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The PM’s zero letter to the P.S.

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Fri, Jul 19, 2011

Editor: The Prime Minister’s letter to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education was a telling example of how a parent and Prime Minister should never behave when school authorities discipline his children. Ralph Gonsalves revealed in that letter his clear dissatisfaction about his daughter’s zero mark, though hidden under the facade of “a teachable moment”.{{more}} The Zero hurt him more than the fact that his daughter broke an established GHS rule.

In analysing the letter written by Dr. Gonsalves, a few things can be noted. Dr. Gonsalves was using the issue as a stimulus for a movement demanding change of the rules, not only in his own name, but in the name of other parents. Yet, he said it should not be a “cause celebre”. He has clearly created a cause and is busy making it famous. He made himself a spokesperson for a “parents for sanctioned rules” group.

He claims he “simply want clarity and certainty as to the rules”. Yet, he writes to the P.S. and not to the principal of the GHS, who can explain the rule most accurately. The certainty of the rule is evidence in the penalty given not only to his daughter, but to other deviants in the past.

Then Dr. Gonsalves wrote a startling statement, which acts as an instruction into the direction in which Gonsalves wishes the P.S. to go. He first revealed that there are other students who got zero in the past, of whom the P.S. may be unaware. Then, he introduced a conditional clause which stated the only condition under which he was willing to concede to the action of the GHS principal to give his daughter a zero.

“It may well not be possible or practical to correct the application of unsanctioned rules to students who have hitherto been penalised with a “zero” in an exam.” So what if it is not possible and practical to rescind the “zero” of all the students (including the PM’s daughter) who were punished under this rule? Gonsalves states “If this is the case, I do not wish my daughter’s “zero” to be rescinded.”

So, what if it is possible and practical to rescind the “zero” punishment? The logical conclusion is to give back these rule breakers their marks and Gonsalves daughter must get her punishment rescinded too. As far as Gonsalves is concerned, the child should never get a “zero” mark for breaking the GHS’ exam rule. This is the level of ill-discipline that is encouraged under the disguise of ‘a parent’s right to ask’.

The P.S. is here faced with a father who himself behaves spoilt, thinking that his daughter should be kept above punishment, even in cases of clear deviant behaviours against rules set down by institutions to maintain order. The P.S is told: “I insist though, as a parent, that no school be permitted to apply unsanctioned rules in the future”. How can a parent of a student who attends a specific school “insist” that “no school” be allowed to apply “unsanctioned rules in the future”? He writes to a public servant who is accustomed to bow to his insistence, directly or indirectly. And here, he insists on a nation-wide action, yet foolishly inserted “as a parent”. Is he aware that sensible people read, and that his words reflect an instruction from the Prime Minister of this country?

Putting the entire “teachable moment” facade aside, what we are dealing with is a parent who has acted improperly after his daughter was disciplined for breaking a school rule.

I write my views as a citizen of this country. I have no doubt that this letter will be read by Dr. Gonsalves, the parent. We need to grow up in this country and demand full respect for rules and laws, irrespective of who you are. The Prime Minister’s child is not better than any other and must submit to the discipline meted out by one of our great educational institutions here. Nobody better than her, and she not better than anybody!

Shefflorn Ballantyne

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