The Roman Catholic priests and nuns have tremendous power in Belize because their schools are considered the best in our country. There is nothing more important in the mind of the average parent than getting the best possible education for his/her child. Parents will ignore criticisms of a school, its curriculum, or its administration, whatever, as long as they believe that such a school gives their child the best chance for life’s success. And, as the saying goes, “Nothing succeeds like success.”
Today, I will give you an idea of the gut loyalty of Catholics to their schools. About 54, 55 years ago, I was in Standard VI at Holy Redeemer Boys School on North Front Street. Carlson Gough and I had been “skipped” from Standard IV to VI, and now we two, who were about 11 years old, were in class with some big boys who may have been as old as 15, 16 years.
I was fortunate that the young Belizean nun who was teaching the class took a liking to me, as I to her. She was strongly built, and had a fierce temper, of which she was proud and often boasted. In British Honduras 54, 55 years ago, corporal punishment was the order of the day at home and in school, murderers were still routinely hanged at Her Majesty’s Prison on Gaol Lane, and the whole sociological climate was different from it is today. You have to understand this in order to understand why, when a shocking explosion took place one day in class, it was not considered barbaric at the time. It was the way things were back then.
One afternoon our nun teacher became very angry at a group of 11 or 12 Standard VI boys who were supposed to be practicing for the school band which would lead the HRBS section of the September 10 parade. It was not completely clear to me what they had done, or had not done, but it appeared that they had not practiced in the school backyard during the lunch break, and so they had to be punished. The punishment was extreme.
Our powerful nun teacher rolled up her sleeves dramatically, and lined them up for beating. The rest of the class sat in a hushed silence. The stick she used was thick enough so that it never broke during the drama. I know that guys were beaten on their calves so viciously that the skin broke and they began to bleed, and cry. I remember a couple guys crying that I had never seen cry before, and I also remember that the great Errol Cattouse never shed a tear. He took that terrible beating like a man who was more than a man.
All these five decades and more have passed, and I’ve never said a word about that crazy incident. I’ve never asked my nun teacher if she ever regretted doing what she did, but then I haven’t seen her all that much since I moved on to high school and so on.
A couple years ago, one of my Standard VI classmates who had been living in the States for four decades or so, came home to Belize. We met one time, and our days at HRBS and SJC came up, of course, and he declared categorically that the guys had been beaten that day because they had crossed over the bridge into the Holy Redeemer Girls School section of the campus. I had never heard that.
I decided to call a business professional who had been in Standard VI and, in fact, was one of the guys who were beaten. I know him to be a hard-core Roman Catholic. His was one of the Belizean families which had made great socio-economic strides because of the quality education the children received in Catholic schools. On the phone, I asked him about the incident, and what was the reason for their being beaten. Do you know the first thing he said was that he hoped I wasn’t going to use the incident to write something negative about the school? He was defending his school, and, by extension I suppose, his church. This is the type of loyalty which the priests and nuns enjoy. They have delivered quality education to their Belizean students: their students and those students’ families are grateful.
I assume many Catholic students from my time see me as ungrateful because I have publicly criticized the absence from the Catholic school curriculum here of basic African and American (Indigenous) history. Personally, I feel that I have a higher loyalty, which is to my people and my country, but I understand why my schoolmates probably have the opinion of me as ungrateful.
The reality of the situation is that most of my children have attended Catholic schools, as do most of my grandchildren. There are things I know which I do not talk or write about, because pressure would likely fall upon my younger family members. School power is intimidating, even for a “trouble maker” like myself.
Fully aware of the loyalty of Catholics to their schools, I was disappointed at the inability of Belize Technical College alumni to defend their school. It was clear from the 1960s that Technical had become an outstanding success in little more than a decade of existence, and keen observers realized that Technical was threatening Belize’s educational status quo at the secondary level. Before Technical, the unchallenged status quo was liberal arts high schools – St. Michael’s, Wesley, St. John’s College, etc., run by religious denominations. Technical was a government high school which emphasized scientific and technical subjects. When trouble came, Technical alumni did not go to war for their alma mater.
Technical became linked with opposition to the incumbent PUP government when Technical students led the Belize City student rebellion against the Heads of Agreement in March of 1981. But, the change of government to UDP in 1984 did not see Technical benefit in any material way.
Institutional PUP hostility to Technical was manifested in 1992 when my first cousin, Georgia Belisle, was Technical vice-principal slated to succeed Owen Morrison as principal. The PUP government intervened to block that succession, and that is a story which has never been properly investigated or told.
I imagine that a lot of Technical alumni have migrated to America over the years. Perhaps more important in explaining their lack of organized militancy, my sense always was that a higher percentage of Technical students came from the district towns and rural areas of Belize than was the case with the other city high schools. Whatever the reason(s), Technical alumni never became focused on defending their school, a school which became an even bigger PUP target in the late 1990s because of its campus location in prime real estate territory.