Jackson, And the president’s legacy in education?

Does President Varela  want to leave it as part of his educational legacy that school girls may be bullied and defamed with impunity? Photo by the Presidencia. This photo is not related to the school, the incident or the persons described in this column, but is an illustration of some of those at risk due to government policies described herein.

Is it illegal for schools to protect students?

by Eric Jackson

If a young woman has her image photoshopped into pornography without her knowledge and against her will, and objects to it, whereupon she is shunned, has she been persecuted for the sake of righteousness within the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount?

It’s a point of religious interpretation about which this guy who went to Sunday school at Margarita Union Church way back when is uncertain. About the Anglo-American Common Law there is more certainty. To impugn a woman’s chastity is slander per se at Common Law.

But this is Panama, a Spanish-speaking and mostly Catholic country that organizes its formal justice within the context of a Civil Code justice system. Are the moral precepts all that different? Probably not, but the legal prerogatives of a church-sponsored school are very different.

The Crossroads Bible Church is a Protestant congregation in Corozal, fairly conservative in their interpretation of the holy scriptures but not folks who are particularly identified with the sort of extremism that, for example, holds up the bullying of a gay high school student into committing suicide as the most hallowed exercise of free speech and assertion of Christian values. The church sponsors the Crossroads Christian Academy, where they shelter kids from seeing gangster funerals at the adjacent cemetery and don’t promote the Harry Potter stories, but at which there have been no reports of witch burnings or harlot stonings either. They have a fairly traditional Christian sense of what it decent and what is indecent, of which pornography is among the latter phenomena.

So, what to do when a boy in the 10th grade at Crossroads copies and pastes the image of a female classmate into a pornographic image and spreads it around on the social media? What to when that girl is harassed about it, complains to her parents, who in turn complain to the school?

The fairly traditional thing that a Christian school would do is to expel the offending boy. Moves were made in this direction, but then lawyers, parents of the boy and his friends who were taunting the girl in school intervened. President Juan Carlos Varela’s Ministry of Education was not about to allow the school to expel the boy. He’s back. The girl was the one who had to leave Crossroads.

The little pornographer and his friends are jubilant with their victory. Really, it’s a victory for an arrogant connected caste against all of the English-language private schools in Panama. Other schools have also faced the MEDUCA ban on throwing a kid out of school for doing something which in any other country would result in expulsion. In Panama’s English-language schools there is an extra added intimidation factor — in these days of assertive political xenophobia on top of a traditionally corrupt immigration office, the possibility of a school getting its foreign teachers thrown out of the country is very real.

It’s not an issue that began with the Varela administration, nor does it only affect the English-language schools that hire a fair number of foreign teachers. Recall in 2013 when three kids at Colegio San Augustin in David, a fairly strict Catholic school with high academic standards, hacked into the schools computers and changed grades. The school was set to throw the kids out, but the allegedly strict Catholic Minister of Education at the time, Lucy Molinar, threw out the high school’s disciplinary rules and the senior class walked out on strike against these sort of offenders being allowed in their midst. Molinar, who as a television personality promoted by Opus Dei before her stint in government used to rail against the lack of values in the schools, criticized the striking students for “Satanizing” those who changed everybody’s grades.

It fits right in, doesn’t it? Schools that international tests place among the world’s worst. Rampant cheating at all levels. Universities from which nobody gets thrown out for plagiarism. Teachers with falsified credentials — we even had a pompous rector of our national university with a fake doctorate. University administrators who sell unearned diplomas to alleged students as corrupt as themselves, and who do this with impunity as far as any fear of the application of criminal sanctions that ought to apply. It’s a mess.

But let’s get back to religion for a moment. Isn’t the existence of church-sponsored schools a fundamental aspect of the freedom of religion, the right of parents to guide their children within the framework of their belief system? Isn’t it likewise a fundamental matter of freedom of religion for a church school to prohibit pornography and bullying as parts of life on campus?

Does the president want to do something about the sorry state of Panamanian education? There is too much to do and the economic squeeze is too tight for him to resolve many of the critical issues before his time in office is up. But he can rather immediately issue a decree that calls off MEDUCA when a school seeks to defend itself, its students and its principles against the stuff that his administration at least tacitly approved at Crossroads.


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