Those who sit on the seat of MosesThursday, July 29, 2021
Dudley McLean II
Clinton A Hutton, in “Confronting Crime” (part 2), wrote: “For the 468 years of slavery and post-slavery colonialism, the schooling and educating of our people, informally and formally, were aimed at framing an identity and an agency to conform to a belief system rooted in white superiority and black inferiority. Put another way, for 468 years schooling and education in Jamaica were not centrally rooted in the three 'Rs', but on the shaping of black identity as an agency in the service of whiteness. They were rooted in a philosophy, a curriculum, and pedagogy of black self-denial: That sense of value and agency of worth realisable only to the extent that black people became masters of the imagery, psychology, and notion of blackness designed by whiteness.” (Jamaica Observer, Sunday, June 6, 2021)
Such views are a distortion of the realities that governed education after Emancipation in 1834. First of all, Emancipation ended chattel slavery and the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 ended the 200-year reign of the oppresive Jamaica Assembly. Sir Peter John Grant, as the new governor of Jamaica, now under Crown Colony administration in 1870, was responsible for implementing the Foster Act as a response to the introduction of primary school education to the ordinary white people in England at the time, and to complement the primary schools which already existed. It was in 1861 that the 'Newcastle Report: Royal Commission on the State of Popular Education in England' (appointed in 1858) recommended the provision of “sound and cheap” elementary education, which led to the 1870 Elementary Education Act.
With regard to the curriculum, the impression is given by Hutton et al that the education provided in Jamaica was inferior to that in England. Susan Shaw, in examining education in England, wrote that the “curriculum in the 1870s mainly consisted of the 3 Rs (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) and religious instruction. There were some additional aspects, for example drill and 'object lessons'. In addition, boys were given training in agriculture and other manual arts, and girls received lessons in sewing and domestic science. These separate tracks for boys and girls were formalized in the Lumb Report of 1898 (Hamilton 1997). The report emphasised the need for agricultural training in order to counteract trends seen as threatening to the colonial economy and society: students were developing a distaste for manual labor and were moving from the countryside to the cities and towns to take up clerkships and other similar occupations.” Jamaica's colonial education system was no different from that which was taught in England.
While Jamaican boys contended with agricultural training, in England boys were subjugated to labour as chimney sweepers that was not repealed until July 29, 1938 with the Chimney Sweepers Act.
Distortion of the education system
Errol Miller, Professor of Teacher Education at The University of the West Indies is among those who have expressed challengeable views about the education system when he wrote, “The elementary school system catered to the marginal majority of the Jamaican society, while the secondary school system catered to the privileged and powerful minority groups.” (Miller, 1999:215) Professor Miller's assessment lacked both a historical and systematic understanding of the evolution of education in Jamaica.
First of all, Jamaicans of all ethnicities attended elementary (primary) schools, whether privately or publicly funded. To use the phrase “marginal majority” is to input social biases, especially those of inferiority, to the elementary curriculum. And, to say the “secondary school system catered to the privileged and powerful minority groups” gives the false impression that secondary schools were a universal privilege provided to the descendants of colonial Britain, in particular, the common people of Britain. It is to such views that Hutton et al have fallen victim.
Those who sit on the seat of Moses
The economic crisis of the 70s resulted in a brain drain in the nation due to an exodus of the people due to real or imagined threats of the communist boogeyman. This created a vast void in areas of leadership and the wholesale capturing of the education sector by the Government, which was forced to rescue the sector, as private education became unaffordable to the masses.
The void in leadership across most sectors of the economy saw the rise of a new breed of people, of which some were political stoogies who facilitated corruption and the raping of what was left of the floundering economy, as symbolised by the current, ever-devaluing dollar. Our Lord Jesus the Christ is reported to have described such leaders who occupied the seat of Moses (power) as those who “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). The Jamaican proverb “kitchen claat tun table claat”, which means someone has received a promotion that they didn't deserve and/or don't have the skills to perform, became a self-fulfilled prophecy. Politically, they are described as the rise of the lumpenproletariat.
Agency in the service of whiteness
Since the 1980s some 600 new religious organisations/churches have been incorporated in Jamaica. It was a part of the strategic move of Jamaica's fifth prime minister, Edward Seaga, to reduce the influences of the traditional eurocentric churches that embraced the ideas of liberation theology and black consciousness — an evolution of the black power movement, and a way to weed out the final remnants of Michael Manley's socialism.
The right-wing politics of the era led to intentional church planting of these groups. It was the Jamaican Government of the 80s that implemented President Ronald Reagan's Santa Fe Document of May 1980, which said that “the US State Department must attack liberation theologians because they were undermining progressive capitalism”.
Whether for good or bad, this deliberate political policy led to the elevation of other religious groups, and the penetration of American evangelical Christian right thinking in the Jamaican religious landscape, with their service of whiteness. It is these Jamaicans who introduced the pedagogy of black self-denial.
The “service of whiteness” occurred with the elevation of members of the new religious fundamentalism to the position of leadership. It was through their influences that new dress codes, with emphasis on outward appearances, were introduced into both the school system and the civil service, resulting in the unconstitutional discrimination against taxpayers and the denial of access to buildings based upon outward apparel. The current dress codes would have made the afros, bell-foot pants, platform shoes, locks, and gunmouth pants of the 70s worn by male students anathema.
This is why the current Minister of Education Fayval Williams has reaffirmed that “education is a priority for our students, and we do not believe that students should be turned away from school because of some issue with deportment”. ( The Gleaner, 20 July 2021)
Time to reshape the present
The problem our generation faces lies in the fact that we remain in self-denial about the psychological, social, and economic effects of the political tribalism of the 70s. The philosophy, curriculum, and pedagogy of black self-denial was introduced in Jamaica after the 1970s. Every generation has its own fate and we urgently need to reshape the present.
Dudley Chinweuba McLean II hails from Mandeville, Manchester, and is executive director of Associación de Debate Bilingüe Xaymaca (Adebatex),which promotes debating in Spanish in high schools. He is a graduate of Codrington College, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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