Monday, February 25, 2013

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!

Today, in 2013, (too) many people in Belize are struggling through “hard times”. These difficult times specifically include: never-before-seen high unemployment of both the educated and uneducated; widespread poverty that also affects people who once were middle class; gangs fighting openly amongst themselves day and night, blatantly taking anything and everything they can get from hard-working Belizeans; violent and uninvestigated murders by known gangs in increasing numbers almost everyday; more and more closures of what were once successful business establishments that gainfully employed many Belizeans; higher and higher tuition costs for education (Secondary and Tertiary) that continue to increase each year, despite the fact that salaries for most Belizeans remain at a standstill; and the sorry list could just go on and on. A February 23, 2012 Press Release issued a year ago by Belmopan’s Statistical Institute of Belize ( shows unemployment in Belize at 23.2% in the year 2010. Yet, it’s no secret that unemployment in Belize has soared by leaps and bounds since 2010; and just as the unemployment rate has soared, so too has the murder and crime rate.

However, what have we done since 2010 to challenge and try to halt this rampant and fast-paced turn-around of what was once a productive and peaceful Belize? I point fingers across the board, not just at those who are in power or wealthy. Belize, once recognized worldwide as a peaceful country, is now listed among the most dangerous areas in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America – in the entire world. Please, stop for a moment to let this reality “sink in”. Now, what are we Belizeans, especially the elected members of our elected government, currently doing to highlight, seek, and offer any solutions to these pressing and ever-increasing problems? It seems that we merely keep pressing forward, day in and day out, with blinders fully stuck on, and quite satisfied that we live in a “jewel”.

Aldous Huxley’s oft-quoted line, “if the world had any ends, Belize would be one...” used to be such a quaint and apt phrase to describe us. It was previously used by our tourism industry to attract many tourists to Belize to escape from their fast-paced and busy worlds. Unfortunately, in the 21st Century in which we live today, that well-known quote seems to solemnly describe a country fast approaching the very end of its own world.

I guess that many readers are thinking to themselves right now, “And why is he so full of gloom and doom? And what is he doing about the destructive turn-around he so gloomily describes?” My answers: I am painting my own current reality, not describing something that I read about in the newspapers, or hear on the radio. I remain unemployed; and a known gangster recently murdered my brother, a hard-working businessman. (To date absolutely nothing has been done by the authorities about it!) Re the second question, you are looking directly at what I’m doing about it. The pen, it’s been said, is mightier than the sword. My choice of weapon to combat the continuous destruction ravaging Belize is a pen -- in this 21st Century wherein we live my computer is my pen. What I don’t see, though, is what other Belizeans are doing today to help others, and themselves, to overcome this daily growing situation of mass destruction that even the wealthy people in Belize can no longer afford to ignore. Does anyone even care?

I always encourage readers to comment on my articles; but some responses (comments) to previous articles I have written and contributed seem SO very typical of how too many of my people think. Such lines of unreasonable thinking are not only pathetic, but are the very reasons why absolutely nothing is being done currently to try to get Belize out of the sorry state in which it now finds itself. Example of such a comment: “Why is he screaming so much for change in how we educate our young people? If his education was good enough for him, then it should also good enough for young people today.” That is such an ignorant comment that will get no response from me. (For the record, the Belizean education I received was good for me!)

I have no intentions whatsoever of trying to change or criticize my previous academic education in Belize. Nevertheless, we are not living today in the times during which I used to go to school in Belize! I went to school in Belize during the decade from 1960 to 1970 – since before we were even a self-governing country. We now live in the 21st Century and in an Independent nation. Whether we like it or not, we must embrace the many changes that have come to Belize now that we are Independent. We must “adapt” to the changes that come now that we look out for ourselves instead of continuing to expect Colonial Masters to do so for us. More important, we must live with changes that have come to Belize, and to the world, with advanced technology, whether we like them or not. Yet, according to previous comments to my articles, we can simply ignore changes today because we lived quite well without them in the past. That statement is as ridiculous as saying that one can go live from Belize to the North Pole, and still only wear Guayaberas there because that’s what one used to wear in Belize.

Another comment I have seen before is a blatant criticism that I should keep quiet because I do not offer acceptable steps on how to deal with the changes that I point out. According to that line of reasoning, were I to see a fire break out in a public place, I dare not scream FIRE to warn others, unless I can offer specific plans on how to put it out. Please, let us not insist on being known to the world as the nation of people with excuses, excuses, excuses. In my next article I will discuss at length several ways to try to break free from “learned helplessness”. Psychologists today use this phrase to describe being repeatedly exposed to uncontrollable events, and your brain “learning” that success is beyond your control. (Ever wonder why Boledo is so very popular with poor people…)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Who will improve our schools?

We don’t have the best possible Education System in Belize today to prepare our children to live in this era of advanced technology. Before we can create one, though, we must first “want it”! Unfortunately, Education Systems in Belize have not been developed due to the overwhelming apathy from parents, educators, and the government towards constantly improving our schools. As in most third-world countries, the Education we provide our children in Belize today is what it was 50+ years ago. But my grandchildren should not have to study the same curriculum that I studied in high school in the mid 1960’s, or take the same non-Belizean exams that I had to take.

We cannot continue educating our young people the same way we did 50+ years ago. In Colonial times many foreigners (Catholic nuns, priest, scholastics, and volunteers from abroad) helped to educate our people. Now, though, we are independent. We must discard that old Colonial mentality under which our parents and grandparents lived: “what worked for us will work for you”. 21st Century Belize is no longer “if the world had any ends, Belize would be one”. We are living in a new millennium, and we must adapt to a new way of living! We now live with several television and radio stations, computers, cell phones, internet, and a thousand new inventions that did not exist when I attended school.

The time is now, not tomorrow, for us (not others) to develop and improve our schools. Regardless of which political party is in power, we must provide strategic assistance to improve each primary and secondary school in Belize. (One type school is not for everyone!) We need year-round, professional coaching services for all school leaders and Principals. After all, for our schools to improve, we first must strengthen their leadership! Our primary and secondary schools are currently overloaded with thousands of young students who must stifle creativity to Colonial era mentalities, i.e. let each church steer its school’s guiding principles. Yes, we are greatly indebted to the churches in Belize for the great role they have each played in developing Education in this country. However, churches should not be solely responsible for the development of Education in an independent country.

Who today develops our nation’s educational program designs? What are the government plans for the constant development and improvement of our schools? No faculty and staff of any school, public or private, should be expected to develop professionally “when they can afford it”. In this new age of technology we need in our schools professionals who are qualified and responsible for developing the school’s improvement services, teacher assessments, and all improvement planning. Over-worked Principals cannot develop/ administer a school, and also look out for and monitor the professional development of each teacher. Principals are not supermen or superwomen! We need professionals to monitor teacher training and improvement, team building, and educational strategic planning; we sorely need economic professionals to set annual teachers’ salaries and school budgets.

Our Ministry of Education needs to focus on school leadership in schools throughout the entire country. Schools leaders, after all, are the ones who are steering the ships that contain the future leaders of our country. We need strong school leaders and Principals who can develop and implement and make public their plans to,

  • vigorously develop a faculty culture focused on professional development
  • give continuous public, positive reinforcement to educators and students
  • promote continuous high expectations and support for students
  • establish ongoing professional development for staff
  • promote high expectations tailored to each single student
  • demonstrate a commitment to the school’s mission
  • sustain high levels of self-awareness and self-management
  • develop their own professional growth programs

We cannot encourage and develop faculty cultures that focus on professional growth and development when all we have in our schools are so many overworked and underpaid teachers. They have every right to complain and bicker for decent living wages; but that will drown their genuine devotion to learning, sharing, and supporting each other.

Without a doubt, teachers in our schools today do want to find ways to improve the quality of teaching. Nevertheless, the dominating discussions in faculty rooms in schools throughout Belize everyday probably have very little to do with helping our young students to develop a passion for learning. More pressing topics (how will I pay rent, get school supplies for my classroom, pay my water and light bill, and survive this month) are the immediate concerns of teachers in our schools today.

I am confident that we know what it takes to make exceptional school leaders. However, knowing how to get “what it takes” is the urgent step facing parents and educators in Belize today. Above all, though, we first must have a plan. Sadly, the overwhelming apathy and poverty in Belize continues to impede what we need to do to develop our Education Systems. Nevertheless, let’s not expect nor wait for outsiders to develop our Education systems. Let us unite as inspirational leaders and educators to develop unique Belizean skills in our Youth. Let us strive to live and develop in all possible ways as leaders of our proud jewel.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Schools: Safe and Nourishing Havens

During my recent 2 years working at a local high school in Belize I quickly found out about the very public cases of students who were gossiped about openly by other students, teachers, and the community. Some students had parents who were alcoholics and fought a lot, were drug dealers “serving time”, or were physical and emotional abusers at home. There were many other students with their very own secrets -- hidden and locked away from everyone else. Many were shy students who never said much. They may have appeared average and wore the proper school uniform; but I soon learned what many of them had to deal with at home: parents’ or guardians’ drunken fights and constant assaults on them by family members, physical abuse, and a “lot” more.

Many of us have no idea what happens to our students after they leave school everyday. We can only guess why many come to school everyday hurt, fearful, and sad. These are so often the ones who get into trouble a lot a school – fighting, arguing, or even sleeping in class. Even when they try to smile these students bury their secrets well. And although we are unable to change the many challenges they face outside the classroom, we can provide them with safe classrooms: shelters from their wars.

Therefore, we should make our classrooms be places where students are able to “breathe easy” and know that they’re loved, wholly protected there, and free to enjoy learning without always having to worry about being criticized, beaten, and put down. Let us establish classrooms that are safe and nourishing havens, especially for the daily learning that we want all students to enjoy.

Teachers and students are human beings, have value, and deserve respect. Sadly, many students don’t get respect where they live. Learning, for each student, is tied to the sense of respect he/she receives and to his/her sense of self-worth. But, so often, so many young students have no self-worth. Let us, then, always try to see our students through lens of dignity. For some, school is the only place where they get any respect and dignity. Let us therefore not label them as “at risk”, “below average”, “problem” or “troubled” students. Rather, let’s help them to see themselves and also look up to all educators through lens of dignity!

Dignity, nonetheless, cannot be forced on anyone, or taught. Many high school students (especially the first year) are at a challenging developmental stage where they often drop back into preadolescent ways of thinking and/or acting. Let’s keep in mind that all adults (except the perfect ones amongst us) went through a similar developmental stage in life. Rather, in an effort to understand, honor, and respect each student’s human dignity we educators should model it for them, as well as for our peers and for others.

Students come to school to learn to read and write, and to socialize so they can also fit into society. To be able to do both, they also must learn and practice the important art of “discipline”. As a guidance counselor I know that education, especially with seniors, takes on full focus and purpose once they start thinking of what they want in life: a career . As educators, then, let’s not only teach students how to pass tests, but also help them learn to define their goals, visions, ambitions and aspirations for a better Belize.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Helping Youth in Belize to Cope

“If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman scholar 106 BC – 43 BC) 

I previously discussed the current need for providing guidance and professional mental health assistance to Youth in Belize to help them cope with ever-increasing stress triggered by constant violent events around them: shootings, bombings, murders, and vicious gang killings. On an almost daily basis we see and hear of people being found chopped to death, gunmen opening fire on others, bodies being found, homes being invaded, and multiple gang murders along those lines – on television and computer screens everyday. Young people, as well as adults, respond stressfully to continuous reports of such violent traumatic situations. Feelings of confusion and fear pervade. Our younger population must learn constructive ways to vent their feelings and respond to all this graphic violence. I urge families, schools, and communities to provide support systems that give young people permission to seek and get help when they feel overwhelmed. Continuous violence, whether directly around us or reported by media, triggers feelings of anxiousness in all of us for our own safety and security.

Technology is what brings alive much of the oppressive violence that envelopes our young people everyday -- in homes, poor, rich, and in between. Moreover, homes in our society today are quite different from those of 25 years or more ago. (I am not criticizing, merely pointing out.) In homes of the rich, poor, professional and well-educated, many children’s parents both (must) work outside the home everyday. Without a parent in the home at all times to monitor youngsters, stability is difficult to maintain in the daytime. There is no “average” family in a small country teeming with people of so many different nationalities: Creole, European, Spanish (from both Central and South America), West Indian, Asian, Middle and Far Eastern, and many others. Children, no matter what nationality, may or may not learn values and develop good habits while both parents work outside the home, and raise their children only “before or after work” each day. Television and computer screens have become a replacement for parents during the day.

In this age of advanced technology nothing is hidden from young people – they see and hear “everything” that happens each day. What they don’t see or hear, they can easily seek and find onscreen. A single radio station (British Honduras Broadcasting Service) signing off after the 9:00 p.m. Boledo announcement is ancient history now. Today we are connected to the entire world 24/7 via several radio and television stations, cell phones, Ipods, laptops etc. Adults/parents can no longer control who/what influences children; unrestricted social media networks (television, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Chat rooms) are now the primary sources of information for young people. But, even if parents today have no control over the contents of radio, television, and social media sites, they can monitor (keep watch over) what their children see, hear, or participate in. How many parents do?

Despite the many things we cannot control, we can help our Youth to cope and not worry constantly over the actual and on-screen violence exploding around them everyday now. I urge everyone born before Hurricane Hattie to STOP saying, “I don’t understand these gadgets of modern technology; I’m from a different generation; modern technology is for this generation to use (and abuse).” We all need to change with the times! If we refuse to change, or adapt to change then we care only about the past not the future. How selfish! Our children are the future. Marcus Tullius Cicero reminds us, “Non nobis solum nati sumus!” (“Not for ourselves alone are we born!”)

Technology (television and internet social media networks) exudes violence every single day; but it can also be used to teach/educate and positively influence young people, not only entertain them. However, in internet rental outlets (cafes or rooms) and homes where parents own computers, everyday we see thousands of young Belizeans glued to computer screens playing loud, violent war games and screaming out vicious and deadly threats to each other at the top of their voices. Do they also have access to computers, free or at affordable rental prices, to do homework, carry out research, build websites, and create mind-blowing new inventions on the computer using their knowledge and imagination?

Our political, religious, and community leaders must realize or care that our children are being affected by what they see and hear around them, actual or on screen. Let us help our children to “digest” what they see, hear, and do everyday -- whether they’re always in front of a television or computer screen, or deeply involved in a gang. Leaders of government, families, and communities: young people are our future! Whatever decisions we make, or don’t make, to help young people cope with the environment in which they live today determine the future of our country. An extremely conservative 85 year old Pope leads the Catholic Church today, and actively uses Twitter to get his messages across to millions of Catholics in different languages throughout the entire world. There’s an example of someone who is willing to adapt to change and “use” technology to try to influence others.

Motivational Strategies for Unmotivated Adult Belizeans

"There are no hopeless situations; there are only men who have grown hopeless about them."
- Clare Booth Luce (1903 - 1987)

The main goal of all professional guidance counselors in schools is to guide and counsel all students; but their top priority is to try to help the troubled ones. During my recent 2 year experience as a guidance counselor in Belize, I worked with many high school students (all levels, from 1st to 4th formers) to help them confront and try to overcome many of their recurring problems. My overall goals included: helping students to improve their learning skills, guiding them toward becoming more goal-oriented and having better self-esteem, and helping them advance to the next higher level in education. Some of their recurring problems and the strategies I used to try to help students and teachers overcome these problems include:

  • Lack of student motivation to learn - I tried to create maximum-strength motivation in students to encourage them to “want” to learn; I encouraged teachers to do the same. 
  • Physical and emotional aggression - I tried to spot aggression in students before it exploded in the classroom. I worked with administration to provide alternative positive outlets for students to vent their frustrations and aggression. (Everyday many students bring so much anger from outside the school, i.e. from home) 
  • Abuse that students receive at home - As an administrator I made every effort to work closely with social workers, and the police when necessary, because no learning will occur when students are not physically and emotionally safe. (Safety should always be a major concern for all schools!) 
  • Lack of coping skills for all students - Educators are educators, not problem solvers; however, I provided a wide variety of strategies and coping mechanisms to students to help them learn to deal with a wide variety of problems such as: substance abuse (alcohol/ marijuana/hard drugs), bullying, special needs (ADHD and other disorders that create ‘slow’ learners), conduct disorders that can be traced to a total lack of early discipline training in the home, and many other behavioral problems. (In School Suspension included mandatory drug education!) 

Working with young adults (students) can be challenging, but the rewards are priceless. Seeing high school students confront their problems, and then overcome them is exhilarating! How, though, do we provide similar strategies that work to so many unmotivated adult Belizeans? Is it too late to try to overcome the pervading apathy, even defiance, that pervades most of the country like an all-encompassing cloak of death? Guidance counselors and educators at least have 4 years to work with students in high schools. We no longer have 4 years to help unmotivated adults to change. How can we now motivate so many unmotivated adult Belizeans when the country is in DIRE need of immediate action to prevent it from sinking any lower that it has already sunk?