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Truth Comes to the Surface

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 18, 2003

As in so many things, it does not take very long before the truth comes to light and reveals itself in our darken presence. Indeed, it did not take long before Ms. Hazel Manning revealed what serious people know but refuse to believe: some of our teachers do not teach our children. In trying to explain the violence between Tranqullity Government School and St. Mary's College, Minister Manning unearthed part of what I said two weeks ago. According to Ms. Manning, Malick Senior Comprehensive had a daily teacher absenteeism rate of 20 percent, El Dorado Senior Comprehensive had an absentee rate of 20 percent; Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive had an absenteeism of ten percent while Tranquillity Government had an average of 16 teachers absent each day. She did not tell us what percentage of the faculty this number represents.

Just think of it. If, on the average, each secondary school is faced with an absentee rate of fifteen percent of its teachers each day, is education really possibly in such an environment? Given the large number of students in most of these classes how are they to be supervised and does this condition lead to an unhealthy educational atmosphere? And dare I ask, are any of these teachers every reprimanded?

If teachers are absent, students cannot be taught. Students who are not taught cannot learn. Yet, no one seems to understand why there is so much violence in schools and why Johnnie can't read, write or compute. Roland Maharaj, acting director of School Supervision, notes that it is difficult to teach in an atmosphere where there are close to 1,000 unsupervised students in a compound.

We solve the problem of student delinquency by imposing more security. Not surprisingly, the administration decided to install two more guard booths and to elevate the back wall to eight feet at Tranquillity. No doubt, more police men and women will man the schools and violence will subside. Such an approach to the problem is in keeping with the list of eighteen proposals Trevor Oliver submitted to Minister Manning recently. Among the proposals were, the need to impose a code of conduct; highlight the positive happenings in schools; establish student councils in schools; enforce zero tolerance; place adequate security in schools; give more emphasis to teacher training and orientation; and develop a culture of peace.

These proposals possess much merit. However, unless we hold our teachers responsible for what they teach in their classes and mandate that they are there to teach our children then everything we do is merely an apostrophe to our real problems. They simply highlight our shortcomings. Parents and the community must play their part in educating our students but teachers must be held responsible for their performances. In the United States, schools from the fifty states are examined every few years in mathematics and reading to determine their achievement in what is called the National Assessment of Educational Progress or the "nation's report card." Sanctions are anticipated for schools that do not meet certain levels of proficiency by a certain time.

When I offered my comments two weeks ago, I asked one question: "Given the billions we spend on education in this country, are we getting our money's worth and if we are not, are those persons who we pay to deliver those services (that is, teachers, administrators, etc.) really doing a proper job and if they are not do we hold them accountable?" (See In asking this question, I did not mean to suggest that I am exemplary teacher. Nonetheless, we must ask these questions if we want to come to grips with the problem.

Mr. Oliver's initial remarks to my comments were forthright. He acknowledged the truth of my statement even as he defended his teachers. He acknowledged there were teachers who are not performing but "they were in the minority and were of all races."

This is a fair statement. But then he was pushed. He conceded too much. Therefore, he had to give ground when the heavyweights of the Union demanded that he be more condemnatory. After all, his union consists of teachers of all races. Hence, his modified statement: "TTUTA strongly condemns the reported attacks by Dr. Cudjoe on the unquestionably professionalism of our teachers and in particular that of Indo-Trinidadians teachers… TTUTA rejects any flawed distorted analysis which seeks to lay blame for the perceived under-performance of students solely on teachers and which ignores the complex nature of education… It is foolhardy and mischievous, in the absence of detailed research, simple to attach blame to teachers."

Well, I did question the professionalism of some teachers. Mr. Oliver acknowledges that some teachers act unprofessionally. I did not lay the blame for the underperformance of African students "solely on teachers." I quoted the T&T Chamber of Commerce that observed: "The current education system does not serve the majority of the nation's children." I suggested that the problem is not only one of teaching, "It also has to do with an approach to pedagogy that suggests that a student needs not master the skills of a particular grade before he goes on to a higher grade." I questioned whether "we teach our teachers to teach reading" and lamented that UWI's School of Education does not "offer a Certificate or a Bachelor's of Education with the teaching of reading as a specialization."

I suggested that "parents must involve themselves more centrally in the education of their children" and that teachers must change their approach to teaching and learning." I pointed out that because cognition in children has changed (or is changing) it makes the teachers' job more difficult. The contention that I lay the blame for the "perceived underperformance of students solely on teachers" is false.

Ultimately, TTUTA's response is deficient and lacks in intellectual sophistication. It attempts to get around a sticky situation by using outlandish cliques rather than demonstrate where I went wrong. Incidentally, this intellectual sloppiness (to borrow TTUTA's language) was manifested by all those persons who responded to the lines they read in the newspaper. TTUTA is a professional organization. Its responsibilities go beyond demanding more money for teachers. Education already gets more than 12 per cent of the national budget and if one deletes the five billion we pay to service our debts, education gets about eighteen percent of all of the money we will spend this year.

So when TTUTA declares that it "will not stand idly by and allow our teachers to be victims of sloppy analysis or be used as part of the dangerous, irresponsible agenda of divisive elements in the society," it has an obligation to tell the society who are the decisive elements and what the modalities of such divisiveness are. Needless to say, a responsible, professional organization would have offered a comprehensive rebuttal of my remarks by now. After all, TTUTA is the guardians of educators in this country and must use every occasion to correct sloppy scholarship.

TTUTA commits the same fallacy as Sat Maharaj, Kelvin James, Sr., Leela Ramdeen, Chair of the Catholic Commission of Social Justice, Senator Arnim Smith, David Subran and a host of other persons. Not one of their comments has moved from the zone of visceral and unadorned rhetoric to a sober, analytical response of my argument. It is not self-evident that an analysis is flawed because TTUTA or anyone else pronounces it to be so. One must demonstrate what makes it flawed and that calls for the resources of one of TTUTA's researchers. I await his/her un-sloppy analysis of my analysis.

The problem resides in the complete lack of critical thinking that besets those titled persons in our society and some who have left for other shores. It starts with an educational proclivity that demands that one cram to pass the SEA, then the CXC and then a degree. Passing is all that matters. In the process, we get caught up in a mindset that is more concerned with arousal rather than exposition, programmed responses rather than considered reflection, gut emotion over analytical rigor. In our society, thinking has become a bad habit. It is so much easier to appeal to the governor to throw the miscreant off the Executive Council and all would be well with us again. But isn't this what J. J. Thomas, Uriah Buzz Butler, Eric Williams, C.L.R. James and even Lloyd Best fought for: the right to express one's views freely and fearlessly.

Much of what has been said over the past two weeks about my address are paunchy, emotional lines that do not advance intellectual inquiry. My critics have demonstrated an impaired ability to understand the demands of what constitutes meaningful discourse. John McWhorter has argued: "The person who only processes information beyond their immediate purview in nuggets is not educated in any meaningful sense. On the contrary, this person is indistinguishable in mental sophistication from the semiliterate Third World villager who derives all of their information beyond [their world] via conversation and gossip" (Doing Our Own Thing).

This is a harsh judgment. But until my critics can offer a reasoned response to what I have said, everything they have offered needs to be placed in a waste paper basket labeled: "Rubbish. Dispose Of as Quickly as Possibly." We do ourselves little service if those who seek to interpret our society and those who are paid to educate our children respond in the same violent manner as our students, substituting physical violence for psychological violence.

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