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A Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN Society

By Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe
January 01, 2017

WHEN I was a boy I wanted to go to Queen's Royal College (QRC), not because of its academic standing but because I loved the khaki jackets its cadets wore.

I thought it was cool as I imagined myself in that uniform.

Years later I learned about its academic excellence when Eric Williams returned to Trinidad as one of its most famous graduates.

Today QRC wishes to expand its facilities.

My good friend Maxie Cuffie says the premises on Alexandra Street, which the Ministry of Education vacated recently, are earmarked for a police post, albeit temporary.

QRC stakeholders consider the building and location ideal for the expansion of the college.

Such expansion, they feel, will add to the college's greatness.

The government does not seem to agree.

Established as Queen's Collegiate School in 1859, the college moved to its present location in 1904.

Over its 157 years of existence, it has produced world-class citizens in all walks of life.

However, in our Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN society such an accomplishment is not worthy of pride.

Little in our society is worthy of pride.

We say we are shocked by the killings and gradual brutalisation of our citizens, but few of us connect this brutalisation to our gradual diminishment as a people.

When nothing matters, nothing is worthy of respect.

CLR James is a QRC old boy.

In his semi-autobiographical "Beyond a Boundary", he speaks of English public school values his teachers brought with them from England.

Most of them were graduates of English public schools who were educated at Cambridge and Oxford universities.

James also referenced "Culture and Anarchy", Matthew Arnold's masterpiece on culture in which Arnold identified one characteristics of the cultured person as knowing "the best which has been thought and said in the world".

Thomas Arnold, Matthew's father, was headmaster at Rugby, another major public school in England.

Some of these values were bequeathed to QRC pupils.

Last summer I spent many months at London's Harrow School for Boys, another major public school that goes back to 1572.

It is a high school that educated seven of Britain's prime ministers.

I was interested in the school because the subject of my study, William Hardin Burnley, the biggest slave owner in Trinidad, went to school there.

The building in which he studied is still there.

I was fortunate.

The school authorities allowed me to visit the room in which Burnley sat when he went to school in 179395.

The building remains intact.

The birching stool, the birching cupboard and an original birch are still there, all preserved for posterity and inquiring eyes such as mine.

Even St Mary's Anglican, the parish church in which Burnley and his fellow pupils worshipped, is still there.

It was built in 1094.

I also visited and prayed in that church.

We are a New World society.

To some of us, nothing really matters.

Everything is every thing and nothing is precisely that: no-thing.

"Drink as you mad; dis is Trinidad; we don't care who say we mad."

This is part of the folklore.

We are a happy, go-lucky people.

Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN and then "Break-away."

Party hearty.

The only requirement: One only has to be "Drunk and Disorderly".

Therefore, when a statesman of Reggie Dumas's stature writes the Minister of Education, he is not worthy of a response.

This is a man who Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, sent to Haiti as his personal representative.

But we have to brek him down too, because in this Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN society, respect is an ancient virtue.

No wonder even the "gangsters" are crying out for respect.

In Trinidad, everyone must be boiled down to bhajee.

VS Naipaul, another QRC old boy, described this tendency vividly in "The Middle Passage".

Williams, a man of culture, was perceptive enough to give Naipaul a grant to write this sociological masterpiece.

Given this history, I am not sure how to respond to the imbecility, discourtesy and backwardness that have been generated around the competing claims of a police post and the need to respect and honour tradition, a paramount virtue.

It is as if to suggest a police post holds the same magnitude of importance as a 157-year-old national monument.

A few weeks ago that iconic house in world history from which James watched Matthew Bondman's graces as a cricketer on the Tunapuna Savannah was demolished.

Not a word, neither from the government nor the citizens, was heard. The intellectual community did not even squeak.

A "Subway" shop replaced James's house.

Two centuries ago, on seeing a louse on an aristocratic lady's bonnet, Robert Burns wrote: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!" Translated from the Scots language, these lines read: "And will some Power give us the gift/To see ourselves as others see us!"

When will some Power grant us the gift to see ourselves as others see us: a Brek-UP, Brek-DOWN, Brek-AWAY society with pretensions towards civility.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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