So thorough has been the brain-washing that it is virtually impossible for many to connect our present dysfunctions to their obvious origins in the past.
The social values and taste patterns that drive the high import bill, the historic fear that inhibits the productive sector and ostracises risk-takers, the power-seeking crimes levelled through sexual aggression, the casual brutality that marks inter-personal relations, the authoritarian management culture that disempowers employees, the education system that delivers certificates without solutions, the political system with little capacity for representation, the ethnic divisions based on illogical distrust, and the low self-esteem that seeks significance in money and material—all these and more are legacies of the plantation culture into which modern T&T was born and continues to be shaped.
Until education policy comes to terms with these realities and begins to understand the role of the colonial education system as an enduring instrument of empire, we will keep wondering why the billions being spent on the education system are yielding such limited returns.
The colonial education system, so celebrated to this day, is doing its job very well. Not only has it succeeded in inducing the mass amnesia necessary to the interest of empire, but it has converted us, its own victims, into crusaders for its cause.
It is one thing for British Prime Minister David Cameron to dismiss demands for reparations by urging the Caribbean to “move on” and forget past crimes against Indigenous, African and Asian humanity. After all, he might think he has strong personal reasons for doing so.
His great great-grand uncle, the Second Earl of Fife, was paid reparations valued today at US$6 million for the 202 enslaved persons that he had to give up when slavery was abolished in Jamaica.
PM Cameron’s position, therefore, could be explained either as an ugly past with which he does not wish to reckon, or as a profitable past that he does not wish to spurn.
But we? How could we consider moving on without first trying to understand the past and hold history to account before laying it to rest?
Even in our personal lives we know that suppressing the past is to be dogged by a ghost, one foot in reality and the other in limbo.
And yet so many are not just content, but anxious to move on, fearful of the forces that might be let loose if we open Pandora’s Box of the past.
It is here that education can serve as a process for engaging the past and negotiating terms of peace for the future.
In presenting Raoul Pantin’s play ‘Hatuey’ which ends its run this evening at the Central Bank Auditorium, the Lloyd Best Institute—of which I am the director—put on a special matinee performance for secondary school students. The response from schools was tremendous as was the students’ response to the play.
Many schools embraced the play as a dramatic interpretation of the encounter between the Caribbean’s Indigenous people and Europe. A couple of schools, however, admitted that they do not teach history.
It seemed shocking—until one understand the challenges of teaching history in a country like ours. From whose perspective should history be taught?
For a while, even as late as the early second half of the 20th Century, the teaching of history, directly and indirectly through other disciplines, was frankly Eurocentric and based on a curriculum developed in London for little minds out in the colonies. Soon enough, recalcitrant intellectuals and artists all over the Caribbean began challenging the perspective and back-chatting the empire.
Who exactly was the ‘he’ in his-story? And what about her-story? And their-story?
Although history is made up of many immutable facts it is perspective that gives it meaning. And for us, a people of many tribes, the question of from whose perspective should history be told has so complicated our relationship with the past that we either sanitise it beyond meaning, propagandise it in the interest of the tribe or just not go there.
As challenging as it might be, however, we should allow ourselves no option on this issue of history in the classroom. It is core to our understanding of ourselves and our land and to the evolution of our identity. Societies that advance on key indices of progress are the ones that have settled the question of who they are.
In the Anansi world that we inhabit, however, self-knowledge is elusive. Who we are always depends on what situation we’re in.
The Prime Minister has talked about bringing history back into schools. Hopefully not in the old dead way designed to alienate us from our own story and environment. What we need is a high quality multi-disciplinary team working to create, at long last, a relevant and dynamic history curriculum that locates us at the centre of our story while engaging us with the stories of others.
Our history is not only in books. It is all around us including in Banwari Trace in Penal, on top of San Fernando Hill, at Mucurapo, Arena, the Gulf of Paria, the tip of Moruga and in hidden valleys, stretching from Diego Martin to Belmont and beyond. It lies in the waters of the Scarborough Harbour and at the feet of Laventille Hill; it criss-crosses cocoa and sugar plantations from Golconda in South Trinidad to Friendship Estate in Tobago.
It is here, there and everywhere. Beyond the confines of the classroom the land is vibrating, anxious to release its secrets to us, eager for us to listen, engage and discover ourselves in it.