Friday, January 27, 2012

Principals and Principalities: Lessons in principle we can learn from Barbados
So, finally we're back to school. It may seem a routine statement, but there was nothing routine about what transpired at the Alexandra School in Barbados during the first three weeks of the new term. If you look at the front page of local papers since the beginning of the year, there was virtually no other story. Thirty teachers from the school went on a strike led by the Barbados Secondary Teachers' Union (BSTU), as a result of a dispute with the principal of the school, Jeff Broomes. It seems the fracas was between Broomes and a teacher in the science department, where clearly there was a lack of chemistry. Nonetheless, given what had transpired behind the scenes and over the years it seemed reactions were bound to get out of hand sooner or later.

What was the most worrying thing to me, was that from the beginning, the court of public opinion painted the striking teachers as the villains in the piece. There were some who stood behind the teachers but they appeared to be relatively few. All this without a great deal of facts to go on in the public domain. This type of thing is not atypical for Barbados in such situations. Facts tend not to matter that much, it's all about personalities.You jump on the bandwagon of the one you like and paint those on the other side as devils incarnate. Your guy can do no wrong and theirs can do no right. You forget your own principles and just support the principal in your corner. And I don't mean only the principals that wield the authority in the school compound. By principals, I mean the 'main players' in society, those that hold leadership positions and tend to be the face of the organisations or groups they represent. The principals in governments,  businesses, social groups, churches, media, sports, music or culture. These are the principals that we are often eager to blindly follow.

When we throw our weight behind our principals, we commit ourselves to opposing whoever our principals find themselves in conflict with.These become like Satans to our Gods. We can say that we see them as principalities fighting against our principals.  According to the bible, principalities are evil demonic forces within the spirit world that need to be fought against at all costs. This is how the book of Ephesians puts it in the King James Version

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12)

Trinity of Principals: BSTU, Ministry of Education. Principal of Alexandra

In newer versions of the bible these principalities are described as 'evil rulers'. Principals within their own satanic domains. So one man's principal is the other man's principality. That's just the way it goes. It seems in the Alexandra School dispute the striking teachers were deemed to be those on the dark side. Mary Anne Redman, Presient of the BSTU, became seen as the principal principality in a demonic realm. Lest my friends who are not familiar with Barbados consider that I am just speaking metaphorically, let me put you straight. Demons have been identified as being present in Barbadian schools. I kid you not, some children in Barbados have been classified as  'demon possessed.' The claim is on record as having been said by a person of no less authority than the Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, another one of the key principals in this whole affair. We hear from Christians all the time that as a building needs a builder, and a painting needs a painter, every creation needs a creator. So, I suppose a demon in a child needs a child demoniser. Yes, as far as Barbados is concerned these supernatural forces are very real and need to be taken seriously. Who knows? We may one day have a class exorcise replacing a class exercise on the teachers' timetable.

Things did get rather ugly in this principal versus principality fight. Even as punches and counter punches were being thrown, people were shouting from the sidelines asking for a referee to come and stop the bout." Stop it for the children's sake!" was the cry. "It doesn't matter who is right or wrong, the teachers must get back to work immediately for the sake of the children!" This made me stop in my tracks. It didn't matter who is  right or wrong? Were these people implying that there is no circumstance in which industrial action is justified? If the idea is not to inconvenience those not involved, it would mean workers could never take action if they felt they were being unfairly treated. I mean, if the teachers were being beaten every morning before going to class, would it be right for them to grin, bear it and then go teach for the children's sake?

This is typical of how we deal with disputes in Barbados and perhaps even in the Caribbean on the whole. When controversy raises its head we want to quash it as quickly as possible. It's this type of attitude that makes  our cause as atheists such a challenge. Even those who identify with our position are quick to say, "Shhhh, you don't want to rock the boat!" But conflict need not be seen like that. It is not something that should be feared. In any social system, conflicts will come up from time to time. It doesn't mean that either of the persons involved is bad or even that the persons do not have the interest of all parties at heart. People have differences in management styles and personalities and may have objectives that will not always square with those around them. This means that there will be arguments and disputes from time to time. In fact, the disputes and differences are a sign that there is openness and freedom of expression and that people are at least not afraid to speak out. Recognising these differences and taking the time to thrash out the issues is worth it and will often lead to a far better scenario afterwards, but the thing to remember is that the process takes time. Sending children back to school in an environment filled with tension would be counterproductive to all. You just can't expect to coerce people into saying 'yes'.  .

It is also important to respect all of the parties, especially the party that considers that it has been hurt, whether you personally see that party as a principal or a principality. It was sad to see the teachers being looked at as demons. Telling them everyday in the press that they should be fired, or that they must come back to school immediately or else, is not the way to show a valued stakeholder respect. You are treating the teachers in a manner that you would not accept from those same people towards your own children. That is why I think the dispute was prolonged, the rhetoric just added fuel to the fire. Ironically, the attempt to wrap things up quickly, ultimately made the process much longer. The lack of respect has not ended yet either. The screaming headline,"Teachers Paid!"  in the Nation newspaper said a lot. The words appeared to be suggesting that this was some kind of national scandal, as if Allen Stanford  were coolly walking up to a commercial bank to collect his investment dividend cheque.

These educators were not on a beach somewhere, sipping martinis for the last two weeks. They were engaging in industrial action, to fight for what they consider was their right. I am not saying that their action was called for, maybe it was frivolous, but the important thing is that it was merited in their judgement. And in general, the judgement of teachers is something we consider to be reasonable. If we didn't feel that way we would not put our children in their hands for six hours a day, five days a week. So, we at least have to give some weight to the possibility that their judgement with respect to the evaluation of their own situation was also correct. In their opinion they were fighting for a principle, setting a precedent that could have long term implications. They did it through the channel of the BSTU which is an approved body set up to represent their interests. As far as I can tell, there were no laws broken here.Why the implication that they should now not get their due? It's as if paying the teachers what they are contractually due was like entering in to a pact with the devil. If we want our society to progress, we badly need to move away from the battles between principals and principalities and see ourselves as being a team. A team including parents, teachers, children and the wider society.Trying to slam your team mate is no way to get corporation.

No faith in negotiation

It is unfortunate that in times like these a society cannot turn to the faith on which it has built its foundation. Not that the parties involved were loathe to try to invoke it. At least twice pictures of groups in prayer circles were shown in the press. Parents or teachers holding hands aloft, asking God to lead them. But what does the Good Book have to tell us about negotiation? When it comes to dealing with conflict you either submit as Jesus advises in the New Testament and 'turn the other cheek,' 'or follow the Old Testament God's methods and look to subdue all that stand in your way. There really is not a lot in Christianity that prescribes a response that lies between the two testamental extremes. It would be great if we could go to the bible and read a passage that said something like this.

" Take heed of the teachings contained in thy holy texts but listen to thy brethren who may have ideas contrary to the revelation that thou believeth.  If the evidence and justification for thy neighbour's position is better than that of thine, adjust thy thinking, for logic and reason are of the Lord. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for an irrational man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

But no, unfortunately that verse did not make it into the Canon. Yes, when you use faith as your guide you tend to simply dig your heels in. Meanwhile you worship the overriding principal, God himself, who by definition is always on your side. He is the one whose word is the law, whose very nature dictates good and evil. With such a foundational belief it is easy to go into the world and look towards authority figures, seeing everything as good versus evil, black versus white, principal versus principality. Through all this we forget the principles.The principle that everyone deserves a chance to work, live and play in reasonable conditions. The principle that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. The principle of " Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Yes, that last one is a great principle. I know that  many people believe in this principally because Jesus said it. For me, a great principle is a great principle regardless of the mouth it emanates from. It is sad that the principal people in society that we would expect to uphold these principles do not. That is the principal reason why we have huge disputes which, in principle, should not be that difficult to resolve.

So, where did the teacher resolution finally come? Of course it was through  a principal. None other than the Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, the principal principal in the land.  What principles did Stuart use to reach a resolution? We may never know. What we do know, is that when in comes to understanding the principles of negotiation, we in Barbados have much still to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment