Rethinking Our Approach to Education

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 24, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeEducation has an important role to play in getting us out of the degenerating situation in which we find ourselves. By education I do not mean the mere acquisition of mathematical and scientific knowledge and reading skills. I also mean the cultivation of an inner faculty that allows us, individually and collectively, to act purposefully within the social whole.

I was excited when Dr. Roland G. Baptiste, chairman of the Catholic Education Board of Management, in speaking about the performance of the Catholic schools under his remit, observed: “I left St. Mary’s College many years ago, and I believe at this time of my life that the most important aspect of my education [was/is]…the system of values the school left with me” (Express, February 18].

While I do not disregard the importance of academic excellence in our students, I disagree with Dr. Baptiste’s casual dismissal of the role of racial bias in the education of black children (See my “Racism at Torrib Trace Presbyterian School,”, March 29, 2005). He is on target when he talks about the importance of a system of values that undergirds an educational system and its centrality to the development of society.

David Brooks, using Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Bjorkman’s The Nordic Secret, promoted the notion of “the Nordic model” in the education of Norwegian society. He argued that the 19th century Nordic elites realized that if their countries were to prosper, they had “to create truly successful ‘folk schools’ for the least educated among them” (New York Times, February 19).

Brooks continued that Norwegians saw education as “the complete moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation of the person. It was based on the idea that if people were going to be able to handle and contribute to an emerging industrialized society, they would need more complex inner lives.” Education and discipline at the most intimate level of a person’s life were important to create satisfying society.

Sat Maharaj may not have embraced the totality of that philosophy but he knew what he was doing when he developed his Hindu schools. I asked him once what accounted for the outstanding academic performance of his students. He responded: “When I select someone to teach at one of my schools, I do not look at his academic achievements. I take that for granted. I expect him to be academically qualified. I ask him: What can you bring to my school.”

Sat was more concerned about the values a teacher brought to his schools rather than how s/he performed on an examination. He took it for granted that a teacher’s academic qualification would be satisfactory. He demanded that his teachers see teaching as a calling or vocation rather than a job whose primary incentive was the wage one received from it.

Seeing teaching as a vocation implies that a teacher saw herself as a surrogate parent which most of our teachers do. I leave out the role of the parents for the moment. In Sat’s school, teachers are expected to supervise students while they are on school property. No teacher in Sat’s school would say that supervising students during recess “is not a part of my job spec.” Being a teacher implies being responsible for the child during the school day.

The Nordic teachers, as Brooks emphasized, “worked hard to develop the student’s internal awareness. That is to say, they helped students see the forces always roiling inside the self—the emotions, cravings, wounds and desires. If you could see those forces and their interplay, as if from the outside, you could be their master and not their slave.”

In T&T, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the term African was used to define people of Negroid origin, sometimes in a derogatory manner. An unknown poet, writing in the Port of Spain Gazette in 1825, referred to Africans, as “the sons of Afric’s savage race.” In Rupert Gray, a novel written by Stephen Cobham in 1907, a black waiter describes another black character in the following manner: “Nigga too black, sit down close to bakra gul, tink heself guvanah.”

T&T Indians did not have a similar problem. Their adherence (most of them) to Hinduism made it easy for them to identify as Indians even though the Immigration Report of 1878 differentiated between the Madrasses and the Calcutta Indians when it came to the problem of rum-drinking (Fair Play, June 7, 1878). Being Hindu was/is easily transferable to being Indian in ways that being a Roman Catholic or an Anglican are not as easily transferable to being an African.

I wrote in 2003: “One does not have to be an inhabitant of Mars to know that Afro-Trinidadian males between the ages of seventeen to twenty-four are a vulnerable group no matter how we choose to look at them. This group of young men is vulnerable to crime and AIDS and their chances of being killed violently are much higher than any other group in the society” (“Learning and Education in Trinidad and Tobago,”, November 13, 2003).

I then asked, how do we reclaim all those brothers and sisters who are lost in a world of blindness and trapped by their inability to read the simple signs of life and “How do we transmit our values, or cultural capital, to our present generation when…we deemphasize Trinidad and Tobago’s literature [and history] in the curriculum?”

In their introduction to Nordic Secret, Anderson and Bjorman argued that in order to develop a deeper sense of national loyalty and cohesion the Nordic people needed to develop “a sense of responsibility towards self and society; moral education and cognitive development; and what is called ego-development in modern psychological terms.”

The educational challenge in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is how to develop an internal consciousness that creates a deeper sense of loyalty, and social cohesion that leads to richer and more complex inner consciousness especially when we are the product of so many different cultural and religious influences.

It’s something we all need to think about.

One thought on “Rethinking Our Approach to Education”

  1. First to correct some misconceptions about the education system. While Hindu Secondary Schools, like Lakshmi Girls Hindu College, are doing a great job in educating our students in Trinidad and Tobago, why is Selwyn Cudjoe’s obsessed with Sat Maharaj as the educator par excellence? In 2019 of the CAPE Scholarships given out, Christian Schools got about 315 of the scholarships, Hindu Schools got 41. To break it down, Christian schools got about 85% of the Scholarships; Presbyterian Schools got about 36%, Catholic Schools got 42%, Hindu Schools got about 11%. In 2018, it was about the same percentages. Christian Schools have been the backbone of our education system from its inception. Selwyn should try to find out from the board of education of the Catholic Schools and the Presbyterian Schools what they are doing right.
    Secondly to correct the idea that “Being Hindu was/is easily transferable to being Indian in ways that being a Roman Catholic or an Anglican are not as easily transferable to being an African” as Selwyn puts it. One of the first Christian communities was the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, formed it is said by Mark the Apostle around 42 AD. Africa is 40% Christian and 45% Muslim at present. Christians in Africa are one of the most vibrant communities in the Catholic Church at present. It is not hard to envisage that an African may become the next Pope. St. Augustine, who our University, UWI St. Augustine was named after, was one of the most important philosophers of the Church. He lived around the 4th Century AD and he established the philosophical underpinning of the theology of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years. His book “City of God” is still one of the influential books in theology. St. Augustine was from Africa. One of the things that is not taught in our curriculum is the contribution of Africa to world civilization. Being Hindu is not “easily transferable” to Indians who are Muslims or Indians who are Christians. In fact it is not transferable at all. Selwyn is confusing “Hindu” with “Indian”. That is a Hindutva idea.
    Thirdly while it may be true about the importance of “a system of values that undergirds an educational system and its centrality to the development of society”, what is crucial is the nature of that system of values. The Nazis had one of the most energetic attempts to create an education system based on a particular system of values. “Racial awareness” was one of the most important values. Children were educated as to “worthy” and “unworthy” races, Aryan and Nordic types were worthy, Jews were racially inferior. Such a system of values is itself unworthy, it led ultimately to the Second World War and to the death of millions of people. The RSS in India runs one of the largest private network of schools in India. It has over 35 million students. Its founder was M.S. Golwakar and it emphasizes Hindutva teachings. Golwakar was one of the main ideologues of Hindutva. He was inspired by Nazi philosophy and the idea of racial purity. The RSS has influenced BJP to a great extent; Prime Minister Modi is a member of the RSS. It is no accident that Modi and Trump have bonded. They have common ideological influences. So let us be careful of what system of values we advocate for our education system. When we see people conflating Hindu with Indian, look out for the Hindutva ideology behind it.

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