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Pen in school, Minister Garcia? Best honours brother who fathered the writer in him

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had the radio just said that the Minister of Education was planning to start instruction in panmanship in the nation’s schools?

Had someone finally seen the light after all these years, just as the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies was launching a week-long programme to mark the tenth anniversary of the independent thinker’s death? Was there going to be official acknowledgement at last that there was merit in his decades-old pan in school idea?

Photo: Birdsong performs at the 2015 Panorama semifinal. Birdsong puts the emphasis less on competition and more on schooling its members in music and pan. (Copyright birdsongtt)
Photo: Birdsong performs at the 2015 Panorama semifinal. Birdsong puts the emphasis less on competition and more on schooling its members in music and pan.
(Copyright birdsongtt)

I said some pretty uncomplimentary things about the Education Minister after his knee-jerk authoritarianism had once more surfaced in his response to Ash Wednesday absenteeism. Maybe I owed him an apology.

I didn’t; I hadn’t misread him. My problem wasn’t illiteracy, it was innumeracy.  I had taken a six for a nine.

“The Ministry of Education,” the newsreader read, presumably with a straight face, “is planning to roll out a programme aimed at improving the handwriting of children.” Not panmanship, Best, penmanship!

Penmanship instruction will be provided in the nation’s schools. In 2017!

This Garcia man is so far out of it, I’m not sure Hubble would be able to pick him up.

In vain had I scoured the newspapers for condemnation of the Minister’s stance on the low student attendance in the nation’s schools on Ash Wednesday. Under the headline “What really matters,” I had found this question from a “veteran journalist” in the Monday Express: “How does keeping a child home on Ash Wednesday help?”

I asked myself: Shouldn’t that be ‘How does sending a child to school on any day help?’

And the penny dropped.

Photo: A reporter on the job.
Photo: A reporter on the job.

We all live in a media-mad, post-McLuhan world but neither the politicians nor the media really understand just what that means. The validating elites have not realized that schooling is not education, that the informal education has assumed an importance way beyond the formal.

They continue to operate as though it’s still the village and not the global village which is raising the child.

Education theorists are clear that teachers—and therefore schools—act in loco parentis. That is to say, they take up where the parents leave off, complementing but not supplanting the parents’ efforts. The schools are thus NOT the primary educators; that honour, maybe nowadays that onus, is the household’s.

But we are so focused on what they tell us in school about the media’s role as the Fourth Estate that we fail to acknowledge—maybe even to recognize—that the media have an equally important role as the Third Educator.

Ask yourself who really does the parenting in today’s T&T? Don’t know the answer? Let Singing Sandra tell you.

In her vastly under-rated 1999 hit, “Voices in the Ghetto,” she laments that ghetto people have: “No one to come to their rescue except Capelton and Buju…”

And there are scores more just waiting for their chance to doom them, to hold them, in MX Prime’s words, and wuk dem. Vybz Cartel and 50 cent, Movado and Machel Montano and sundry others who—thanks to the attractive, bite-sized but often morally poisonous morsels radio presents—have easy access to our children’s shrunken attention.

Photo: Soca star Machel Montano moves the crowd at a fete during a previous Carnival season. (Copyright The Playmakers)
Photo: Soca star Machel Montano moves the crowd at a fete during a previous Carnival season.
(Copyright The Playmakers)

And because so much of Generation X grew up in front of the etherizing idiot box, it’s equally easy for slick talkers—rappers? soca artistes?—to bamboozle them with words.

“You know English,” my brother told me more than 40 years ago, having instructed me to write a story for Tapia and got the response that I didn’t know anything about journalism. “You don’t need too much more.”

“Start with this,” he had added, “Dans le doute, s’abstenir (“When in doubt, leave out”) and try to learn fast; it won’t be long before the media are ruling the world.”

“You know English,” an irate friend similarly berated me after reading my last Wired868 piece on mistakes in the media, “but most people don’t—and they don’t care! Focus on the content, not the form.”

Do people really not care when a daily newpaper hits the street with a typo in large font on its front page?

Is it really of no importance that the head of news of several popular radio stations keep making the same attraction mistake over and over?

Does it really not matter that a senior reporter, whom has 40 years’ experience in media, gets “who” and “whom” wrong in his published copy?

Will it serve no purpose to point it out if another senior reporter with decades of experience were to make yet another mistake with “will” and “would”?

Photo: Tell me Sir. Anything exciting happened in Chaguanas today?
Photo: Tell me Sir. Anything exciting happened in Chaguanas today?

The ubiquitous syntactical and mechanical errors may be of no importance in themselves but what do their prevalence and persistence tell us about standards? Does the media’s inability to get simple language things right not point to a deeper, perhaps chronic condition?

Does the sloppiness associated with form not necessarily translate into a sloppiness of content? Of thought? Maybe not. But how can we be certain?

How can responsible people unreservedly trust the content if the form is so often flawed?

At any rate, there are thousands of SEA and CXC pupils who are subliminally conditioned by what they see on the pages of the newspapers that do not specifically target them. Or are media managers cynical enough to believe that these young people read the SEA pullouts carefully and ignore all the rest?

And mention of SEA brings us right back to Minister Garcia.

He’s obviously never heard of the hidden curriculum and the stuff that children learn between the lines as it were. If he had, would he not be focusing much more on prevention than on reaction? Would he not be de-emphasizing certification and prioritising qualification? Would he not be consistently choosing education over schooling?

Would he have remained silent on the Birdsong issue? Would he not have opted for panmanship over penmanship?

“There will,” he declared very early on in his tenure, “be no sex education taught in our schools.”

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Virtually every time he opens his mouth, he tells us, I think, that the school system is emphatically not an education system. It puts us in mind of what George Bernard Shaw famously said: “The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.”

And reminds us that, in his “Dan is the Man in the Van,” Sparrow arrives at this damning conclusion: “If mih head was bright, ah woulda be a damn fool!”

I can’t help wondering what Lloyd would have thought about all these bright boys now running the media.

And the country.

Photo: The late Lloyd Best, an intellectual, professor, columnist and economist, was the elder brother of Wired868 editor Earl Best. (Copyright Lloyd Best Institute)
Photo: The late Lloyd Best, an intellectual, professor, columnist and economist, was the elder brother of Wired868 editor Earl Best.
(Copyright Lloyd Best Institute)

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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2 comments

  1. Leo Grant Jr Aneika Edwards ….did we not have this conversation recently?

  2. When the public fails to challenge authority ,this story is a searing example of the tenacity of instutional power.