Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Bridge across the Jordan River

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Bridge across the Jordan River

Article excerpt

I am the chairman of two very modest primary schools, which together have ninety students, and am in the midst of a battle with the Jamaican Ministry of Education over the appointment of a principal of one of them. I am promoting a competent candidate, and they prefer incompetent seniority. While I have both morality and legality on my side, I am discovering that in bureaucratic currency these are small change.

I would like for all my students to be able to read and write when they graduate from grade 6, but this is chiefly a dream now. I would even like for some of them to get high enough marks to get one of the few available places in high school. In pursuit of these goals, I beg shamelessly for funds from Canada, I cajole parents and guardians to send their children to school most days, and I engage in a telephone and fax war with the Ministry of Education.

Despite my zeal, I have some mixed feelings about education. Mostly I hold my tongue about these mixed feelings because it is easier to cast doubts on motherhood than on education. Education, after all, is the assured means to higher income, personal growth and general contentment with life. With enough education, we can have job security and satisfaction, significant and meaningful relationships, and the life skills necessary to negotiate an increasingly complex society. Schools have replaced churches as the venue for salvation. Retraining programs have replaced repentance as a means to a new start. This faith in the value of education is as blindly hopeful as any more religious soteriology.

I myself have been the recipient of a prolonged and expensive education, but even so, I seem to find my life skills barely adequate. As I get older I am increasingly dubious about whether my education was money well spent. I can detect heresy, but can scarcely decipher simple computer instructions. I can lecture on the origins of sociology in the methodenstreit of late-nineteenth-century Germany, but am left scratching my head over the school's diesel generator that won't start. I can recite Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," but can only mutter under my breath when an electrical appliance doesn't work. In fact, most of my more treasured skills, like making butter, stacking a hay wagon well and carrying a load on my head, were not learned in school.

In my little primary schools, my promotion of education is really promoting the decline of the rural communities in which they are located. …

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