Significance of the PTA
Two weekends ago, I was at a PTA (Parents Teachers Association) meeting in a secondary school. No, I don’t have a child in secondary school, I was a representative. It is a school for the middle class of Nigeria. The school has a culture of attracting parents who want to be involved in shaping the future of their children as indicated by the decision power of the PTA and expressed in the hip fashion of the parents. Most came in with iphones, ipads and tablets video conferencing and tweeting (I didn’t have to peek). This is an opportunity to observe the workings of Nigeria because I am in the midst of the brains of the country. It is a miniature of the working (active) Nigeria.
In the interest of anonymity and respect, names of the school and people will not be mentioned. Hopefully the reader will not be able identify the school; so this is neither marketing nor slandering. The purpose of the post is to understand Nigeria’s political and work cultures by sitting through a PTA meeting.
The meeting was set to start at 10:00am as always but because the new state administration has prescribed monthly sanitation on this Saturday, the meeting was postponed to 11:30 (although most parents were not informed). I was there at 11:00am and there were just over twenty parents (and teachers). The chair of the PTA was there but the six executive seats were only half filled (the chair of the meeting was present).
Amendment of Constitution
11:30am and barely thirty parents so the chair requested that we start at 12:00noon and all concurred. 12:00pm, less than forty and like any reasonable person the chair called for a different interpretation of the PTA constitution which was the only thing holding from starting the meeting this late.
According to the PTA constitution, a quarter of the PTA members had to be present to get the meeting started. There are over six hundred parents. The chair first proposed that “PTA members” in the constitution should be interpreted as “registered PTA members” who have paid the levy. There was a resonant “Aye” and a silent “Nay” That reduced the number from 600+ to 500+. Therefore we need about 130 parents to start. The number was still insufficient.
The smart chair then proposed a second creative amendment (or interpretation) which is that since some parents have more kids (students) than others, that should be weighted in the quantitative significance of the parents i.e. parents with 4 children should count as 4 while parents of 1 child should count as 1. But there was no such record that could tell us that; at this point it started feeling like the Nigeria I have come to identify with.
In the absence of solutions, the chair added a few jargons and all parents agreed to start. It felt like the parliament when parents shouted “Aye!”. The conscesion was not for the valid arguments but for the smart effort of the chair and the discontent felt by parents for coming “too early” (as some lamented). The PTA was called to session.
Like any Nigerian event, we start with prayers. I admired the prayer session because it was relevant, unlike many beautiful prayers that people memorize but have nothing to do with the event. The Opening Surah (Muslim) and the Father’s Prayer (Christian) may be agreed to be universally relevant at any occasion but its the additions that come after them that address the situation. The prayer aimed at the PTA, its successful conduction and sound decisions to come of it. Now that is relevant.
The Ice Breaker
The next item was the consideration and adoption of previous PTA minutes. The hall was now silent and with more than sixty almost-shy parents. I assumed the minutes would be checked for unrecorded points made; maybe they did. A parent announced a spelling mistake in the four-page minutes. Then a second, third, fourth… one grammar mistake, two, three… then a second parent joined the criticism. This exercise in proof-reading became the ice breaker because even those whose minds were away at the beginning joined the lively corrections. That became clear because some were correcting what had been corrected earlier in session.
Basically the typist never bothered to proof read, OR it was given to some primary school business-center typist, OR the recorder’s handwriting was just that bad to be typed well, or the recorder was a first year student in the school. Ooh but the parents enjoyed making the corrections like solving puzzles. There was not a mention of a missing content or misrepresented decision; it was a proof reading ice breaker. I suggest you get a badly typed passage (or minutes) when next you need an ice breaker at a meeting.
The principal’s address was full of praises and promises of the school. On discipline the principal said: “I am disciplined. People around me know I am disciplined. Therefore your (our) children are disciplined”. Some parents nodded at this but this is a logical fallacy. If you don’t see it yet let me put it in another way “I am an A student. People around me know that I am an A student. Therefore your kids are students”. I don’t think she meant to say it as it came out, because with just one or two minor alterations, It will not be a fallacy. But I thought it was an interesting point.
In Nigeria’s (like others’) political sphere, politicians get away with similar fallacies all the time. Here are some examples.
Security to Aesthetics
An issue was raised on students’ uniforms mysteriously disappearing. It was identified as security issue and a carelessness issue. As a security issue, it was decided that a form of student identification should be put on the uniforms. This was the departure from Security as an issue. The longer time was used in making decisions (and debates) as to whether to used embroidery, detachable tags, permanent markers, use student names, use student ID numbers, where to put in on the shirt, should it be on the skirt and pants? There was a discussion on how to make a shirt fitted using a few tricks, which I learned.
Towards the end of the discussion, I remembered that the issue was actually of security. It reminded me of Nigerian subjects that were similarly detracted: the credibility of the last presidential election which turned to attack on persons and religion, Viability and appropriateness of Islamic (non-interest) Banking which became a security and religious-identity issue etc
Continue with part2 of this post here.