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The Values Imperative

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 10, 2008

Over the past two weeks, some of my friends have accused me of or complimented me for going down memory lane. Others have suggested that once the genie is out of the bottle there is really no way to get it back in. They are both correct but for the wrong reasons. There was no attempt to go down memory lane for its own sake or to get the genie back into the bottle. I was trying to say that when experts talk about our crime situation and/or the factors leading towards its escalation they usually forget the human or ideological dimension of the problem even as they emphasize the hard, economic, policing or political dimensions.

Crime and rising crime rates have become the bane of our society. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit 2008, the murder rates in the English-speaking Caribbean are among the highest in the world. In Trinidad, the murder rate "rose from just 7.4/100,000 in 1999 to a historical high of 30.6/100,000 in 2007." Incidents of assault, burglary, kidnapping and rapes are also above the world average and there is no end in sight. This crime wave has struck the entire English-speaking Caribbean. No one is immune from its violent rampage.

The Economist as well as other such reports locates the escalation of violence and crime in the drugs and guns that pass through the area and our almost helpless response to them. The Economist Intelligence Unit observers: "Although the reasons for rising violence may vary by country, the main force driving the high rates of crime and violence in both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the wider Caribbean, is the impact of intra-regional drug trafficking. The explosion of the international drug trade has institutionalized criminal behavior, increased property-related crime by drug users and underpinned a steady increase in the availability of firearms. Geographically, the region is vulnerable because of its location at a crossroads between steady streams of illegal narcotics (flowing north from the world's main source of cocaine-the Andean region-to the drugs' main consumer market, the US and Europe) and guns (flowing south mainly from the US to South America.)"

To be sure, these material forces play an important part in the escalation of crime but guns do not shoot themselves nor do drugs invade the body without the active participation of users. So that in all of these equations the one missing element is the role that the individual plays in this dramatic escalation of human destruction and human insecurity. The Economist Intelligence Report acknowledges that the escalation of these murders and crimes are due to several factors including social breakdown, ethnic tensions, under-equipped law enforcement agencies and weak judicial system. It fails to emphasize the role that ideology, a system of beliefs, values and feelings, plays in the escalation of this treacherous situation.

In Ideology and the State, Louis Althusser describes how a state transmits its values and feelings through its ideological apparatuses such as the religious/church; the educational/school; the family and the law. However, before these values can be transmitted a state must decide what those values are, why they are important, and how they shape desirable behaviors in our citizenry. Over the years, we have not devised a systematic way, particularly at the level of our schools or via government practices to delineate those values and determine how they are to be transmitted.

In 1935, reading, arithmetic, singing drills, agriculture and nature study were the compulsory subjects of instruction in our primary schools. In 1958, one of the aims of our first educational policy was the achievement of a truly multiracial society. In 1993, the National Task Force under the chairmanship of Carol Keller offered a white paper, "Education Policy Paper, 1993-2003," that outlined the "guiding philosophy for educational development." It sought to "establish and maintain the ethical and moral values necessary for civilized interpersonal and inter-group relationships in our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society." It also saw "a sound education" as a means of boasting "economic development, protecting and sustaining what is best in our cultural heritage and acting as a bulwark against any decline in moral values."

What, may I ask, are the compulsory subjects in our schools today, and how are they are taught, and do they achieve the desired outcomes that Keller's committee outlined?

A few days ago, the CARICOM heads convened in Port of Spain to "confront the issues of crime squarely and to take steps further to deal with crime at another level." One could not help but get the impression that they were uttering the same phrases without seeking innovate ways to ensure desirable behaviors in CARICOM citizens.

There can be no permanent solution to the crime problem unless we find ways to imposed and enforce a system of values that speaks to the cultivation of life: one that tells our people that we can rid ourselves of crimes and other anti-social behaviors only if we focus on the individual and his values and reinforce mechanisms of indoctrination at the level of the church, the school and the family.

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