The Incredible Dream

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 12, 2018


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeWhen enslaved Africans (they were the majority population then) won their full freedom in 1838, there was an urgent need to establish an educational system that combined their ways of knowing with the needs of the dominant colonial class. Sir Henry MacLeod, governor of the island, sent the following dispatch to Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State: “I should submit to Your Lordship that there never was a country where some general situation of education was more required than in Trinidad” (May 1, 1840).

He outlined the challenge that faced this post slavery society: “Your Lordship will find in Mr. Latrobe’s Report of August 1838 a complete statement of the impediments which had to that time retarded the progress of Negro Education here. The motley character of the population, the difference of religions, and tongues, the isolated settlements of the inhabitants are all adverted to by Mr. Latrobe as obstacles to education which it had not been possible to surmount.”

In 1838 C. J. Latrobe wrote Negro Education, British Guiana and Trinidad, the first analysis of education in Trinidad. He noted that the laboring classes had shown “a disposition to assist by subscription or otherwise, in the efforts of making for their especial advantage, and in several instances has done so to a very considerable amount.”

Latrobe reported that in 1837 “a school-house was on land given and conveyed by Captain Span; wood on stone pillars, shingled (master’s apartments included.” This schoolhouse, Tacarigua E. C. School, was built by the slaves who contributed a considerable amount of their own monies to that endeavor. Alphonso Nurse, George Padmore’s father, taught at that school where Lloyd Best and yours truly gained their primary education.

In 1845 Lord Harris set up a more sophisticated system of education with the construction of the ward schools. In 1869 Governor Arthur Hamilton, appointed Patrick Joseph Keenan, Ireland’s chief inspector of schools, to examine “the state of public education in the island” and to offer recommendations to improve it. He was particularly impressed with the work L. B. Tronchin, the superintendent of the Woodbrook Model School for Boys, who he said “legitimately occupies a foremost position” among the primary teachers of the colony.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, black folks had begun to control their education system and to chart their children’s education. It is out of this environment that Joseph de Suze wrote Little Folks Trinidad (1901), the first indigenous school primer of the island.

Black folks—-or indigenous educators—-were charting their own ruins, an acerbic metaphor one of our poets employed to describe our process of becoming a people. From the 1850s Hindu pundits and scribes were educating their children in their own ways, with John Morton and the Presbyterians aiding in that process since the 1880s.

Justice Seepersad’s article of October 26 spoke about the need for a coherent educational system and the establishment of a form of national service where Tribagonians of every race and creed can come together and forge a sense of national purpose.

But think of the irony, one hundred and eighty years after the abolition of slavery we are still faced with the challenge of forming a society from different creeds and races into a whole people. Dr. Farrell argued that we place a lot of faith in competitive examinations but have never studied how the students performed in the workplace and the society once they have completed their formal education.

Even in the postcolonial, independence era we still yearn to create a state, “where every creed and race find an equal place” and call upon God’s mysterious intervention to achieve that goal. However, I don’t know we can create a coherent society without a strategy or plan to make that possible.

Sunity Maharaj has argued that “the burden of democracy is too much for us,” a rather dubious position to swallow. She continues: “The savagery out of which we were born does not allow the room for taking a chance on real democracy. Better to hold to the rotting legacy of the older, dying order with its self-contemptuous education system, biased justice system, pampering economic system, and degraded politics on non-representation.”

I don’t know how one takes a chance on democracy. I thought democracy was something a people cultivated in a systematic way over the course of its development. Farrell, it seems, may be on to something when he says: “The inequities and social injustices of the wider society are reflected between and within our schools,” which suggests that we have to do much more work on the overall social order that encapsulates the formal system of education.

John Dewey, the American educator and philosopher, may have been correct when he argued in The School and Society (1915) that schools are nothing more than miniature replicas of the larger society.

Part of our continuing challenge resides in how we reconcile these two warring parts, recognizing that each part deserves as much consideration as the other. It’s a challenge that we face as an emerging society.

4 thoughts on “The Incredible Dream”

  1. “Let every creed and race find an equal place” Which Country and clime is an example ? from conquest to Colony, add Slavery plus colonialism, Democracy have always been a chauvinistic science and doctrine. When did black educators chart their own course Dr Cujoe? where they not working along with their colonial masters? Education then and now is to serve the interest of the Archons. How Europe underdeveloped Africa and the Caribbean by our great Walter Rodney, Dr Eric Williams, Marcus Garvey and many others, also detailed the captured minds that went with the natural resources, today, some of us still quote the criminal minds of yesteryear. The experience of early Capitalism have left ISM and SKISM among the Human machinery, not democracy, which have never worked in any of its forms , where practiced by former colonial subjects. Sunity and Farrell are making valid points, elaborating will determine a new Education, new mind-set, which Trinidad is not ready for, in the mean time? the Nightmare masquerading as the Incredible Dream, that have one falling horrorfully into an illusion.If we should take Trinidad as an example, Everyone is really out for themselves. The Democratic Tree Planted in the Colonies,bear fruits of Ignorance , Death is in her leaves, and darkness under the shadows of its Boughs . In Deceit and Lust we harvested the Tree through which Ignorance and Chaos became our home.

  2. Early Black educators were mimic men fashioning their outlook, educational philosophy, educational systems, instructional philosophy and curriculum to enhance and imitate their colonial masters.
    They continued in this mental enslavement long after the British modernized their own education system to accommodate the demands of a changing world.
    Even today T&T is hanging on to a system of education which has been internationally debunked and made irrelevant.

  3. The greatest thing any education system can do is to raise a generation of thinkers. The obstacles of ethnocentric ideologies is a very limited scope in education. To focus only on that can tie the human mind to chains of mental slavery.

    We operate under the general assumption “ if we do this we will produce this”. In other words if we dumb down the education system to accommodate those who are failing we will have done our job. Not so fast prof. To build a better culture is what the focus should be on. Nations that succeed take the time to understand the culture they are dealing with.

    In one European nation they were have major headaches with teenagers. The educators sat down and ask the questions. What emerged from discussions was teenage boredom that lead to drug abuse and other social ills. So they started to develop programs that would address these problems. Turns out they were quite successful in dealing with teenage aberrations. Kids could go to drop in centres, play games, read a book, dance, find their space. There were councillors ready to help and advise.

    I could go on but I think if one salient suggestion is followed through we can save the next generation!

  4. V.S. Naipaul’s book on the Mimic men drew comments both from Michael Manley and Eric Williams as it was viewed as criticisms of West Indian politicians copying from the colonialists by watching, learning and mimicking. The truth does offend but seriously the Barbadians may have an idea of what I am stating here.

    Farrell’s comments hold true as the competitiveness that still exists between schools in getting institution acclamations from quality rote learning of individual students as opposed to developed pragmatic learning skills for lifetime sustainability in those said individuals from the local school systems. Those students who have the opportunity to further studies abroad actually develop those essential skills and inter-relate to their birth country. How many of us have been reminded in those developed countries of learning especially in the 60s as to when ‘are we going back home’ coming across as civil courtesies but different meaning extolled.

    Sunity’s comments on taking a chance of democracy holds more truth from her expressed sentiments “better to hold to the rotting legacy of the older, dying order with its self-contemptuous education system, biased justice system, pampering economic system, and degraded politics on non-representation.” Why do some commentators still hold on to reparation payments owed when the world keeps trekking on progressively in all disciplines? The holding on to archaic systems and practised by the selfish many, can be the very reasons why corrupt practises are so rampant right across the board in other words ‘let me take care of myself now and to hell is with others’. Is this the meaning of democracy for us in T&T? Let me make myself very clear here I am not dismissing history nor legacy but I am advocating the time has come to let go and move on. Surprisingly, a culture shift is required in our thinking and perceptions in order to bring about progressive national development. Take a look at the rapid transformation technology has impacted on our lives in the last twenty years, meaning we need to be up to mark with research and development at all times. The results we may not see definitely not in 2020 but possibly in a generation time. The Singaporeans have done just that and they are a world apart from our present day thinking in T&T.

    Politicians discarded the implementation of Biotechnology in Caroni (1975) Ltd where the company would have definitely moved away from dependency of the Central bank and the sugar cane mentality and would have commanded self sustaining heights of ago industrial diversification. Why the failure? because of a lack of visionary insights and the application of pragmatism utilizing common sense developed with the right educational values.

    Both Bobby Cooper and T Man have identified points in their respective submissions. The calypsonians who are now becoming a dying breed have done a remarkable job over the years in bringing us social commentaries accompanied by pan music showcasing at the same time the original artforms we have been able to cultivate locally and demonstrate to the democratic free world out there. At the same time the beauty from our females in many international beauty pageants and the athletes performing on world stages identify our strengths. All is not lost as attempts have been made in having infrastructure in place such as the many stadia on the island for example. The strengths of the individual students can be applied in our policy makers overhauling our education system in promoting pragmatic skills development integrated with the academics for the young students by being firstly inclusive in curricular development and applying democratic values such as equality for all.

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