Clyde Mascoll, as I understand it, is an important intellectual guide and policy-maker of the Barbados Labour Party. And so, this is why I, in my capacity as President of the Peoples Empowerment Party, feel constrained to respond to the extremely backward proposals for reforming Barbados’ education system that were enunciated by Mascoll newspaper column of September 6, 2012.
Apparently, Mascoll feels that the central focus of our education system should be on training the Barbadian student to be a specialist in one discipline or sphere of activity. He further believes that our education system should go about this task by imparting to our students “a very basic education as a platform for specialisation”, and that this “very basic education” should be about “problem solving” and should have no place in it for Shakespeare, Bach or “old Greek Philosophers”!
In a paragraph that displayed mind-boggling ignorance about the purposes and techniques of education Mascoll declared: “Knowing about old Greek philosophers and the like is not basic in today’s world as it was in the colonial days. Such information can be googled.”
Clearly, Mascoll does not understand that the fundamental purpose of education is not merely to fashion a young human being into a worker who will be productive in some narrow sphere of activity, but rather, to give our young people a conception of life itself, and a set of values that will “root” their personalities and imbue them with a strong and healthy sense of identity and a coherent perspective on the world. And none of this can be achieved by the “googling” of philosophers, nor by the “very basic education” and narrow specialisation that Mascoll is proposing!
Permit me to add as well that the PEP’s vision of the ideal system of education is the very anti-thesis of Mascoll’s system of narrow specialization. Indeed, in one of our policy documents we propose for our primary and secondary school students an integrated general academic and technical education designed to — “dismantle the false distinction between so-called ‘mental’ and ‘manual’ work, and to develop a society of universal, comprehensively educated, culturally advanced and supremely versatile citizens who are not only equipped to carry out a wide variety of social assignments, but are also poised to face any change in economic production, and to compete at the highest international levels”.
But let us return to this issue of values and education. Values do not help us to navigate our way through life unless they become our own – a part of our mental make-up. This therefore means that they must be more than mere formulae or dogmatic assertions: rather, we must think and feel with them! And for education to give us any of this, it must be centred on great works of history, classic novels, penetrating poetry, towering and educating philosophies, timeless ethics and spiritual wisdom.
As far as the PEP is concerned therefore, there is definitely a place in our educational system for Shakespeare’s plays, Lamming’s novels, Bach’s classical canon, Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry and Bob Marley’s world music — works of art that teem with the most vital ideas about the inner development of man and of human society.
And as for so-called “old Greek philosophers” — can you imagine how much our Barbadian students would benefit from exposure to such intellectually stimulating works as the English language editions of Plato’s dialogues? This “old Greek philosopher”, whose work was based upon and heavily influenced by the classical African civilisation of Kemet (Egypt), utilised the Socratic Method of penetrating questioning to ventilate such timeless questions as — “what is justice, honour, virtue, morality, wisdom, immortality, patriotism, and the best type or State of government?”.
No Clyde Mascoll, you have it all wrong! You are thinking like the narrowest of economists, and the direction that you are proposing to take us in is a direction of moral and cultural sterility and of economic narrowness and fragility!
* David Comissiong is president of the Peoples Empowerment Party.