Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Repeating history

If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.  This line has become one of the most famous sayings in history. And for good reason. Seems like humans can never get it into their thick skulls.

Once again this week, we get a glaring example.

Dean O, in the midst of wedding jitters and nuptial pressures, followed in the footsteps of his much maligned predecessor Said Wilbur Musa.  He underestimated the will of our brethren from the North.

Now, setting aside the Core Sampler argument as we know the CaƱeros must come into the 21st century, how did the PM underestimate the determination or our Northern brothers? Easy one. Arrogance.

On the very same bridge that Said's downfall most likely started, we may have witnessed the beginning of Dean O's as well. Doesn't he understand the first rule of dealing with an issue like this. You have to de-escalate the tensions then you can talk. That is why union negotiations have "cooling off periods". So the negotiators can go home and kick back a few beers an maybe realize that perhaps they are being unreasonable. Giving already incensed protesters an ultimatum can only end badly.

A few years ago, a popular PUP politician told me something. "So goes the north, so goes Belize". At the time, I dismissed this as politcial arrogance. Maybe now I am not so sure.

Mr. PM.....suggest you keep a close watch on  Benque. 

Pallotti's Scarlet Letter

The issue of teenage pregnancy is a controversial social ill that infects communities across the world. Yet, the procedural mechanisms employed by these societies to rectify this problem not only illustrate the ideological diversity from country to country, but it can also serve as a quantifiable measure of the efficacy of current means to solve a prevalent social enigma. The recent story on Pallotti High School's ironclad rule on teenage pregnancy (and teenage relationships in general) not only serves to further this discussion, but it also presents an example of the understated friction between rule and law.

Allegedly, Pallotti's rule on teenage pregnancy is straight-forward: any student suspected of bearing or carrying a child will be expelled upon confirmation of such an offense. (I admit, I was unable to ascertain whether it is an immediate expulsion or merely a suspension, but this article assumes the former.) From Pallotti's perspective, the issue over of the recent controversy is indisputable; students (should) know the rules before their enrollment and failure to comply with these rules will result in appropriate punishment. For many others, however, myself included, I question whether the punishment in this case was indeed appropriate and whether the rule stands in contrast to a child's constitutional right to privacy and education.

The majority of our parents grew up in a time when this issue warranted little debate. An appropriate level of punishment in previous decades would not only result in the immediate expulsion of the student, but additionally, a merciless scourging for the dark shroud of embarrassment that the family must endure. This social denigration that the young female experiences is what Nathaniel Hawthorne essentially described in his 1850 novel, "The Scarlet Letter". One can argue that, one hundred and fifty years later, Pallotti's rule emblazons its own version of Hawthorne's scarlet letter by shunning females away from its institution and denying them a right to an education. On the contrary, many have and will undoubtedly agree with such a rule. They have and will claim that because this child knowingly broke the school's sacrosanct rule, that she deserves to be removed, not the least because it disrupts the Pallottine image of the school and may set a bad example for other students. This rule, of course, is aligned with the teachings of St. Vincent Pallotti, the school's namesake, who preached that "The love of Christ impels us [to love and serve one another". This rule, of course, is also aligned with the school's stated mission in its current expansion project which states ironically, "The role that Pallotti High will further play in alleviating these societal ills is by affording an education to as many young Belizean girls and women as possible" in an effort to mitigate "vicious cycles of poverty, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy rate and other social and economic problems crippling the Belizean society." As opposed to finding ways to counsel their students in times of desperation - when they need it the most - the school opts to punish without any level of recourse. This in no way can deliver the mechanisms needed to aleviate this problem. Instead, it only exacerbates the situation by making life for an already-burdened young woman even more unbearable. How appropriate.

Finally, with regard to the legality of the rule, the issue is far clearer. Pallotti simply has no case, as revealed by the recent court decision to reinstate the child back into the classroom. If the Pallottine Sisters in Belize feel so strongly for this rule on chastity, then they should do what many other Pallotine schools do across the world, and that is to fund the institution themselves. In that way, it is a private entity that can legitimately enforce its rule. However, Pallotti High School in Belize is a public institution that is beholden to the government. In turn, the government is a people's institution beholden to the constitution. Therefore, it is unequivocal that the government's public institution's must, must reflect the will of the people. And the will of the people can only be found in one place: in the little yellow book used in primary school Social Studies classes around the country, entitled "How We Are Governed", also known as the Constitution. The rights of the child, reflected in our laws, wholly speaks against the discrimination of children and protects them against any form of punishment that retracts a fundamental right, such as their education. On all questions of legality, the answer is that Pallotti's rule, like many other school rules in the Belizean educational system, violates the law of the land.

As always, comments from all angles are appreciated.