‘If you see something…’

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 10, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI have been poring over the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) “Education Policy 2023-2027”. In it, the word “holistic” comes up so often that I do not know whether I am a holistic citizen or not. One dictionary defines the word as meaning “characterised by the belief that the parts of something are interconnected and can be explained only by reference to the whole”.

I am still not sure how the MoE expects a student to achieve that goal.

An example of the use of the term suggests, “The solution demands a holistic approach and strategic vision of what can be achieved.”

In medicine, the term “holistic” is characterised by “the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of an illness”. This definition makes sense. To understand what’s going on when someone is sick, it helps to have a full picture of what is taking place with that person. It might even involve knowing something of his family’s medical history.

In education, the term “holistic person” or “holistic scholar” is vague. It’s a reach.

I prefer that my education system develops a “conscientious” rather than “holistic” citizen. However, the word “conscientious” never comes up in the Education Policy. “Conscientious” has a more precise meaning. Put simply, a conscientious person is one who “wishes to do what is right, especially to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly”. It’s the kind of citizen we should develop.

“Holistic” is the new education buzzword, but does it help our situation much?

I will give a concrete example. Johnny (not his real name) lives on the fringe of the Eddie Hart Savannah in Tacarigua. About 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday, he and his friend saw two men break into one of the food carts on the savannah and steal a generator, two gas tanks, and two ring stove burners. They also tried to break into another food cart.

Observing the action from nearby, Johnny and his friend ran down the thieves and held one of them. One of the thieves had a knife. The boys immediately called the police at the Arouca Police Station, informing them that they held this thief, and they should come and arrest him.

They held the bandit for about an hour, but let him go since the bandit began to call his friends. The police did not arrive until 3 a.m. The Arouca Police Station is about a five-minute drive from the food court.

When the police arrived, they asked Johnny, “Why yo’ let him go?” to which Johnny replied: “I called you guys three times but you only now reach.”

The police admonished Johnny: “You had no right to let him go.”

Johnny was dumbfounded.

The police then left the scene.

Johnny now lives in fear. He said to me: “I might be a target. I hope nothing happens to me. I feel very unsafe.”

Wouldn’t it have been better if these policemen were conscientious rather than holistic citizens?

Conscientious policemen would have been at the food court within half an hour after they received the first report. They would have been elated that two citizens took the initiative and were carrying out their civic duty. The Education Policy speaks everywhere about the role of the community in making the society a better and safer place in which to live.

Yet the police waited an hour and a half before they acted, and then had the audacity to ask, “Why yo’ let him go?”

One of the strategic goals of the Education Policy is to “support the development of holistic citizens, and not only those who are aptly skilled in the realm of academics”. It also seeks “to revise the curriculum to support… the values, attitudes and behaviours of the ideal Trinidad and Tobago citizen”.

Johnny is a former student of St Mary’s Children’s Home. He will not read the Education Policy and cares less about its contents.

He saw something amiss, acted, and called the agency responsible for protecting and serving the people, but the agency failed him and his fellow citizens. He took his life into his own hands, ran down the culprit, held him, and called the police. He could have lost his life in the process. He might have interrupted the police nap. Their strategic goal was to get to the crime scene at their own leisure.

The discrepancy between Johnny’s and the police actions goes to the heart of our problems: all talk and no action, fancy language and inept performances. However, being conscientious in what one does beats rhetoric all the time. Nowhere in the Education Policy do I see a commitment to cultivate “a fierce individualism” among our students.

Such textual silences lead me to the conclusion: if you see something, unsee it. Run like hell because the police ain’t coming. They might be sleeping, which means you may be interrupting their napping arrangements.

As for Johnny and his friend: I thank God they are alive. By the time the cops arrived they should have been “biting the dust”.

The police, in their disgruntlement, may still be complaining, “Why did this orphan home boy wake me outta ma’ sleep?”

There is a great disconnect between our words and our actions. We must do better than this.