By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 19, 2018
“The further you look into the past, the further you can see into the future.”
— Sir Winston Churchill
Over the past month, I visited London, England, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland where I delivered several lectures and participated in the launch of David Featherstone, ed., Marxism, Colonialism, and Cricket: C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary in which I contributed a chapter on James’s intellectual origins and his knowledge of early Trinidad’s history.
During the last week of my visit I was inundated with the exhilaration with which British people celebrated the centenary of the end of the First World War where close to 8.9 million people died. Each day of the week events on British television and stories in their daily newspapers highlighted the heroism and selfless dedication of the British people during “the war to end all wars.”
Last Sunday, “Remembrance Day,” representatives of every major British organization and delegates from every Commonwealth country laid wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London, to commemorate the sacrifice of men and women. Even a delegate from T&T laid a wreath at the foot of the Cenotaph, demonstrating our solidarity with others on this memorable day.
The pride British people took in the contributions they made one hundred years ago to defend their way of life was remarkable. No one said these cruelties that happened so long ago need not be commemorated. Their forebears engaged in a noble cause. Theirs was the responsibility to honor their sacrifices.
These displays of patriotism and pride brought home the urgency of the discussion we have been having about the role of education in our society. Terrence Farrell argued that what takes place in school is connected integrally with what happens in the larger society. Without the whole apparatus of cultural and social work—plays, films, documentaries, histories, etc. of the society at large—the teacher’s task becomes a more difficult, if not an impossible, one. Necessarily, one needs an informed understanding of one’s past to engage in this kind of work.
Justice Seepersad questioned whether our professionals-—doctors, accountants, lawyers, management consultants, et al.,-.,—are responding adequately to our present needs and asked if they are giving back sufficiently to society. In a counterintuitive move, Richard and Daniel Susskind argue that these specializations of which Justice Seepersad speak “owe their birth in large part to the craft guilds, and flourished notably when the Church declined after the Reformation” (The Future of the Professions).
They also argue that much of today’s professional work can be organized in ways that are “more affordable, more accessible, and perhaps more conductive to an increase in quality than the traditional approach.” They say much that goes on under “the umbrella of professional service is in fact routine and repetitive.” Yet, many of our citizens do not benefit from these specializations equally.
The exclusivity and special treatment members of these professions enjoy may be coming to an end. The Susskinds claim they are “artifacts that we have built to meet a particular set of needs in a print-based industrial society. As we progress into a technology-based internet society,…the professions in their current form will no longer be the best answer to those needs.” These professions will be transformed and the “people, practices, and institutions…will largely be replaced in a post-professional society.”
Our education experts should consider the use of modern technologies in our schools. Might we not adopt the “personalized” learning systems as used in certain schools in California or the “Matchbox Learning Schools” in Detroit? Might we not launch a comprehensive program to deal with the massive illiteracy in our primary and secondary schools which prevents our students from preparing for the world of tomorrow?
We in T&T always seem to be suspended in an inexorable present. No one should be entrapped by the past. However, we cannot go forward unless we blend our past wisdom with our future needs. We can learn much from Winston Churchill who said that the further we look into the past the further we see into the future.
However, Frederick Maitland, a legal historian, offers a corrective: “Past events are best understood in the context of the time of their occurrence. It is poor scholarship to judge past decisions by reference to what we have learned since….Likewise, although we do not have the benefit of foresight, we should not let present-centredness eclipse our vision of what is likely to come.”
It used to be that many people were ashamed to say they could not read or write although they were not as ashamed to confess their ignorance of the third R (arithmetic) or mathematics. This should not be the standard by which we measure an educated person today. All of us should know mathematics and some financial literacy to navigate today’s world.
Our educational system faces varying challenges. Apart from dispensing specialized knowledge, it’s difficult to think of a common thread that holds it together. We can continue with our Roman Catholic, Anglican, Hindu, Muslim and Presbyterian schools without determining the common social goals to which they aspire.
One hundred and eighty years after Latrope’s report we should ask how well our educational system has have done in blending the various creeds and races together and forging people who feel strong national ties to the mother Trinidad and Tobago.