By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 29, 2016
In the latter part of the 19th century when thinkers were reducing Karl Marx’s notion of man’s economic dimensions (an analysis he began in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844) to saying man is an economic animal exclusively, Frederick Engels wrote to Joseph Bloch on September 21, 1890: “According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.”
The crucial words in these sentences, as italicized in the original, are “ultimately” and “only.”
Over the years Raymond Ramcharitar has been working overtime to distort remarks I made in a lecture “Learning and Education in Trinidad and Tobago” on November 1, 2003. After hurling his imprecations against the Black Caucus Movement, he argues: “The precursor to these sentiments was the Central Bank Director/Professor who was going around between 1997-2007 saying at UWI, Indians were taking over the TTIT (UTT), and that Indian teachers were not teaching black children in primary schools” (Guardian, August 17).
For purposes of brevity, I will only deal with the last sentence quoted above.
In an address of 5,539 words, I said: “The education system is not working for African students. I do not know whether some Indian teachers teach our children and/or offer the same tenacity when they teach African children as they do when they teach students of their own kind.”
The next paragraph read: “Correspondingly, I do not know if African teachers are as diligent as they ought to be when it comes to teaching our children and if they understand their responsibilities towards them” (trinicenter.com, November 13, 2003).
It follows that if one extracts one sentence (“Indian teachers were not teaching black children in the primary schools”) inaccurately from the larger context of meaning one distorts my argument and makes a dishonest polemical claim.
The evidence of 2016 shows my observations of 2003 to be correct. If, as the evidence suggests, “The educational system is not working for the African student,” it follows necessarily that Indian and African teachers, for the most part, are not teaching our children.
In 2003 Trevor Oliver, former president of TUTA, condemned my statement and sought to absolve all teachers from blame. I responded: “I do not lay the blame for the underperformance of African students solely on teachers.” I also quoted the T&T Chamber of Commerce statement that said: “The current education system does not serve the majority of the nation’s children.” (“Truth Comes to the Surface,” trinicenter.com, November 18, 2003).
I am a supremely qualified and accomplished educator. I was a monitor and a pupil teacher at Tacarigua A.C. and an assistant teacher at Point Fortin and Curepe A.C. before I left Trinidad to study in the United States.
In the United States, I kept up my interest in education. I was a member of a sub-committee of the Massachusetts Board of Education; I contributed to the debate of Harvard University’s Core Curriculum in the 1970s that changed the approach to education in the United States; I served as a member of several doctoral committees at Harvard University’s School of Education; and my essay, “What I Teach and Why” was published in the Harvard Educational Review in 1979 and has been reprinted since.
I have been an expert witness in murder cases in Florida (“The Circuit Court in and for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange County”) and California although I did not appear in court on the latter occasion. I testified as a cultural and multicultural expert as it pertained to the US and the Caribbean.
I have spent the past two months at Harrow Schools for Boys investigating the curriculum that shaped William Hardin Burnley, the biggest slave owner in Trinidad. Harrow, a famous public school in London, has produced seven British Prime Ministers. Apart from examining Harrow archives, I have read J. G. Cotton Minchin, Old Harrow Days (1898), Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), and David Turner, The Old Boys: The Decline and Rise of the Public Schools (2015), during the period.
As an educator and a scholar, I do not make irresponsible statements. Correspondingly, I expect my antagonists to be equally as responsible when they respond to my positions. If Ramcharitar believes my analysis is “the precursor” to the sentiments expressed by the Black Caucus and other advocates of black liberation, he has an obligation to demonstrate that proposition in a coherent and scholarly fashion.
Intellectual honesty demands that Ramcharitar respond responsibly to my lecture, “Learning and Education,” rather than cannibalize a decontextualized snippet of what I wrote.