Letter: Foolish obsession with hair in Jamaica
The assault upon a male student at Vauxhall High School by three teachers for the crime of not complying with school policy regarding his hair style raises political and constitutional issues beyond the assault itself. And the response of the minister of education is indicative of Jamaica’s laissez-faire political culture of not holding leaders of state and government accountable for the violence of those whom they command. The Tivoli Gardens Massacre comes to mind but I will not divert.
School rules that dictate hair styles are in themselves a violation of freedom of speech or freedom of expression, and the implied sanctity of one’s control over one’s body. Schools can make recommendations about hairstyles but that is all that it can be — recommendations. There is nothing in the Education Act that suggests that schools have the right to dictate or punish anyone for choosing how to wear his or her hair.
Indeed the Education Act makes it clear that public schools cannot force students to participate or not participate in school religious activities. This is a recognition of one’s right to one’s beliefs and one’s right to freedom of expression. This is a non-negotiable part of our human and civil rights – our so-called democracy.
The Education Act gives the minister of education tremendous powers over the public education system. In light of his powers and duty to uphold the constitution, there should have been far more outrage from the minister once this matter came to his attention. He chose instead to focus on the fact that “they” had been having “problems” with the student “in terms of dress code.” This act of violence was nothing more than a “breach” by the teachers. Shame! Shame! Shame! Indeed, his most decisive act was to demand that the position of “dean of discipline” be filled in the “shortest possible time.”
The truth is that the minister is a former high school principal where hair policing was and is no less oppressive than it is at Vauxhall High School. That is the culture from which the minister hails.
The fact is, therefore, that where superior commanders fail in their duty to prevent abuses, or to discipline those who commit abuses, then they themselves ought to be held accountable and disciplined if necessary.
Where there is a failure to live up to their command responsibility then they would have legally and morally lost the legitimacy to continue in their command position.
It is time to end this stupid school policy about hair. Let the students express themselves through their hair styles. It has nothing to do with their ability to learn. It should not be a threat to school administration. This obsession with hair is in fact an indication of a misguided concept about what is education versus social indoctrination.
And what about the length of the girls dresses? That’s for another time.