Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Thursday, July 03, 2003  

Apparently, students from five secondary schools around Port of Spain have been banned from entering the new National Library (Guardian link; good for today only). Only students accompanied by parents or teachers will be allowed entry.

This "blacklisting" occurs because of the rising indiscipline and abuse of the facilities at the Library, and many students - no teachers, parents or library officials were quoted in the story - are angry at having to pay a heavy price for the actions of a few.

I can understand their anger. Yet I can also understand the decision taken by the Library.

When the Library opened a few months ago, there was an almost immediate debate launched over certain youth elements abusing the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art facility, and using it as a pick-up joint. Predictably, these debates began running along race and class lines, with one side blanching at the perceived chaos and anarchy that was taking place; the other side saying leave the children alone.

To begin: isn't it laudable, wonderful even, that these children are actually to be seen at the Library in the first place? They could have decided to bypass the place entirely, and spend their time goodness knows where, doing goodness knows what. But they decided to make use of the Library, as was intended, though perhaps not strictly in the way it was intended.

So. We've already got the children there, or some of them at any rate. The challenge, it seems to me, is to now get them to want to use the Library for its primary purpose. In that sense, the issue is not about the library per se, but, and there's no escaping it, education. In that sense too, and as with so much else in this country, we have put the cart before the horse; or the library before the child.

If the children aren't educated properly, and taught to understand the value of a library beyond smoking in the bathroom and snogging behind the shelves, then that's what they'll keep on doing there. Which is why the fault is not with the children. The fault is with our education system, and the other factors that have contributed to the crisis we have among our youth.

But to say the problem does not lie with the children is not to say the children are to be allowed free reign until the problem is solved, which is going to take quite some time, anyway. The National Library was years and millions of dollars in the making; it must be maintained, and it must be kept such that all citizens - children and adult, of any race, any class, could feel comfortable in using it.

So I don't argue with the decision to apply this tourniquet to the wound that obviously exists. Something has to be done in the short term; even if it will be perceived that this is just another measure to deny a certain class, and race of people what is rightfully theirs. Hopefully all parties will be able to rationally look at the situation and recognise what needs to be done.

posted by Jonathan | 4:01 PM 0 comments


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