Our holiday at the beach was brief and my companions from Abel Bravo dropped me off at the stairway entrance to my building at the close of the day. I found my mother in good spirits, for a change, and talking with some of the neighbors about her son in “Abel Bravo College.” It was, in fact, the highest level of public education accessible to all humble households throughout the province of Colon at the time, as I explained before. I started taking note of the differences between Abel Bravo and my former school, The Instituto Nacional, in small and large ways.
I was immediately and pleasantly surprised to meet up with several West Indian teachers who were much more than what I’d been accustomed to seeing back in Panama City. I really had to restrain myself from looking so foolishly happy to actually be in the company of black, West Indian teachers.
I noted that some of my classmates had returned to Abel Bravo that year to take one or two courses just to complete the entire year. Remember, we were considered young adults by our families and the rest of society, persons who had to be working and trying to become independent. Many of these repeating third year students were unfortunate victims of the school system who had been “punished” by being kept back by some uncompassionate teachers who had failed them usually in Spanish, and this in their third year fully knowing what a hardship it would represent to their families during those difficult economic times.
Most of these kids had been what I considered very intelligent youths who, in all sincerity, had tried to finish high school. I observed with misgivings how many young West Indians kids just deserted school as soon as they reached the magic age of fifteen or sixteen to go look for a job or an activity to simply survive. These young people had really given it their all to stay enrolled despite the systematic abuse and threats of Latino teachers full of arrogance, disdain and hostility towards the black students.
I had observed this hostility in the educational system in the attitude of the Spanish course teachers of Colon towards the West Indian students while the Hispanic students breezed through their studies without too many problems from those teachers. I never noticed any greater academic ability in the Hispanic students but, this appeared to be a blatant case of the system putting stumbling blocks in the way of the black students.
Nevertheless, the young West Indian students in our third year class faithfully returned to finish their secondary education and for someone like me who struggled with family dysfunction, it only infused more fear in me regarding the Spanish teachers at Abel Bravo. I just didn’t have that option, I thought, of allowing these teachers to fail me just because of their bad intentions toward the West Indian students who were dragging around family and economic woes.
It was during our short periods between changes of class as I ambled around up and down the passageways that I would notice these differences in ambience between the National Institute compared with my new experiences in Abel Bravo College.
This story continues.