Opinion: Pavlov-reaction

POSTED: 09/22/14 1:36 PM

While students of several secondary schools peacefully attended a peace symposium at the University of Saint Martin on Friday, chaos and havoc ruled in St. Peters where students of the Vocational School and the Milton Peters College clashed on two successive days.

These events confirmed the impression that the peace message at the university went to the wrong students – they are already at peace with themselves and with each other.

For the fighting students this is apparently not the case, at least not yet, and maybe they will even never reach this stage. What to do?

The Pavlov-reaction from Milton Peters College was to suspend some of the fighting students and to announce that expulsion is a real possibility currently under consideration. This is of course the easy way out: schools do not tolerate violence on or around their premises, but when it happens they do not address the problem. They remove it.

What are students going to do after they have been thrown out of school? Will they turn to gardening, or pick up their books and do their learning at home? Or will they roam the streets, rob the occasional super market and look for other situations where they can pick a fight?

The function of our school system is to educate young people. That process is not just about getting a diploma, about knowing how to do your math or that Rome is the capital of Italy. It is also and maybe in St. Maarten primarily, about how to get on in life when there are no teachers around to tell you right from wrong.

But exactly at the moment where some of our young students derail and end up in a fight, our educators turn their backs on them. A suspension for a couple of days does not seem all that bad, if it were not so completely pointless. What is a student going to learn from that? If I fight, I am getting a couple of days off?

It were better if the schools engaged these obviously troubled children in a program where they learn how to handle their emotions, how to solve their differences with others and how to deal with their personal demons.

The limited education facilities that are available in St. Maarten make expulsion from school disastrous, because in many cases, expelled students have nowhere else to go. And if they do have their eyes on another school, the question remains whether they will be accepted there, once the school hears about the reason a student was kicked out of another school.

Expulsion makes the troubled behavior of students someone else’s problem. In the best scenario, that someone else is another school. In the worst-case scenario however, there is no other school, and then these students become the problem of us all.

That approach does an injustice to young students and it is not beneficial for our community. Schools will have to find different, and definitely better, solutions for dealing with students that show disruptive behavior and end up in the occasional fight.

While nobody is going to justify the behavior of fighting students – we certainly won’t – it is time for our educators to take stock of how they are dealing with these kids. And they have to wonder whether they are not making their life a little bit too easy by simply throwing these students to the wolves.

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