Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bad Girls in School - A Book Review

 "Bad Girls in School" by Gwyneth Harold is a title in Heinemann's Caribbean Writers Series, first published in 2007. It is available on amazon and in local bookshops in Jamaica.
     Badly behaved students are the bane of teachers’ lives. They sap our energy, demand a disproportionate amount of attention, and make life miserable for other students. We try to make our classes interesting and relevant, we stress the importance of grasping content in the reaching the goal of getting good grades, and the importance of good grades to future success. The school builds up a reputation. Most of the students conform to the norms and take pride in doing so. Various techniques and punishments from reprimands to detentions to suspension are employed to bring the wayward into line. In spite of this, there are always some who are influenced by neither the carrot not the stick. The ultimate sanction for them is expulsion.
This appears to be the fate of the “BadGirls in School” by Gwyneth Harold, in the opening chapter of this book. However, they are rescued by the chairman of the school board, Canon Rodney Pryce, and the young librarian, Elaine Mico. The school sets up a special one-year program for the rehabilitation of the girls. This was one aspect of the story which I found to be implausible - no school has the resources for a teacher to be assigned to a group of three students, even if  on a part-time basis and the teacher is the librarian. The story, set in Redeemer College, a fictional girls’ day school in Kingston, Jamaica describes the girls’ progress from the viewpoint of each of the girls, allowing us to hear their thoughts in a blend of English and Jamaican Creole, and learn about their home backgrounds and challenges. Sections are also written in the voice of Elaine, who volunteered to teach them and has her own challenges.
As a retired teacher, I found this approach interesting. The author allows us to hear the girls’ most intimate thoughts – their anger, resentment, frustration, hopes and dreams – some of which they don’t even share with their friends, let alone their teachers. While teachers are under pressure to complete syllabuses, set and grade assignments, keep records and make sure that students pass external examinations with flying colours, they hardly have time to listen to students’ problems. Even if they did, few are qualified as counselors or would be able take the kind of action for which psychologists and social workers are needed. However, a teacher could speculate that the badly behaved student in her class has similar thoughts to those of the girls in this book, and perhaps treat her differently. However, this very readable book is really intended for teenage girls.  Some, who are themselves ‘bad girls’, would hopefully come to the realization that their situations are not unique, and that it is never too late to make amends. Good girls will also be drawn into the story and may identify some the the girls they know in these fictional characters.

One thing I didn’t like about “Bad Girls in School” was the cover illustrating three girls, none of whom is pretty, as one of them is described in the story. It shows nothing of the setting – nothing which made me think I would like to read the book. In fact it had the opposite effect. 

1 comment:

Melanie K Wood said...

Fair review of this story. Sounds pretty amazing to have one teacher for three students, definitely! Without having read it, of course, it sounds like the structure dictating that scenario. Still, I agree, too, that the reading audience would be drawn to these girls who are having a hard time growing up and either relating in some way or just deepening their sense of sympathy.