09 March, 2009

Fort School

Do we need increased security at the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School? I have just finished reading an article on education by Rowenna Davis. She writes in the The Independent newspaper. Her 5 March article is about whether the British need more security in their public schools. Now, I am just a part-time teacher in Anguilla’s one comprehensive school. I am not a professional educator. The article left me with more questions than answers. Still, I took away from it the idea that it is somehow relevant to the ways we might improve conditions in our school.

We know the reputation of our students. The boys are supposedly all knife-carrying, foul mouthed, truants. The girls spend all their time fighting and pulling each other’s hair out. The boys dress like prisoners on day pass, knifing each other for no reason at all. I must be very lucky. Mine are different. They are all well-behaved, bright and intelligent young people, full of promise. Some of them appear to have missed out on a good basic education, but that would be the fault of the system rather than anything inherently wrong with them.

So, the question becomes, will they learn better if we introduce increased security measures? Do we need more police presence in the school yard? Do we need CCTV cameras, electronic gated fences, more screening wands and arches, and new powers to stop and search students without consent? The question is not whether we all need security. The real question is how to achieve it. Will draconian measures actually increase security and comfort, or will they destroy our sense of community and undermine security? What happens when we destroy the trust that is necessary to build community? The risk is that too much security may send the wrong signal. It may suggest that the place is more dangerous than it really is.

Supervision, dialogue, and counseling are not synonymous with security, but they are essential adjuncts to a child’s education. I do not know about the other teachers, but I find it odd that during break periods there are no adults whose job it is to walk around the grounds, corridors and supposedly empty classrooms observing, and where necessary, correcting the behaviour of the children. I do not consider it normal or acceptable that hundreds of children are left to mill around the school yard unsupervised for hours at a time. Yet, that is what actually happens at school, day after day, week after week. When I enquired about the defect, as I saw it, I was assured that a secondary school is different from a primary school. In a secondary school, the children do not have to be monitored continuously. Really?

When fourteen and fifteen year olds engage in unprotected sexual activity in an unused class room, that does not mean they are depraved. It suggests to me that there is inadequate supervision and poor sex education. Would the children have participated if there was the slightest chance that an adult was likely at any moment to enter the room? Probably not. Would they have participated if they knew that if one of them had herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis or HIV the other was likely to get infected? Probably not.

Bad behaviour is a learned activity. Good behaviour is equally learned. When children are taught the facts, they have little difficulty changing their behaviour. The statistics show that carrying a knife increases your chance of getting stabbed. Arresting children who bring weapons into the school is not a long-term solution. Education about the dangers of carrying weapons is. So, is our Ministry of Education even considering a Be Safe programme? Is any thought being given to recruiting willing members of the PTA for training as volunteer assistants in the supervision of large numbers of children?

As Ms Davis points out, pupils do not just learn from what they are taught in the classroom. They also learn from how their school functions as an institution. Fitting out the school with more security guards, wands, and handcuffs may only succeed in teaching them that criminal behaviour is something normal that we just have to live with. Instead, we ought to be teaching them that it is something unacceptable that is to be challenged. Improving security through community dialogue and action to address the root causes of crime won’t just make us safer, it will be a better lesson for the kids to learn.

Does it have to take an aggrieved parent suing the authorities for negligence, and proving that inadequate supervision was one of the immediate causes of injury to her child, to make everyone wake up?

Are we going to make an effort to talk our children out of bad behaviour?


  1. I am an education official here in Anguilla. In general, I totally agree with your thinking. I do think there needs to be more security, but we must focus primarily on improving the learning environment through more supervision, giving kids and teachers more of a voice, identifying at-risk kids earlier and listening and making a real effort to understand them -- especially those who cause the most trouble.

    "Education is not the filling of a pail. It is the lighting of a fire."

  2. Ask the students, sit down, take your time and ask those youths. Stop talking TO them, it's boring.
    I've checked the Be Safe program website. At first glance it looks real promising, I'll study it over weekend. Thank you Mr mitchell

  3. In my youthful days, I recall it being madatory that teachers engage in playground duty. I saw it as a young student in practice as a boy in Boys School in the Valley.

    I heard that this was a measure that was reintroduced at the ALHCS as recent as when Quincy Harrigan was principal. The Management Team members were visible in the "hot spots" of the school. Doing this I believe served as a deterrent to devious behaviour.

    Are we too big to engage in that now? Are teachers too afraid? If you as a parent show your children that you are afraid of them they will use it to their advantage.

    The same behaviour is displayed by a dog to his master. The master must let the dog know who is master and who is dog.

    Don, there is a whole lot that we can learn from the animals that we keep.

  4. Justice seems broken in Anguilla. A few weeks ago some boys put a rope around another boys neck and hung him up to die. The one boy had told the teacher or security guard that the other boys were smoking pot. Somebody got him down and saved him. So the bad boys spent a weekend in jail and were released. With these guys on the loose, do you think the boy who was almost killed for saying they smoked pot will agree to testify about the attempted murder? And it looks like Abraham will die of old age before his murder case goes to trial. Justice delayed is justice denied.

  5. Education is the most important thing on Anguilla for the youth of Anguilla. It is their future. The days of getting by with fishing and hardscrabble farming and remittances from abroad are gone. We need to prepare our youth for life in the big world. Education needs to be really emphasized. Our young people need to know how to communicate (more than just f-words) with people from other parts of the world without appearing illiterate. They need to learn grammar, punctuation, computer skills, proper speaking, courtesy. It used to be well-known that Anguillians were "mannerly" people. Nowadays, young people seem to be more interested in emulating the mythic gangsta persona that they actually believe exists in ghettos Stateside. There are youngsters here in Anguilla that think it is "cool" to be violent with their "whores" and "niggas". There are young girls here on Anguilla that are being taught (by actions, if not words) that the only way for them to succeed is to find an older man with money to take care of them for life. So, they are prostituting themselves for jewelry, perfume, etc., from their older lovers. You talk about violence and sex in secondary schools as a problem. It is more than that, it is a symptom of society going downhill.

  6. Postive and educational comments people. Wish some young folks would read

  7. Limiting us to positive and educational comments turns this blog into another "Anguillian" newspaper. I'm not here to make others fee good, but to further the welfare of our people. The first step in this is to understand what's going on with us and our children. It isn't always positive. There is no evidence that God is an Anguilian, claims to the contrary notwithstanding.


    According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them and the next day the girls would put them back. Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night (you can just imagine the yawns from the little princesses). To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

    There are teachers.... and then there are educators.

  9. I am still to see other comments on the issue of teacher supervision during the break and lunch period when most of the fighting occurs.

    While I know this has not been contributing to the cause of the violence, I believe it can contribute to a solution. I agree with the comment supervision during the breaks should be reintroduced.

  10. To have an informed opinion on why teacher supervision should be reintroduced, it would be helpful to understand the thinking that caused it to be discontinued.

    I also believe there are some teachers who already feel embattled, and who feel they are spending more than enough time already being policepersons. I would like to better understand their position, instead of just deciding what duties should be imposed upon them.

    They don't work on our plantation, ya know.

  11. 'most every school I have ever known has supervision during recesses and lunch periods as well as between classes. Only exception to the above was when my children were in Anguilla schools. There would be DAYS when teachers did not show up for school. The kids were expected to sit quietly in classes with no adult around for the entire school day. While I did understand that there was some sort of teacher strike going on at the time (1980's), I never could comprehend how they could justify non-supervision. I do not currently have any children in Anguilla's school system, but apparently, things have not changed much.

    Children (even secondary students) need boundaries and need them enforced. That requires adult supervision. My mother was a teacher in the States. I know that she did not enjoy playground or lunchroom or before & afterschool duty, but she did it. It was part of her job and she understood the need for it.

    I would only expect that the educators of Anguilla would understand the need. If they are so fearful of their own safety that they won't supervise, then there is an even greater problem on Anguilla.

  12. I am still trying to understand the comment about the teachers not working on our plantation. There is no white "massa" in charge here. We are charting our own future by neglecting our children.

    If you let a dog know that you are afraid of him, he will take advantage of it. There is enough impirical research pointing to that fact in humans. If we let those boys and girls at ALHCS know and believe we are afriad of them, they will abuse the situation.

    What a bunch of weaklings we have as teachers. Where are our present day teacher "Lee", teacher "Noddy" and teacher Alvin, Claude Richardson, Constantine Richardson, Isa Lake and Lindley Hughes? Such persons are not bred any longer?

  13. I wrote the comment saying that teachers don't work on our plantation. There was no racial implication in what I was trying to say. I didn't say it very well, sorry.

    It had been suggested that teachers should be told to be responsible for campus supervision. But this supervision was discontinued. Someone thought they had a good reason for discontinuing it. Before we form opinions and start telling teachers what to do, I would like to understand the reason for this earlier decision.

    Teachers don't have it easy. It's a wonder they all haven't quit. I appreciate their dedication. I'm reluctant to tell them what to do.

  14. Thanks for the clarification on the comment that seemed to smell like it had racial overtones. I would not hold it against you.

    I can agree with you that teachers do not have it easy today. The teachers of the past had it difficult too. The challenges they faced were far different, but not easier than those faced by the teachers today. Life in fact is not easy for anyone today nor was it in the past. The challenges are different.

    If we are to survive we must make the needed adaptations. So too must our teachers. The "cop out" mentality is not adaptation it is cowardly... especially among our male teachers. In my opinion these males lack the testicular fortitude to even be called teachers.

  15. Condemning all male teachers (including part time male teacher Don Mitchell, by the way) is the same kind of low level stereotyping that has a long tradition dating back through today's gang warfare in Anguilla, the Ku Klux Klan, the Third Reich, the Atlantic slave trade, the Spanish Inquisition and the execution of Christians.

  16. I have just come upon this article and as a teacher in the UK found it eye opening. The case where the young man was hung up is particularly worrying. It is unfortunate that some of the young people (not very different to some in the UK) feel it is good to emulate the bad they see in films and on TV. I have to agree with all those who have stated that some sort of supervision is required. Here in the UK the teachers are expected to do a duty just before school starts, a morning break duty and a 'sweep' duty at the day's end. For lunch time, midday controllers are employed to supervise the students in this period. Thus freeing the teachers to have their own well needed break. I do hope that a solution is found for this problem.


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