show up in the increase of the massing of young men into their own separate social groups – ‘gangs’; in stronger competition for lower cost housing; and in the growing disparity between the grand lifestyles and wide choices of high-end income earners and the less grand lifestyles and fewer choices of low end service providers. 

            The full effect of these two failed educational policies is that the 55% of Bermudian students who only ever use the public education system, have a lower starting point when they leave this education system and enter Bermuda’s job market or try for tertiary education.  They start one or two steps behind. They start one or two levels below their peers who’ve gone through, or who switched to, the private education system. Having started behind or below, many never catch up or even have a fair chance of catching up.

            Statistical information as well as our everyday experiences tells us that in 2002, we were ‘under-educating’ 55% of our national Bermudian population. We were under-educating and therefore under-preparing this huge percentage of our national Bermudian population in a Bermuda that, in 2002 and 2003, is a global player in a harsh and uncaring global environment. Both ‘Tourism’ and ‘Business’ operate in an environment of global competition. Both industries need to be staffed by people able to win in a competition against millions of well-educated or better-educated people everywhere else in the world.

            Some may – many will – see this difference in the delivery of education as a narrow black/white issue. It isn’t. It’s a much broader race-neutral national issue. The reality, though, is that the overwhelming majority of the people who are being under-educated are black. Because this black majority receives a second-class education, it is in danger of being consigned to permanent or quasi-permanent second-class status. But this inferior status will be a result of their second-class education. Not their skin colour. Even though the vast majority will be black.

            Left unchanged, these failed education policies will take us backwards and will re-segregate Bermuda. But Bermuda will re-segregate on bad new education lines – not the bad old colour lines. However, it will appear as if the segregation is colour-based.[*]           But despite this verifiable reality, the parallel and consequential reality is that re-segregation will resurrect and re-energize the almost buried ‘race-hate’ demons.  Demons that all of us have worked hard at capturing, killing, and burying.  

            Dr Eva Hodgson’s book “Second Class Citizens, First Class Men” [1964], accurately described the Bermuda of the past. The book’s title – re-worded – accurately describes today’s public education situation. It’ll be ironic – damned ironic – if this book’s title just as accurately describes the Bermuda of the future. [**]    

            Given the passage of thirty years; given the clear evidence that Bermuda’s public education system is delivering an inferior product; given the need to avoid more and growing national social tensions; it’s time to admit past errors and make future changes.

            Even superpower USA had to humble itself, acknowledge its mistake, bury its 58,000 American boys, and retreat from Vietnam. Former US Secretary of Defence, Roberts S McNamara, enlightened by twenty-two years of hindsight, admitted that US involvement in Vietnam was wrong. But he did admit it.

            We Bermudians have to do so much less. All we Bermudians have to do is display some good sense and acknowledge past Bermudian mistakes. We’ve no dead to bury. Not yet, anyway!

            So when I opened Tim Hodgson’s weekend newssheet [24th  December 2002] and read that persons from the Ministry of Education were looking at the possibility of bringing back external exams for students in the public system, I thought – Hallellujah!  My people have seen the light!  Some good sense’! It’s fifteen years overdue but  it’s here now!

            By the way, our very public and frenzied ‘fussing’ over the Auditor and the angry words and the accusations and the money and the contract and the builders and the building of the ‘new’ Berkeley reminds me of Rome blazing while Emperor Nero played Bob Marley reggae on the electric guitar – or was it a Handel largo on an electric violin?…

            What concerns you? The fuss or the future? What’s important? The building or what will happen inside the building?

           

 [*] Ask yourself this question: “Has re-segregation been happening already?” But before you answer, examine the relevant data in the 1991 and 2000 Census Reports. [**] Dr Hodgson’s 1964 book was sponsored by the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers – an ironic twist.

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