Dunce Trend in Jamaican Schools – Good or Bad?

As far back as 2018, officers in the St. Andrew South Division expressed concern about young people using the slang term “fully dunce” to applaud those who proudly state they are illiterate. According to the police, the term was used by people who openly declared they would use violence to deal with various issues because they did not have the ability to use reason to resolve their problems in other ways and were not interested in doing so.

Calls For Action

While discussing the matter, a senior police officer in St. Andrew acknowledged that some members of the public may not consider this a serious issue, but noted that security forces had been facing the “fully dunce” attitude on a daily basis as they went about their duties on the streets of Jamaica. He felt that officials in agencies other than law enforcement should point out the dangers of praising individuals who dropped out of school and proclaimed their illiteracy as a point of pride. If this idea, supported by some dancehall entertainers, was not addressed quickly, the officer believed it would foster a new generation of violent people who were not open to reason and who would eventually bring destruction to the country.

Music Culture Not To Blame

The “fully dunce” concept grew in popularity via social media and was mentioned by Jamaican Information Minister Robert Morgan in 2022 when it manifested in trending songs such as “Dunce Cheque” by Valiant. The dancehall genre has often been blamed for all of society’s ills, but according to panelists at the February 2023 staging of “Grounation,” a symposium sponsored by the Institute of Jamaica during the celebration of Reggae and Black History Months, dancehall should not be blamed for so-called “dunce culture.” Reggae poetry lecturer Dr. Isis Semaj from the University of the West Indies, stated that people are first exposed to “dunce” in the classroom by a teacher. Semaj said the idea is learned early, when teachers call students “dunce” and organize their classrooms so that “smart kids” have seats in the front of the room, and students in the back are “dunce.” Music is a reflection of trends already in existence in a culture.

Students Promote Cancellation of Dunce Culture

In 2023, youth counselors used a special forum at the St. Augustine Place of Safety in Clarendon to encourage young people not to buy into the “fully dunce” idea, but to cancel it by becoming “fully bright” instead. The deputy youth mayor of May Pen and keynote speaker, Ashanti James stated that there are disadvantages to being “dunce” and that education “really is the key to success.” James encouraged young people to get a good education regardless of their situation. Assistant manager of the St. Augustine Place of Safety Rohan Burrell noted that dunce culture promoted the “wrong things” to children and indicated that “doing good” was unfashionable. Burrell wanted the children to understand that rewards from dunce culture were not lasting, canceling it could only encourage literacy, and knowledge is power.

Concerns Overblown?

There are a number of Jamaicans who wonder if the concern over “dunce” is misplaced as many slang terms that have horrified the public at large in the past have harmlessly been absorbed into the culture without causing the dissolution of society. While not supporting the idea that illiteracy is a good thing, they point to terms such as “wicked,” “bad,” “terrible,” “dawg,” and “thug,” which brought considerable worries about the march toward moral decay in the past but have over time been adapted and normalized through use. “Wicked” is now a positive description of something, and “bad” means good. These observers wonder if the same thing could happen to “dunce” through the normal evolution of spoken language. They note that other words and phrases thought to be reprehensible at one time become acceptable, normalized, and tamed through use.

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