Some folks might remember, about three decades ago, when Top of the Form host Bobby Margetson put to the St Joseph’s Academy team a question, a folk saying, really, that began “Drunk or sober ….” The boys were perplexed, as was the other team; but one intrepid student volunteered to make an educated guess. Edmond Mansoor, who would, in time, become both a medical doctor and a politician, then hazarded, “Drunk or sober, me ah go dey!”
Granted, the answer was dead wrong – the correct response was “… study your bar” – but it was such a good one, such a logical one, that the host – when he was able to compose himself – congratulated the young man on his ingenuity, his ability to come to a reasoned and reasonable conclusion. And that is what is lacking in education today, they say: analysis and reasoning capacity, even as students come out tops in this exam and the next.
Don’t get me wrong, now. I have nothing but admiration and congratulations for our high achievers, and even for those whose accomplishments are more modest but who have given it their very best shot. This year, I am particularly chuffed by the stellar performance of Christ the King High School, whose girls did so well in the CXCs; and this is not because it is my alma mater, either. It is because I remember what the principal said at last year’s consultation on education: that CKHS does not automatically get the cream of the Common Entrance crop, but must do its best with whom it is given. And, looked at like that, I think the school has done and continues to do a fine job.
What I would hope, however, is that the education system has not turned out, yet again, a cadre of youngsters that has learned by rote, that has a collective head-ful of facts and formulae, and that has not learned how to think, either inside the box or outside of it.
I tell folks who ask about Antigua & Barbuda that politics colours every single thing in this country, even religion, and I strongly believe that is influencing education, as well, in this less than positive fashion. What do I mean? Well, think of how often you hear people saying things like, “Better dead than red!” or “My grandparents were Labour and my parents were Labour, so you know what I am!” More times than you can count, I am sure; or you may have made such a statement yourself.
Being who we are, I am willing to bet, by the very fact that this article is carried in this newspaper, that most of the people making the latter statement will never read it. And that is exactly what I am talking about: We’re bringing up our students, our impressionable youngsters, in the very same polarized way; a way that ignores, negates or denies the other side of the argument completely on the simple basis of it being “other.” Now, where’s the reasoning in that? And how is a child to discover the truth of a statement or the validity of an argument, or even experience what he knows only as theory if we continue the way we are going?
Just as bad – no, worse – is the way in which those who have examined both sides of the argument and have had the benefit of experience continue to blind others to the truth deliberately. As we say in the vernacular, those who know better routinely “take advantage” of others’ loyalty to keep them in ignorance. What they are, in effect, saying, is, “Don’t think! You might strain yourselves. We’ve done the thinking for you, and this is the line you’re supposed to repeat.” Then, just as they learned in school, they do not question, but merely memorise what they have been told and repeat the half-truth or the untruth often enough and long enough for it to acquire, in their eyes, not merely the sheen of truth, but the dogma of religion.
Those who hear grown people recite this stuff will say, with incredulity, “You can’t be serious!” But they are. And the truly dangerous thing is that the children are listening and learning and believing what they are told – despite the evidence they might see, hear or feel. …
I find it not a little ironic, too, that those who are “educated” in the real sense of the word – those who assess, analyse, criticise, and make alternative recommendations – are regularly and routinely pilloried and derided by those who ought to know better (and do), and who are the butt and brunt of statements like, “Dem feel because dem educated …” or “Dem t’ink dem bright. …” And the irony is compounded by the fact that their offspring are those headed for higher education because those parents know that it is not only the ticket upward and outward economically, but that it emancipates the self and frees the mind.
It is not by accident that it was a crime to teach slaves how to read and write, for it was believed that a literate slave would begin to question his status and, next thing you knew, start believing he was human and had rights. And this is why our current estate is so pitiful: for today we know that we are human and have inalienable rights … and yet we volunteer for slavery of the mental kind and our slave-masters look just like us.
The Mighty Sparrow, probably 50 years ago, sang of the mis-education perpetrated against us by the coloniser, who taught us to recite, “Dan is the man in the van.” Well, England has long relinquished responsibility for us; so who do we blame, these days, when students are not asking whether Dan really is the man in the van, or whether it is, in fact, a van and not an SUV?