The school is the next best place after the home. In fact, the school is becoming increasingly important in the lives of children, because these days, more parents are away from home. The result is that there is often not too much contact between parent and child.
Those who have some disposable income would entrust their children to the care of teachers in the private school system. And because of the level of supervision in the private schools, the teachers do pay more attention to the child. The child feels comfortable.
That is why I became incensed when I learnt that Mae’s, a private school operating in Subryanville, caused harm to a little boy who is proud of his ancestry. And to think that the parent was paying $70,000 a term for her child to take his place in this society. Next term the fee is going to be $80,000 a term.
The school sent a note to parents asking that children dress in their cultural wear as part of the school’s observance of Guyana’s Independence celebration. I spoke with the boy’s mother who said that her child was over the moon when he left home.
On his way to school, the people who saw him lauded him. A child was proud of his ancestry; he was proud to showcase his ethnicity. After all, he was a descendant of the first Guyanese. His world came crashing down when he entered this school.
His class teacher, a Ms. Mangar, told him that his dress was inappropriate. He was wearing a grass outfit. This teacher was telling him that his cultural wear did not have a place in the school alongside those of African, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese ancestry.
The boy’s mother went to the head of the school who told her that the occasion was not a Mashramani event. What nonsense! What arrogance! What stupidity!
I imagined this boy crying his heart out because he was being rejected for being Amerindian. Every other mode of dress was appropriate, and was accepted, except his.
Immediately some memories came flooding back. In 1972, when Guyana hosted the first Carifesta, we invited some Djukas from Suriname to perform on stage. The women apparently do not wear brassieres, but being the society Guyana is, the organisers bought a raft of brassieres for the women. They appeared on stage with their brassieres and skirts.
Meghan Markle told the story of her going to school and to tick a box to determine her ethnicity. Her father is white and her mother black. There was no box for her, so she asked her teacher which box to tick. The teacher told her to tick the white box, since she looked white.
Meghan opted not to do that because she would be distancing herself from her mother. At the end of the day, she approached her father who told her to draw her own box. He recognized his daughter’s predicament. Mae’s refused to recognize one of its pupils.
Some of us are arrogant enough to believe that we determine the ethnic group that should be portrayed. I placed a phone call to the school on Friday and got a staff member. I identified myself to her and told her what I was calling about.
I heard her whisper to someone in the background that Adam Harris was calling. Then she came back to inform me that no one was there, that school was closed for the half day. No one there wanted to address the issue; the fee had already been collected.
I propose to call the school again tomorrow. I hope the headmistress could tell me about the ethnicities that are permitted to showcase their culture and their ethnicity in the school. I want her to give me a lesson on what is appropriate dress when one is asked to display one’s ethnic wear.
I also remember my days at secondary school. The tie was compulsory wear, but we had a head teacher who recognized the discomfort in this hot weather. Doodnauth Hetram had just replaced Vivian Sanger-Davies. Sanger-Davies was British, while Hetram was Guyanese. He ruled that the tie should be hung no lower than the first button on the shirt. He had broken with tradition.
At the national level, we try to showcase the various ethnicities in our society. When we have cultural displays, we trot out our Amerindians dresses as we believe they did way back when. We applaud them and we relish their dances.
We make a lot of effort to reintegrate the Amerindians, because we recognize that they were shortchanged. They tended to move away from what we called civilization and so lied in the remote parts of the country.
With time, they began to return to live among us, but they had to deal with issues like acceptance in many quarters. There was Harold Brown, a young man who was brought out from a hinterland location to attend St. John the Baptist Anglican School at Bartica.
The late West Indian opening batsman, Conrad Hunte, spotted him as an off spinner and caused him to make the national team to travel to Barbados. Amerindians became teachers in our society. Soon they were in almost every aspect of national life. They were Ministers and pastors and priests.
Now we have a school that is trying to tell an Amerindian boy that he is out of place once he decides to showcase his identity. I have been told that the boy now resents the aspect of his life that deals with his dress. I want the parent to encourage him to be what he is and I expect the school to offer him an apology.
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