Rowley’s Red Book, (for a Nation of Non Readers)


On election night I listened carefully to Dr. Rowley’s speech about the importance of teaching patriotism in the nation’s schools.  He stated something to the effect of interfering with the national curriculum to ensure that citizens demonstrate greater levels of patriotism towards the country.  The move towards this has begun as a committee was recently established under the mandate of the Prime Minister.

I will admit that I am no expert on the history of Trinidad and Tobago, but I have the skills and training of a historian.  I taught social studies and I currently lecture on education methods and foundations, while completing my doctorate on educational policy and leadership.  This is right up my alley, but more so, in these dire economic times, the policy response of leaders must be evaluated as they respond to challenges of leadership.

While this is not about politics in its conventional sense, the world of education, or at least the world in which I subscribe to about education, everything is political.   This is the world of critical theory.    It is a world that draws upon a significant body of literature that questions the role of schools and the transmission of knowledge in our society.  It is a world that ask us to question the status quo and forces to accept that there are multiple narratives that compete with each other.   It is a world that simply allows us to acknowledge the African proverb: “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”

Whose version of history must be we accept?  This is a rather complicated question and though Trinidad and Tobago has relatively short history, this history must be told.   But what is history?   Whose story is it?   It is on this premise that we must be careful with the work of this “seminal history textbook” going forward.    Policy making is a rather intricate process and we must pay close attention to what is being said and what is being done against the backdrop of knowledge society in which we now live.  Competitive nations and economies of the 21st century must fully embrace knowledge and creativity as commodities.   Developing nations such as Trinidad and Tobago can make progressive or regressive steps at this critical juncture as they shape educational policies for a future that will be defined by student acquiring these skills in schools.

While history is much about the past it is also much about the future.   We live in an era of where there will be more information tomorrow than there was yesterday.   Information continues to grow at an exponential rate.  First world countries are leading this development and this can be literally seen in the need to store data and the boom of cloud computing services and technologies. While all of this is geared towards the competitive economies of future and the application of new technologies towards human problems, a prescriptive approach towards the telling of history is a backwards and regressive steps for students, which has the potential to stymie their creative and cognitive abilities.  In essence, they will be thinking inside of the box.   That is a fallacy.

Social Studies have evolved beyond that of fact telling.   History, which is a major component of this extensive but often under looked field in schools, is more than something we commit to memory.   Names and dates while important to know does not measure one’s ability to be evaluative, one’s ability to use their critical thinking skills and certainly one’s ability to create.  Technology, whether from its most primitive in the cave days to its most futuristic, it is a problem solving tool for human beings.   New technologies will not only shape the way we create the future, but it will also shape the way historians have studied the past.   As this data is uncovered it will benefit the analytical and evaluative skills of students, allowing them to decipher fact from fictitious ramblings and this is where politics meets education.

We are still a young nation.   Most of us know people alive who remember when the Queen was still in charge and lived throughout the reign of first Prime Minister and seminal Caribbean Historian, Dr Eric Williams.  While there is something here worthy of examining that Williams was probably a much better historian than he was a politician, the attempts to re-write history at this juncture is a bit suspicious.  In leading this charge one can only wonder how kind will history be to the current Prime Minister given the overall adversarial nature of our politics.

Our politics perpetuates neocolonial values even though we strive to celebrate our multi-ethnic heritage and have done so in an atmosphere that is relatively exemplary around the world, but we should never allow history for whatever it is to be rewritten.   We should allow multiple narratives that tells our diverse stories and allow our better selves to identify with the common values we promote as our national culture.   It is in our diverse history we find our creativity and attempts to interfere with such diversity in the form of prescriptive telling will be a disservice to all citizens.   This is indeed a troubling sign for a democracy.

We must embrace knowledge, we must create knowledge if we are going to be competitive there must be no limitation placed on what we can learn, whether that knowledge is about the past or whether it is about the present.  We are going to need it all in its widest scope if we are going to see our way out of our current economic dilemma and miss the knowledge evolution taking place around the world.  What we should not do with knowledge, is tax it.


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