‘It is cool to be bright’

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, January 28, 2013

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TARRANT High School is a microcosm of today’s Jamaica. Here we have a dedicated principal, Garfield Higgins, who has convinced his students that ‘it is cool to be bright’, losing the support of some of his teachers because he is a stickler for excellence.

We had read about Mr Higgins in a feature written last February by Observer reporter Denise Dennis who noted that the school, which had introduced a sixth form just five years before, boasted 100 per cent CAPE passes in communication studies, food and nutrition, management of business, as well as art and design.

The school’s inspiring principal has his ‘Vision 2022’ well in place: "In 10 years, my objective is to have your perception so altered that you will choose Tarrant as your first choice," he told Dennis. "And how do we achieve this? By increasing the output of the quality of passes that we get at the school."

The report continued: "He added that he was not in the "business of bellyaching" that they do not get the best students. ‘We don’t get the best students, so what? We have to [make] do with what we get, and we can’t sit down and twiddle our thumbs and not do what we need to do, which is to educate people’s children. I am firm on that,’ Higgins said."

Higgins may be a dream to his students and their parents, but it seems he is a nightmare for some teachers, thank God, in the minority, as he told a news reporter last week. Those teachers have a problem with attendance and punctuality, and do not want to stop their selling activities at the school!

Indeed, they had a demonstration against Mr Higgins. One day last week, some refused to take classes for several hours, although they were present at the school. One wonders if they will be paid for that day out of the country’s meagre resources.

We hope that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association and the Ministry of Education will be of one clear voice in their expectations of our teachers. The National Education Association in the US has been emphasising accountability and productivity in the profession, acknowledging that even as its mandate is to protect the rights of its members, uppermost must be the national imperative for quality education delivered by quality teachers.

The situation at Tarrant High is replicated across the land, where valiant Jamaicans who are trying to serve with excellence are reviled and sometimes ostracised. I have dubbed this ‘a conspiracy of mediocrity’ — lazy, corrupt managers and workers preserving their comfort zone by sidelining intelligent, enthusiastic producers. Excellence and accountability are anathema to the corruption that is practised in high and low places.

In that brave production by National Integrity Action (NIA), The Cost of Corruption broadcast on television recently, we saw the disgrace of Operation Pride, where millions of dollars have disappeared.
We saw the obstacles put in the way of the Financial Services Commission as they tried to bring Olint to heel. Justice was served eventually on Olint’s David Smith in the US, while we dragged our feet despite evidence that the majority of those burned by the scheme were Jamaicans.

The authorities in the US are trying to locate and return monies to USbased investors — the Jamaicans have had to kiss theirs goodbye. NIA head Professor Trevor Munroe suggested that because both political parties had received big campaign bucks from Olint, there was no hurry to bring Smith to justice here.

The documentary also featured criminologist Professor Anthony Harriott explaining how ‘dons’ were allowed to embed themselves in communities. As we rightly show concern for the lives lost in the Tivoli operation to capture Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, we should take note of Professor Harriott’s observations.

He said that weeks before the operation, the community had been highly mobilised. He referred to a demonstration against the authorities by about 800 women wearing white, some of them bearing placards announcing ‘We will die for Dudus’. He reminded us of attacks against the State, with the murder of police officers and the burning of police stations. He said approximately 400 persons were involved in the armed defence of Tivoli. After the operation he said, "Almost 100 weapons were found including 45 rifles, grenades — pretty sophisticated stuff."

This is what faced our security forces when they advanced on the community. No wonder the poor public defender Earl Witter is ill. How do you gather facts for a situation like this, where guilty and innocent alike were caught up in so much illegal firepower?

And so, as gangs still continue to fight for a foothold in our country, fuelled by the millions they have scammed from terrorised US retirees, we have to thank the US for pushing us to enact laws to fight this plague. We beg them to help us expedite the antigang legislation that keeps moving to the back of the line.

We also dearly hope that come March of this year, political campaign financing legislation will be passed, as it has already been adopted by Parliament. If that wellresearched reform drafted by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica had been on the law books, political parties would not have been able to accept donations from an organisation such as Olint. Thus, David Smith would not have been cosseted for such an extended period, and many families would have been spared from his wily ways.

We see that the scrap metal trade will resume today, even as our utility companies quake at the prospect. No one is trying to deprive folks of an honest living, and so we hope that the promises of stricter monitoring will be kept.

On behalf of Principal Higgins and all hard-working and truly patriotic Jamaicans, let us expose and address this pervasive conspiracy of mediocrity and corruption. And let us jettison anyone who would stand in the way of solid governance, the only way to give our economy a fair chance at recovery.

Indomitable Dr Heather Little-White

In July 1999, the ever-thoughtful Dr Heather Little-White went to deliver a Daily Bread prayer book to a friend in Norbrook, when a gunman shot her, damaging her spine and leaving her wheelchair-bound. However, Heather did not allow this to interrupt her productive and inspiring life.

She continued to be a lecturer, writer, caterer, consultant, and mentor to many. The handsome Peter Watson was captured by her charm and married her, becoming the model of a caring, compassionate husband.

A note from Heather on the 11th anniversary of becoming a paraplegic reflects her bravery: "I am inspired by the saying ‘when life gives us 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1,000 reasons to smile’."

We hope her dear Peter, brother Lennie, sister-in-law Cheryl, and close friend Carmen will find comfort in those words. Rest in peace, our wonderful Heather.






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