· Shades of opinion in the Achimota / Rasta saga
To begin, I’d like to float the observation by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940), author of “The Great Gatsby”, a classic novel about the jazz age of the 1920s in America. He noted that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
My Mfantsipim headmaster, Francis L. Bartels (1910 – 2010), must have prized that same thought. How else could he have titled his memoirs “The Persistence of Paradox”? Two opposing truths navigating side by side in the same orbit – with equal torque and dexterity – is hardly the tale told to an idiot. It’s impossible to be a thought leader of substance without the skill to reconcile two co-existing nagging truths.
I feel blessed to have within my reach some great minds in this country, and beyond. They are people to whom I defer when I am caught in a fix.
I’ve chosen not to use their names so we can focus on the thrust of their observations. Like they say, great minds focus on ideas and not on people. The following are sample responses to the question, “What’s your take on the Achimota / Rasta saga?” The responses are varied and revealing; and I hope to feature more next week. They are presented as follows, each submission branded with its own sub-title:
The whole issue was mismanaged in the beginning. The court ruling could have been worded a little differently. Now we need to manage the situation so as not to open a Pandora’s box of indiscipline. I will elaborate.
The initial mismanagement: the Achimota School authorities could have had an amicable resolution with the student and parents, before the fiat that “No, it is against our rules”. The GES could also have met with the school authorities before issuing out a directive to admit them. As it were, the whole procedure was confrontational.
The court ruling: I have not seen the ruling and therefore its wording; but it is what the media is telling us. That could open a Pandora’s box. Already Angel Carbonu (of NAGRAT) is asking teachers to keep to only teaching their subjects and be unmindful of dress code, hair style and in fact of discipline on the whole. He says he understands the ruling as going beyond Rasta hair but to cover all haircuts and dressing. That is a dangerous development. The court could have said this ruling is specific to Rasta hair for a religious reason. This would have prevented all extensions without having to go to court.
Managing the aftermath: I think GES will need to quickly sit down with teachers’ bodies and carve out a policy to guide the court ruling implementation which will still not offend the law and constitution. Let the policy be widely disseminated and let all prospective candidates have access to it. Then you can curtail any potential backfire.
The nation is on the path of societal weakening. Careful we don’t become like the schools in the U.S. Every “club” has rules. You sign up to them when you enter, and you are expected to follow them. One can be turned out of a club / restaurant for not being properly attired; e.g. no neck tie. Rasta hair is not the preserve of the “religious”. He was not kept out because of his religion. Shall a Moslem girl be allowed to keep the burka, fully covering face, except slits for the eyes, and claim exemption on religious grounds?
It seems to me a tempest in a teapot in a society that has all its priorities upside down. Hair of two students which has no bearing whatsoever on the core mission of the school to teach the 3 Rs – should not be the focus of its administration. It raises several issues and questions on many levels.
Will it be appropriate for them to ask that no one shows up with tribal marks, for example; or braided hair; or tattoos; or straightened chemically treated hair; or Moslem covered hair; what is the “norm” and what constitutes a deviation from it? And this coming from teachers who may themselves have straightened their kinky African hair to conform to a “beauty” standard they imagine is better.
While we all agree that student hygiene and cleanliness is part of the school’s training metric, a misguided and obsessive focus on hair that is otherwise well kept and poses no health issues to the student and his colleagues should not rise to the level of judicial proceedings. That’s my two pesewas on it. This society is traumatized and really needs a renaissance: an old-fashioned 15th century style Martin Luther reformation. SAD!
Where’s the evidence?
I agree with the court’s ruling, and I think Achimota will likely lose if they appeal. They don’t have any evidence that allowing a Rasta student to attend school with his locks will harm the school or its students in any way. The argument that this will cause harm is just speculation. The argument that this prevents them from maintaining discipline is not valid. What has happened is, a discriminatory rule has been struck down in court. All the school’s other rules remain in force and can be enforced. By the way, my daughter wore her hair in sister locks at a school. She was a good kid in high school, has grown into a fine young lady, and will be going to a top university this year.
Poor verdict. It opens the floodgates to all kinds of weirdos. In any grouping with a certain philosophy and beliefs which bind and work well there shouldn’t be any infiltration by any individual in the name of liberalism and human rights balderdash. Another student will claim he’s comfortable wearing ladies’ garments. Can the courts force Ahmadiyya school to admit them? What happens when this boy applies to the police or the military which respects without question a very stone cold officially established admission?