in jamaica we have lawnmowers

I was all set to write a response to the extreme sport of snowplow parenting — you know the term that swept U.S. and world news in March of this year? I planned to write the post months ago, then I learned that in Jamaica, the Minister of Education, Youth, and Information unexpectedly “resigned” from his post (March 20, 2019).

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In Whatsapp groups, frustrated parents were grumbling about the Ministry for months. In fact, everywhere that people can gather digitally or physically, people were grumbling. Everyone was grumbling with the same thoughts: what corruption led the Prime Minister to call for Senator Reid’s resignation?

Today, we have some answers, but layers are still being revealed about the corruption that hides in plain sight. In fact, the Jamaica Gleaner reported just last week that officials at the Caribbean Maritime University (one of the parties with which ousted Minister Ruel Reid allegedly engaged in impropriety) “have used threats and intimidation to discourage several persons from talking to investigators.” But, that kind of alleged corruption is not the point here. Or is it?

With all of the grumbling, I found no one making connections between what was happening in news headlines in the US and what has been happening in Jamaica for decades. When friends brought up the US college admissions bribery scandal and a snowplow mother like Lori Loughlin, I retorted with “How is that any different than what happens in Jamaica EVERY YEAR?” I asked this question knowing that in the US, it was reported that “dozens of affluent parents [were] allegedly bribing standardized test score administrators and college coaches to ensure students would be admitted to elite universities, according to federal authorities.” We would be foolish to say that this kind of parental impropriety does not exist in Jamaica. As I consider the cultural and social

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value placed on which high school one goes to and the lengths to which parents will go for the “best” secondary school opportunities, we in Jamaica cannot point fingers of judgement at the US and not point fingers here at home too.

With high school placement hanging in the balance of weighty primary school scores that are expected to be delivered this week, the point I seek to make via this post is this: corruption in education is an open secret that is not limited to the United States; it is a larger and local social issue that we fail to address in Jamaica, too.

Parents have been grumbling since the Ministry of Education haphazardly shifted from one standardized test to another (rather problematic) test. Nationwide, the Ministry abandoned GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) in favor of PEP (Primary Exit Profile) and parents’ concerns about the teachers’ ability to teach students for this new test were raised. Parents feared that their children would not be able to adapt to a new curriculum and a new test format. But, it seemed too that some parents were newly unsure of how they could prepare for the new test.

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Put another way, some parents were now faced with the question of how would they newly be “forced” to privilege their way through PEP in order to place their children in top-choice secondary schools? Knowing their market, quick-thinking private tutors rolled out free PEP informational sessions and began offering expensive PEP preparation classes for anxious parents who could afford to pay. In light of the US situation, it is too-clear that in Jamaica we have lawnmower parents.

My point remains: with no snow to plow in the warm climate of Jamaica, we do have lawnmower parents. Where as the snowplow moms and dads of the US work tirelessly to clear any obstacles and educational challenges from the paths of their student-children, in the Jamaican context, lawnmower parents cut back the prickly vines of school-related challenges, be they PEP-related or otherwise frustrating.

These parents with the class and economic privilege to do so, give big money to tutors who make Campion College (high school) promises. Parents who can afford it, present sizable “donations” to high school principals when their children’s test scores are not able to open the doors of admittance. Yes, these parents use their privilege to make life for their children as beautiful as the well-manicured gardens that surround their homes. Lawnmower parents easily remove the wild overgrowth of administration with the flick of a check-writing wrist. And while their poorer counterparts are left in the weeds with nothing but a rusty machete of hope, lawnmower parents use their money-colored magic of privilege to cut and clear with ease.

Through what seems like a complicit system of extortion (if not open corruption) by tutors and schools, lawnmower parents pay to remove both the expected and the unexpected challenges from their children’s’ paths. But we are not supposed to talk about this in Jamaica or else where in the Caribbean (because this happens across the region).

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Formal education systems exist in order to socialize young people. What lessons are our schools teaching when privilege can pay for proper preparation and preferred placement? I’m talking about schools, but I’m also talking about everything else.

As I envision this complicated capital city, some communities in Kingston and St. Andrew are much more manicured than others. It is quite clear where the lawnmowers are and aren’t.

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