Monday, 17 September 2012

The Higher Education


There is an increasing amount of tertiary education but there is  little higher education in Trinidad and Tobago .

To justify this statement we have to distinguish between education and the system of education; between formal education and all the informal ways in which people learn.

We also have to notice that certain terms that are used in discussions about education obscure the reality in which the people of our island live. Take for instance the terms ‘primary’, ‘secondary’ and ‘tertiary’ that are commonly used to describe the system of education. They sound objective, even scientific. But what these conventional and  structuring terms have suppressed for a long time is that half of our young people exist in a festering gap  between the Fourth and Fifth forms of the Secondary institutions and Year One at the University.

No society in which this gap exists can congratulate itself on providing proper or appropriate education for all.  Wherever in the world this gap exists and is not addressed, there are distressing social problems, including the invasion of the schools by behaviours associated with those people who have been consigned to a twilight world turning, for them and for us, into a frightening dark. 

An education system plays a part in educating people if the system is devised from within and is shaped by facing the  facts, by  taking into account everything that is around you including poverty, social inequity, and unexpressed grief and longing.  Only such fearless looking will make  it possible to find out what is needed,  and to discover after all, miracle of miracles,  that you have the resources to create a system that matches people and place. 

Think of the science of materials and the acoustic science, the higher education, possessed by those who with no formal tertiary education, no labs, and no research assistants experimented and experimented, and came up with pan.

I haven’t said as yet what I mean by ‘higher education’, because I plan to build up a sense of what it means in stages. Higher education includes the ability and the civic determination to turn ‘higher education’ into an instrument through which you ‘see’ your world, and also  a tool that can play a part in the common project of fixing that world.

We can get some more insight into higher education by remembering the late Lloyd Best  whose thought should be part of the higher education of all the citizens in our country. Best  coined the term ‘the validating elites’ to describe the many people who had tertiary degrees but who did not have what I call  a  higher education.

These Trojan horses lazily acquiesced in and validated the importation or ‘outsourcing’ of political systems, educational goals and economic arrangements that, ironically,  created an imitative society in the early ‘independence’ period.  These dictatorial elites  chain us even now  in expensive dependency with their unexamined yearning for ‘first world’  or ‘developed country’ status, and their (profitable) penchant for ‘outsourcing’. 

Those of us who survived ‘a sound colonial education’ and tertiary degrees from abroad learned not to reject it or succumb to it, but to turn it upon itself in the spirit of Caliban but with far greater technical resources than Caliban ( So: “You taught me your language and now I am Derek Walcott, Lorna Goodison,  Jamaica Kincaid, and C.L.R. James taking you beyond all boundaries and asking you , what do they know of higher education who only tertiary education know?”).
Slowly, slowly we learned to use the tertiary education to which we were subjected to find and give voice to  ourselves and our own world.

Perhaps it was more necessary and therefore easier for some of us to interrogate the foreign  tertiary education that we made sacrifices to get than it is  for those who now get tertiary education free without having to leave their own country. The interrogation of what is handed down as higher education is even more  urgent today. Indeed we have to go back to basics and ask ourselves (belonging to a particular society and participating in the world) what is education,   and what is education for?

To ask such a basic question is to see the necessity of maintaining a distinction between higher education and  ‘tertiary education’ (which belongs to the  more or less  organized system of education in a country). And as we grasp the visionary notion of higher education that I am trying to outline, we will begin to see why we need to ensure that the free creative spirit of what I call ‘the higher education’ enters primary and secondary levels as well.

Let us invent another saying: tertiary education is not always  higher education, and you can possess higher education without holding a tertiary education degree.   Very few of the region’s  great artists and intellectuals who grew up in the first half of the twentieth century had a tertiary education. The same can be said for our great entrepreneurs and businessmen.

John Jacob Thomas the nineteenth century founder of Creole language studies did not go to University. Neither did Sam Selvon, George Lamming or Wilson Harris. Ralph de Boissiere who wrote two of the most important Trinidadian novels of the 1950’s did not even finish his secondary education. Dissatisfied with what the Queen’s Royal College was offering him, he requested his father in writing to take him out of QRC  and allow him to pursue private studies to become a pianist. (He learnt soon enough that the Muse of his dreams was the muse of words not music.) Praise be that our greatest intellectual  in the twentieth century did not win the island scholarship that would have sent him to Oxford long before Vidia Naipaul  got there.

All the people I have mentioned above have one vital characteristic in common: they   knew what they came into the world to do, and they taught themselves to do it. The achievements of    C.L.R.  James as cultural historian, political thinker, artist and philosopher point to the fact that self-education and knowing what you want to be and do are  fundamental ingredients in higher education.

Let me begin to shape a definition. Higher education is a state of grace. It implies being alive to the world that is made up of the self and others. It is fired by curiosity and wonder. It is shaped by thought. It involves us in the task of integrating  all our learnings from all our experiences. Its true foundation is the cultivation of cultural literacy. Yes, as  formerly colonized people we have to turn to  cultural literacy. To be culturally literate is to know and understand the forms of self-expression in your country, to acknowledge and value the meeting of peoples and cultures, to feel your own place in your blood, and to be open to the silent voices of all the spiritual ancestors.  You could put it gnomically: higher education is knowing why birds are rushing into built-up areas like vagrants clamouring for handouts,  or snipers picking off anything you are trying to grow in your garden.

The outcome of higher education as I envision it,  is  the holy birth of  social consciousness, respect for the environment, respect for other people  and a feeling of responsibility to use our gifts and skills for the enhancement of life in our spheres of existence.

We have spent billions on our education system over the last ten years. And each year our society  becomes more troubled. Why doesn’t the education we have been providing make an uplifting  difference to the way we live among ourselves?

There cannot be one answer but this I  know:  the  architects of our system,  the  teachers,  and the parents  will themselves have to possess and be possessed by the  higher education. Only so can there be a joint venture between all those with a stake in the future, only so will heart join mind to fashion from the bottom up  an education system that will include every child and be able to take them all the way, each according to his/her needs and aptitudes.  Only then would it cease to be such a frustrating task  to urge upon the powers that be that all the education made available by the State should be  suffused with the elements and qualities I have been calling ‘the higher education’.

But if that happened the powers that be would not get to be the powers that be.

Speech delivered at the Prize-giving of the 2009 CHOGM Essay Competition for tertiary level students on November 27, 2009.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Return of the Concerned Cedrosian

           The Return of the Concerned Cedrosian

This letter from my old friend, CC,  came by pirogue and water-taxi on August 31, 2012. It is exactly as CC wrote it except for the removal of some salty expressions. There may be some interest in the random observations of a landlocked sea-dog.  (KR)

Ah Boy, Keneff

Like is really true. When you big you gross. That is the way of the politician, and now it is your way. Week after week the silver-grey car vooming past the old house, week after week you bleaching on the jetty, burning  your bottom black as Miss Edna tired say. She complaining really, but you take it as  joke. Up to now you don’t learn that old people need people to talk with them. You passing the old house straight, with the glass up and the tint so dark like a guilty hearse. 

You will find out. Old people cant live on a shout from the neighbour who calling out from the road only to make sure that you ain’t dead in your bed or stretch out stiff  on the floor. It have no cure for being in the world. But try and imagine nuh, old people especially need family and friend to spend time with them so they wouldn’t feel so frighten and alone till they mind scatter.

I not making any sympathy move, I not as badly off as that. Not yet anyway. Frieda here again, she come back for herself two weeks after she leave. The episode take me by surprise but I cant find it in my heart to blame or reproach. She have a right. Man could torment woman and don’t even know what they doing till they get a shock. As for me, I holding on. I living over the pleasure and the perpetual newness of the  books I love, including the books you show me,  or lend me and I never return.

For the daily pain, I read through every page of  the first newspaper that reach down here. Sentinel, Crack Glass or Fast Train,  it make no difference. One tablet  is a good enough dose. All of them bound and blige to make sure not to cross-thread  with the Government, or the owners, or the advertisers and them. The rule to obey is this: People and Pardners  who have power or money, what they do, that is the only news;  and the photos to take is party, banquet, function and parade. A man write a book about how, under the old regime, the papers collude with the powers that be and bend our mind. Now I say, as Walcott done say, in them swaddling cerements we still bound.

I know if I vex I loss. Papa Diable cant catch me with his games.  Most times I sit in the sad gallery looking over the seawall  to the rigs that plant out in the salt water. Gone are the great Cedars that gave the peninsula its name. My whole life, all I want is happiness and I realize that if I tell anybody they will ask me what happiness is, what  I talking about. Kenos, I not big like you and I not afraid of my feelings. I miss you.  Every Saturday when I look out I looking out for you. Them was happy days. In 1962, you and I know what Doctor Columbus and them  start to do.

The beast is streaming in the soul of Bethlehem. All the things the writers say and you putting on the blogs, you wasting your time, you  think people want to think? Presumption and vanity. Everybody is a leader of thought and patriotic talk, everybody looking to see if you mention them when you write, everybody is a guerrilla hustling  for their self.

You feel you smart and ironic quoting what Mr  Carlisle Chang say about the national flag that he self design. Who ever care what any old artist say? Take a side, man. Come to the Party. Join a gang. Let people know what side you on and who it is you come to attack. If you find out you wrong, be strong. You don’t remember the Lamming book where a character announce that he just discover this world is a world of camps and you better find your camp fast and eat a food there?

Why you don’t  celebrate the fifty years by coming  and spend the Jubilee weekend with Frieda and me?  Last week, a short feller with a white cap tie down on his head stand up on the jetty and  catch salmon, laray, big catfish and a whole set of sprats. You could come, and when the sandfly hour reach and you wrap up the lines, we could chase babash with coconut water till Frieda  mumble we keeping her from her sleep. Since she come back from her search for El Dorado with Cyrus and the shining V8 Pilot  ( I choose to believe it  when she say  “I change my mind before he get chance to touch me anywhere”), things going nice with us.

Stay in town and celebrate fifty years of what? We is the only country in the world with free education ( primary, secondary and tertiary too) but what is the purpose of this education, what kind of belief and ambition we encouraging young people to have, what kind of person we helping them to be, what is the success we pushing them to crave? Success killing people.

The thing start bad. On May 31, 1962 Federation departed this life. On August 31, 1962 the Union Jack lower and the flag of Trinidad and Tobago raise. Just so.  The corpse of the Federation was  still warm. By that time (since 1959), the father of the nation had already get his wish for Cabinet rule, and he twist the Westminster model to make sure that Prime Minister is monarch of all, more powerful than the Governor of colonial times. Nobody who follow him want to change that.

We didn’t carry out any struggle for Independence that could have burnish  us as a nation. And we never see Independence as freedom to create.  The vanguard who sacrifice in the 1930’s and 1940’s get jail and ridicule to the final bell. They was the fathers and mothers  of what could have been a new nation.  When enough time pass and they safely dead you will see, all of them getting posthumous award. Once universal suffrage came, Lloyd Best’s  “unresponsible elite” take over, they pay back the underdeveloped masses with universal suffering, and they abolish from history the dreaming men and women who stand  up to capitalism and British rule in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Then they  abolish the nation and mount in its place a golden idol called the political party.

Fifty years of bread and circuses. Beauty pageant and Shaquille O’Neal. Everybody compiling lists of the achievers of the nation. Everybody choosing the best fifty.  In truth, I don’t think any country have so much self-propelling  genius and so many individuals who do so much  good without constructive  help from the political powers. So many unsung and unspectacular heroes too.  I proud and glad. But it not adding up.  Plenty people but not a people (Lovelace).

How come the nation never learn to grow as a nation from all its peoples and from its individual talents?

And how come the money and the success not giving the happiness we stop longing for?