The Illusive Dream

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 05, 2018


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI don’t know if it was “the cleansing water” as I called it last week but all of a sudden the newspapers were filled with reflections on education and the role it should play in resuscitating our society. It was almost as though these profound meditations came down from heaven, demanding that we fulfill an age-old dream of togetherness.

The first iteration came from Iman Yasin Abu Bakr when he eulogized Ricardo “the Gladiator” Welsh. He observed: “Many children were full of rage and parents lapsed on the job of keeping them in school. He [Abu Bakr] stressed the importance of this saying education was the only chance a people had to elevate themselves” (Newsday, October 28).

Expressing his disappointment with an “older person” who “misled the young man who killed Gladiator,” Abu Bakr bemoaned that the younger person—he presumed it was a young person—who committed the act did not possess the intellectual capacity to question the misleading information he had received from an elder person—again a presumption—and which led to his (the killer’s) heinous action.

He concluded: “Because they drop out of school, they can’t read, and they can’t write, and they can’t understand. That’s why it’s so easy for them to kill each other. They can’t converse.”

Abu Bakr wasn’t original in this observation. He echoed a plea that Gypsy made years ago when he sang: “Little black boy, go to school and learn/Little black boy, show some concern/Little back boy, education is the key/To get you off the street and out of poverty.” (1977)

Both Abu Bakr and Gypsy saw the salvific role of education in the liberation of our people.

On October 28 Justice Frank Seepersad continued in a related vein when he spoke on parental and youth accountability at Marabella Presbyterian School. He lamented the miseducation of our children, our parents’ inability to assume their responsibility and the shortcomings of the educational system.

He said an educational system that turns out doctors, lawyers, engineers (skilled persons) at the expense of developing other aspects of their personality does not necessarily “assist in our national development needs.”

He lamented: “We have produced citizens with certification who lack a sense of citizenship and community. The existing system does not foster a continuing volunteerism, national identity or skills of interdependence. We need an educational overhaul and any educational reformation should incorporate a form of national service” (Express, October 29).

Justice Seepersad reminded us of the two Latin words at the root of the English word education: educare by which we mean “to train or to mold” and educere meaning “to lead out.” This suggests that any educational system must “mold and train the mind” as it leads one to understand one’s responsibility to the larger collective.

At its most felicitous level, an educated person must be trained to act purposefully in one’s society which goes back to what the old people said: “Common sense make before book.” This suggests that the acquisition of paper credentials means little if one cannot place one’s skills in the service of others and make where one inhabits a better place in which to live.

Just when I thought we had our fill of educational philosophizing, we were treated to the biting sarcasm and trenchant logic of Terrence Farrell who suggested that events over the last two weeks reflected “the crisis of education in this country” (Express, October 29).

He says that the Draft Education Policy Paper 2017-2022 put out by the Ministry of Education “makes depressing reading for its inability to confront the real problems of education.” He argued that “the document is not about our children” or “the parents who have first responsibility for the education of their children.” It is woefully short on “a philosophy of education for this country in the 21st century.”

On October 1, 2003, I delivered a lecture, “Learning and Education in Trinidad and Tobago.” I argued: “Education must be seen as the transmission belt through which we convey and implement the socially desirable outcomes of the nation.”

I continued: “We must organize our teachers, our parents and our communities around our students’ needs. If we do not claim our young men and women, the prisons will. African students cannot be saved unless they master writing, reading, scientific, mathematical and computer literacy. No educated person in the twenty-first century can exist without these skills” (

Reading the observations of Abu Bakr, Seepersad and Farrell, one cannot but conclude that our educational system is in deep trouble, which is reflected in the degeneration we see in so many aspects of our lives.

I have spent my entire life in education—from a lowly pupil teacher at a village school to teaching, studying and lecturing at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. We could jump high, we could jump low: Unless we raise the social and cultural levels of our students no bad-John Commissioner of Police or well-meaning but misguided education plan can get us out of the rut we are in.

We need to listen to the wise utterances of our brothers. We have been dealing with this problem (or challenge) since our nation’s dawning. Next week I will talk more about this.

11 thoughts on “The Illusive Dream”

  1. “Reading the observations of Abu Bakr, Seepersad and Farrell, one cannot but conclude that our educational system is in deep trouble, which is reflected in the degeneration we see in so many aspects of our lives“
    According to Selwyn Ryan on crime “In reporting on the issue of prison reform in the report titled “No Time to Quit—Engaging Youth at Risk”, Dr Ryan confirmed that young black males outnumbered all other groups in the prison and as at 2010, they accounted for 51 per cent of a prison population of 2,920, while Indo-Trinidadians and others were ten per cent and “mixed” ethnicities stood at 28 per cent.

    He found that most of the offenders were incarcerated for petty offences related to trafficking narcotics and that first time offenders accounted for 50 per cent of the inmates.

    “Conditions in our overcrowded prisons are inhumane, degrading, and unacceptable,” Ryan said, especially so at Remand Yard where people wait to have their matters decided.

    “Shocking is perhaps the only appropriate term to describe the conditions found there,” the report said, adding that it was “surprising that there are not more prisoner breakouts or suicides on a routine basis”.

    In another report Ryan points to the importance of Early Childhood education. Kamla worked hard to build ECCE Centers and to my dismay the PNM administration recently gave 600 teachers the pink slip. A very sad day indeed for children who at a very early age can escape the future death of poverty “Recommendations – Early Childhood Care and Education
    1. An institutional strategy for the ECCE Division as contained in the Moore Report (2011) and the Franklyn report (2010) that provides a framework to support the transition of children from ECCE to Primary Education should be given full consideration by the Ministry of Education in keeping with its quest for a seamless education system
    2. Every child deserves a good start in an environment that is safe, healthy, emotionally supportive and cognitively stimulating. In that regard, a child with a learning disability or with social and emotional needs should be screened by age 5 for remedial intervention.

    The original CCDP initiative should be revisited; with its goals to establish an assessment programme for children, create an appropriate and integrated response to the identified needs and to build a network of collaborative, health service providers throughout Trinidad and Tobago. There should be an added goal that provides a health registry and allows for research activities, some of a longitudinal nature”.

    If the present administration continue the defunding of education, more gangs will emerge!

  2. Learned Ductah,sometimes you write a lot good things. But you’re like a lot preachers, they preach good but do not back up their good sermons with action. I have said many times take your learning,expertise and intellectuaulism and go to the troubled areas of T&T and help your brothers and sisters. Living it up in the USA and writing a weekly column won’t really help much. The best sermon is the one lived! The youths of Pos, Beetham, Laventee,Enterprise, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and many other places could use your help more than your words.(Atleast Abu is living what he’s preaching’ he got atleast four wives.

  3. The parents in our society are the greatest stumbling blocks to the modernization of the education system in T&T. These traditional advocates perpetuate and encourage a value system based on the superiority of the traditional professions like medicine, law etc.
    Their children are continuously brainwashed to strive for the acquisition of one of these traditional professions without any consideration of aptitude, ability or individual preference.
    Parents have historically resisted efforts to give equal status to the arts, technical education and physical education. There have been demonstrations by literate parents against recognizing these disciplines as examinable school subjects as part of secondary school entrance. Education ministers and the department of education continually surrender to the middle class and upper middle class by perpetuating the curriculum driven, rote memory examination model to the detriment of different learners. Teachers buy into this system because it makes their jobs less challenging and more profitable as they offer private lessons for extra compensation.
    Educational reform in T&T has to begin with defining the term “education”. Clint Eastwood type policing will not endure. Finding appropriate ways to “educate “our youth will have long term lasting effects.

  4. Learned Ductah,can you force education on people who do not want it.You being a Pnmite and PNM ruling the country for the most part, How come you all ain’t done something about the problem? After all you seem to have the answer.

  5. Missing, truth and honesty in a society yearning for civility have been discounted by the wider society, in which false gods and idols have become national exemplars. We created this social beast.
    From independence moving forward, we planted peas and expected to reap tomatoes. One of the most glaring offences was the murder of public servant, Jean Miles. who dared to expose the gasoline station racket. She paid with her life for being an honest citizen.
    Today, nobody cares about that. Morality and integrity in governance is a rarity. Massa day done!

  6. Selwyn Cudjoe has remarked in his article “African students cannot be saved unless they master writing, reading, scientific, mathematical and computer literacy. No educated person in the twenty-first century can exist without these skills”. Cudjoe has pointed to an important aspect of the descent into violence and murders in T&T – “Unless we raise the social and cultural levels of our students” he opines, we cannot get out of the rut we are in. Again Selwyn Cudjoe has pointed to an important cause of “the rut we are in”. The question is – how do we get those students who need it most of all to understand the value of education and to get involved in acquiring the skills that Cudjoe speaks about. We need to understand why they are alienated from education. I would like to address this issue. I think it is a question of self-esteem. I can give some quotations (without sources in this article) about the importance of self-esteem: “self‐esteem is a crucial element of the confidence and motivation children need in order to engage in and achieve educational pursuits”; “Drawing from various theoretical perspectives (e.g., social comparison theory, symbolic interaction theory), much research has validated the assumption that high self-esteem is associated with educational achievement”. And then we have to ask – why the lack of self-esteem. I would like to argue that it is a socio-cultural phenomenon. The “African students” that Cudjoe speaks about, are suffering from a lack of self-esteem because they lack a sense of self, a sense of identity. We say over and over about how slavery had deliberately robbed the African of his sense of identity so that he could be controlled, well you don’t get back your identity as you get back a wallet. It leaves a void, and that void has been filled by a destructive nihilism. You can have no purpose, no sense of community, no higher plan if your sense of self has been taken away. So we need to restore that historical identity, that sense of pride in being African. Africans created the greatest ancient civilization – Egypt, but Egypt is not even considered African, or black. That is of course Hegel’s doing, his philosophy of history separated Africa into disunited components. But I think the role of our intellectuals is to fight to restore that sense of pride and sense of self that is essential to enable that engagement in educational pursuits for our young people. Of course the haters become berserk when you tell them that Ancient Egypt was a black civilization, but that’s the struggle we have to endure.

    1. God loves the African more than any other race. He gave them the largest continent teaming with all kinds of animal and plant life found in no other part of the world.

      Along with that is uranium, nickel, gold, diamond, copper, oil, gas and vast undiscovered resources. Rich in vegetation and plant life. God also made the African a well endowed, strong human being.

      The white people came and saw this and sought to destroy this great people. Africa has been pillaged of its resources, and its people shackled and sold off. Today Africa is changing improving and thinking for themselves! People like Cudjoe and other Afro Trinis should join this tide of change in that great continent. Dr Rowley has visited and established relations with Ghana. There is a surplus of women in Ghana, and Trini men can go there and find humble, loving, cultural women. I am all for unity.

  7. High self esteem and a secure sense of identity are critical attributes for the success of any individual.
    Emancipation occurred in 1838. Even though Birdie McClean is correct in his analysis of the detrimental effects of slavery, one wonders how long it is going to take some segments of the African population to overcome this scourge. It is now 180 years later.

    Colonial attitudes and traditional educational curriculum and instructional methods must be reconsidered in light of the fact that so many at risk children are failing in T&T. Schools boast about their top achievers while totally ignoring their high failure rates at every level.

    Create opportunities for success, emphasize strengths, utilize non-traditional instructional techniques, create support systems for impoverished families and the result would be an increase in self-esteem, achievement and an eventual reduction in crime.

    A gun slinging, tough talking COP and police force will fail in spite of short term gains and aggressive, but false public relations.

  8. I wanted to pick up on two points that Birdie McClean made. I do not accept that slavery “had deliberately robbed the African of his sense of identity.” No social being can live without having a sense of identity or knowing “who he or she is.” We are social beings which suggest no one cannot rob us of or take away from human beings that sense of sociability which inheres in our humanity. One may change the nature of that sociability but it cannot be erased. What happens is this: people change -or their identity change–in light of new social conditions which is what happened to Africans who were brought to the New World and were enslaved. This means that we have to think of means of preparing individuals to act in a socially productive manner in their new environment and this is where education-in all of its dimensions–come in.
    I also believe that we can’t restore “that historical African identity” which never existed in the first place. Each region in African possessed its own culture and correspondingly what it considered socially desirable behavior. Each region (ethnic group) had its own sense of what one can loosely call “an African self.” But it is well to remember that that very “African self” was created outside of Africa. When, for example, Walter Rodney speaks of the exemplary behaviors that were found in Africa and sense of caring for one another–that was the nature of behavior that one found in early civilizations in Africa. So while one can talk of taking a sense of pride in what was accomplished in Africa during the pre-chattel slavery days there is really no need to deify it. The world has moved on. We must draw pride from that heritage but remember that we really can’t bring back those ole time days. How we position ourselves in this modern age, based on a sound understanding of the past is what is required now. I hope this helps us to continue the discussion.

  9. Interesting and provocative comments especially the one on producing ‘socially desirable outcome’. I am amazed at some doctors who lack the decorum of basic compassionate understanding in speaking to patients and concerned relatives. Definitely, acquiring knowledge as the qualifier does not make you truly educated. I am amazed at some legal luminaries who literally lie at times to save their own ‘skin’ in prevaricating on ‘air-tight’ issues. The same can be said for other professions. The sworn oath to carry out the ethical rules of the respective profession then becomes questionable as offered by some professionals. Having a degree does it really mean you are ‘truly’ educated compared to an individual who has no qualifications awarded by an institution but displays excellent and appropriate behaviour at all times?
    A young man whether black or otherwise takes a departure from the academic settings and is referred to as a ‘dropout’ but using his pragmatic skills against all odds becomes a successful person. How is that possible? There arises a myriad of explanations as to the application of determination, values, choices, support systems, learning environment etc. etc.
    A similar young man who chooses to loot and rob as the way of life and whose mother says nothing when he comes home with the spoils of his ‘hunting’ but the moment, he gets struck down by security the same mother starts wailing and complaining of injustice and even saying what a good child she had. Now would such a mother be encouraging her child to choose a correct pathway in life?
    Sometimes we see what the neighbour children are doing but not our own and despite whatever infrastructure the government provides it inevitably becomes incumbent upon us to do what is right for there would always be gaps to be identified. This is what is called positive outcome. Time waiteth for no man, as technology is in the upswing basic math and literacy skills are a basic requirement.
    Preachers must practice what they preach so that the ‘lowly’ educated individual who looks up at them and allow them to become mentors in their life are not disappointed when they see ‘lowly’ practices and view it as the norm and appropriate. So, we need to own up here and acknowledge that we do have a serious problem that comes under the umbrella of culture reflective of – which is, the way we think is the way we act. How can we think of a project of the magnitude of Sandals when we have such an ingrained criminal activity acting out in our society right under our nose? The outcome definitely would not be desirable; not because of lack of transparency from educated government officials but also from ‘educated’ gangsterism.

  10. Dr Cujoe, are you telling the African that he must move on? some to us, suffer from the European educational infection, the untruth is made ruth. It seems Dr Cujoe, that Dr Hillary Beckles have put you in the shade on this very same issue, are you telling us, that after over 400yrs of brainwashing have had no effect on who the Trinidad Africans are today? You don’t seem to quote Marcus Garvey’ philosophy in discourses like these why?, i sometimes wonder. Trinidad is unraveling right in your eyes Dr C, this generation or the one before did not create this catastrophe. The mis-education of the African by Teacher Woodson, is very much alive today, even those who claim to be well educated, are left in the dark of not knowing what they should really know. Our great Intellectuals have transcended, but their works have remain to elevate those who really want to be enlightened. Self HATE means not KNOWING, mentally he/she continues to be chained. The conditions must be in place for the African to succeed, In the USA, so-called Great Britain, the entire Caribbean,and where ever Africans are in the Diaspora,educational failure is the norm, they are taught about every body and thing, but never about self, yes , the self that was beaten out of him/her, while at the very same time, am image of illusion was imposed.Knowledge is about facts and ideas that we acquire through study, research,investigation, observation or experience, Wisdom is the ability to decipher and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting and applicable to life’s continuance. I read some time back, the best mind altering drug is the truth, that’s the missing link. Peter Tosh told us, “where ever you come from, as long as you are a Black man your an African”, yes i know who i am and the ones who continue to subjugate my people’ aspirations. The COLLABORATORS will always say otherwise.

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