Thursday, October 30, 2008

A, B, C, D and Misplaced Democracy

The term 'democracy' typically connotes the legitimacy of majoritarian rule; one person, one vote; and protection of minority beliefs. But such descriptions perform an injustice to the evolution and expansion of democratic principles. Today, an office is democratic if it upholds the virtues of equal opportunity and gender equality. Today, a government is democratic, not only because it receives the majority of votes in the House for the laws it ratifies, but because it does so with integrity and the livelihoods of its citizens in mind. Democracy transcends its historical roots, blossoming into a tree with branches of equality, fairness and opportunity.

Of all the institutions that we should demand the principle of democracy to floruish is in our schools. With regard to this sacred principle, it is my sincere belief that our educational system has failed. I have previously lauded the system's capacity to produce some of the brightest minds in the world with meager resources. However, such a position permits a myopic focus on the 'best and the brightest', while disregarding the ones who fall through the cracks (and the reasons why they fall). One reason that I believe is worth due attention and prudent discussion is the stratified distribution of perceived intellect within schools - the inner segregation between those who are labeled 'smart' and those labeled 'not so smart'.

This system is a case of a misguided "separate but equal" fallacy. Some claim that although the D's remain in one class, they still receive the same education, are taught by the same teachers and use the same materials as those in the "A" class. However, the repression behind this system sows longlasting transgressions: the majority in the "D" class settle for mediocrity because of a misplaced comfort by being around those of "similar intellect". To say that this does not have an indirect psychological effect, especially in the development of personal and career goals, would be naive. The amount of students who are actually promoted from a D class to an A (or even a B class) remains negligible to the point of disgrace - to the point of exposing the innate bias of a system that facilitates genius on one side, and inhibits potential on the other. It is the educational equivalent of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

A democratic educational system must utilize the resources it has. This necessity is compelled by the fact that there are only few resources to begin with. One resource must then become the very same 'best and the brightest' group. If separated from each other and integrated with those of differing levels of perceived intellect, by the simple virtue of their own ability, these bright students may just inspire the ones who have never witnessed the spark that illuminates beyond their dark borders. The 'best and the brightest' must offer their tutelage to the ones who need it, recognizing that by doing so, it will also help to foster the altruistic notion that "I AM my brother's/sister's keeper" - a notion that is predominantly absent in the Belizean society. I sincerely doubt that mixing these two classes together will "hold back", as they say, the bright ones from achieving their goals. The same rules will apply: one class and one goal for achievement: those who fail to meet that goal will unfortunately be left behind. But let they not be left behind without a sense of fairness. Before these realize their abandoned fate and turn to "streets" where only vices await, they must first be given a glimpse of what they should aim to become and what we, as a society, expect all to become. That is Democracy.


The Voice said...

Again, a wonderfully written piece. I read it with much pleasure.

What struck me the most was your first paragraph. It led me to realize that democracy, as you've so eloquently described it, does not exists in Belize. Nor in the US, our most influential neighbor. As a matter of fact, I couldn't think of a nation where true democracy existed at all.

... do you think such an ideal could exist at all?

Democrates said...

No, the ideal democracy exists in Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia'. But it does not mean that we should not strive toward societal ideals that are tangible. In this case, I think we can all agree that the reformation of the distribution criteria within primary schools in Belize is something that can be addressed. Whether or not it is in the best interests of society on a whole is another story; hence the reason for this discussion. I have only stated one of many opinions on this issue.