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A modest proposal toward a truer emancipation and a truer independence, pt. 4

PATRICIA GLINTON-MEICHOLAS

Published: Sep 25, 2013

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• Conclusion of the address delivered by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas on the occasion of The Keva Marie Bethel Distinguished Lecture at The College of The Bahamas.

 

In a democracy, leadership and planning must be participatory, inclusive and transparent. They should not be simply top-down pronouncements from the inscrutable Mount Olympus that The Bahamas Parliament is becoming.

It is essential to counter a growing authoritarianism. There are politicians, supported by many ordinary citizens, who seem keen to recreate the historic truck system whereby the company store is the only one open for business and accepts for payment only the scrip of party affiliation. If ever there was a way to cancel liberty in any form, it is surely this.

No Cabinet minister or government has shoulders broad enough to handle the whole weight of a country’s governance.

Such attempts tend to end in something breaking, whether it be the people, their rights or their economic opportunities, so it is essential to cultivate plurality. We must insist on local government and school boards that make more real government by the people, for the people.

If such institutions are to work, however, it is essential to raise popular standards of knowledge and civic intelligence. It is important to promote forums, institutes, civic clubs and radio and television that demonstrate balance, a wealth of knowledge and social responsibility.

Building greater efficiency and productive independence in the Bahamian economy must begin with government’s exit from business to concentrate on its mandated obligation to govern, facilitate and promote commerce and peace, rather than disarray and discord.

Master planning must be less directed by ego, characterized by a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality. For greater productivity and sustainable development, economic strategies should be grounded in the realities of our geography, history, our demographics and culture. We must suppress the insecurities that push us to emulate the ‘big boys’ of the Western world in oversized hotels, malls and excessive consumption.

Chief among strategies should be the promotion of greater Bahamian ownership in the principal areas of the economy – tourism, hospitality and banking through the extension of incentives to demonstrably qualified corporate entities and individuals.

Government sincerity in promoting Bahamian ownership was wonderfully demonstrated through the offering of shares in the new container port at Arawak Cay.

We have had evidence of patent insincerity as well. The commitment of an initial public offering to give ordinary Bahamians a chance for ownership in the telecommunications industry was withdrawn, no satisfactory explanation given.

Does this not give the lie to government’s avowed determination to “take back” BTC for Bahamians? Just how do the rest of us profit, if a privately owned Bahamian company is interposed between us and active participation as shareholders?

Any and all efforts to make long-lasting changes in our society and economy must effect an intimate articulation with the nation’s education system. To fill this vital role, the system must first focus on restoring public confidence in its ability to clean up its own house before pointing fingers or addressing insufficiencies elsewhere.

 

Long-lasting change

In this regard, we must begin by reflecting on teacher selection, training and competence. God bless the many dynamic teachers I have met but, truth be told, their light is overshadowed by a greater number of educators who are space holders, generating boredom and frustration rather than creativity because of defective preparation and even poorer attitudes.

The trouble began when teaching in the public schools became an avenue to easy employment, a job rather than a vocation. Moreover, we are not attracting sufficient numbers of the brighter students towards careers in teaching. They are drawn towards the higher prestige, higher paid professions in the private sector.

We must respond by raising the profile and pay accorded educators, who are the foundation of all else that takes place socially and economically. It’s time to substantially recognize and reward good teachers.

For classroom teachers, we must insist on subject specialization. In preparation, they should undergo, at tertiary level, a four-year concentration in the subject they will teach and a fifth year dedicated to teaching practice and acquiring a license to teach.

Once in the teaching service, it is imperative that educators from preschool to high school undergo regular recertification. The process should include a specified number of hours of certified professional upgrade and an examination every three years or so.

This is the process in many other professions. Why should less be required of the builders of men and women?

Additionally, we need better and regular classroom supervision in the schools, not for snooping but to perceive difficulties and fix problems before they become unmanageable. We need school psychologists.

Let us do something about the proxemics of the precincts of education. How much good can come out of facilities that are ill provisioned, poorly maintained and unsafe for students, teachers and administration?

The current crisis cries out for teachers’ unions that are as much focused on the quality of teachers and teaching as they are on pay and vacation time. Let the unions be ombudsmen for the profession, who jealously promote the quality of practice and will move swiftly to intervene when problems arise.

We need more private sector support of education. No more criticism of poor achievement without lending more expertise, more time, more money.

Above all, let us begin the change process in education at the beginning – the primary level. Here is where the best of the best should be assigned – the best and most caring administrators and classroom practitioners.

No child should leave primary school without being unshakably numerate and literate. Let’s take the numbers from the page, make them tactile and relate them to everyday life. Let’s go back to drills in mental arithmetic and the multiplication tables, so when the electronic cash registers go down, we can still total up purchases and give accurate change.

Let’s give our children a strong foundation in literature, creative writing, art and music, subjects, which, if properly taught, will enhance the ability to think, to dream, to create. Of greatest moment, such subjects can lead to a contemplation of the divine, our unique position in a unique creation and, above all, foster the realization of our common humanity.

In teaching at all levels, it is essential to stop marking time at the knowledge, memorization and regurgitation levels. Lessons must be rich in the challenge of extrapolation, application, analysis, evaluation and creation of new knowledge.

Given the increasing disaffection of Bahamian youth, it is as urgent to concentrate on the development of the affective domain of learning, which targets awareness and growth in attitudes, emotion, feelings, peaceful interaction with others and conflict resolution. From the initiation of formal education, we must not only teach but model values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise.

There is real genius among Bahamians. Just look at the creativity of local criminals; they are brilliant. We have to cultivate this genius in the right way.

 

Freedom and independence

In any discussion about young people and freedom, it is imperative to discuss those who fall afoul of the law. It is just that lawbreakers who abrogate the rights of others should lose their liberty. In a democracy, however, they should not lose their human right to pursue freedom, as defined at the beginning of this presentation.

We need a new prison that affords not luxury, but the basics that support health and dignity. It’s all about proxemics – provide a healthy environment to breed good health, physical and mental; provide toxic surroundings and breed toxicity.

We contradict ourselves when we call for crime reduction and do not provide the incarcerated with a chance to obtain the seven Rs – redemption, rehabilitation and restoration through the teaching of reading, writing, arithmetic and resolution of conflict, along with the chance for honest and dignified employment. This is the only way to hold back the deadly eighth R – recidivism.

When we do not provide these opportunities, we double the penalty. We double the bondage and increase the chance that there will be further lawbreaking when the prisoner is set at liberty.

Freedom and independence require the nourishment of truthful, timely information and, above all, a free press. A way forward in this regard has been well expressed by Kiran Maharaj, president of the Trinidad & Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association: “As journalists we owe it to ourselves and our society to share the stories that show the fray in our social fabric with the intention of creating positive change. […] We must keep working at raising the bar of excellence in journalism. Media owners have to decide what is more important – borderline sensationalism […] or more responsible and accurate reporting.”

What we urgently need is a journalists code and professional association with a real sense of commitment to journalistic excellence, but both must be backed by a Freedom of Information Act. We must protect earnest and ethical young journalists from scurrilous threats of defamation suits.

For a truer freedom and independence, we need to turn serious attention to searching out and changing or modifying the antiquated laws that seriously undermine human rights. We can only do so if we induce more bright young legal professionals to join the Attorney General’s Office to meet that great challenge.

We Bahamians must come to understand that freedom and independence are not permanent possessions or automatically sustained. They are demanding mistresses, who impose strict conditions upon those who would enjoy their company.

We must pay their rent, feed them, clothe them and never turn our attention from this jealous pair, lest they stray and betray us. To keep tight and supple their ever-aging skin of laws and custom, we must be quick to supply the cosmetics of wisdom, willingness to change and timely constitutional amendments, when conditions and honest investigation demonstrate the need.

Without this, our enjoyment of freedom and independence will not grow but decrease.

It is urgent to decide who we are as a people, what we want to be as a society and what norms and values will characterize our society and economy. It is clear that our interventions to set us back on the march to a truer emancipation and independence must be based on a more respectful exploitation of our natural resources, self-discipline, productivity, accountability and honesty.

We must tap into a notion of the divine that is not sullied by partisan and exclusionary religion, but enlightened by the gospel of love, unity and peace.

Now is the time to act; our tide is at the flood. Despite the collapse of many of the comfortable traditions and practices upon which we once depended, never before in our history have we experienced a time more pregnant with opportunity. Never before has the possibility of profound personal, societal, and global renewal been more real.

But we do well to grasp the fact that the seeds of tomorrow are sown and watered today. They can be seeds of despair and dissolution or seeds of aspiration and achievement. Let us choose the latter and commit to contributing our many talents to this urgent enterprise of liberation, starting this very day.

 

• Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is a Bahamian author, educator and cultural anthropologist.

 

 

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