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The Incredible Dream - Pt 2

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 12, 2018


When enslaved Africans (they were the majority population then) won their full freedom in 1838, there was an urgent need to establish an educational system that combined their ways of knowing with the needs of the dominant colonial class. Sir Henry MacLeod, governor of the island, sent the following dispatch to Lord Stanley, the Secretary of State: "I should submit to Your Lordship that there never was a country where some general situation of education was more required than in Trinidad" (May 1, 1840).

He outlined the challenge that faced this post slavery society: "Your Lordship will find in Mr. Latrobe's Report of August 1838 a complete statement of the impediments which had to that time retarded the progress of Negro Education here. The motley character of the population, the difference of religions, and tongues, the isolated settlements of the inhabitants are all adverted to by Mr. Latrobe as obstacles to education which it had not been possible to surmount."

In 1838 C. J. Latrobe wrote Negro Education, British Guiana and Trinidad, the first analysis of education in Trinidad. He noted that the laboring classes had shown "a disposition to assist by subscription or otherwise, in the efforts of making for their especial advantage, and in several instances has done so to a very considerable amount."

Latrobe reported that in 1837 "a school-house was on land given and conveyed by Captain Span; wood on stone pillars, shingled (master's apartments included." This schoolhouse, Tacarigua E. C. School, was built by the slaves who contributed a considerable amount of their own monies to that endeavor. Alphonso Nurse, George Padmore's father, taught at that school where Lloyd Best and yours truly gained their primary education.

In 1845 Lord Harris set up a more sophisticated system of education with the construction of the ward schools. In 1869 Governor Arthur Hamilton, appointed Patrick Joseph Keenan, Ireland's chief inspector of schools, to examine "the state of public education in the island" and to offer recommendations to improve it. He was particularly impressed with the work L. B. Tronchin, the superintendent of the Woodbrook Model School for Boys, who he said "legitimately occupies a foremost position" among the primary teachers of the colony."

By the end of the nineteenth century, black folks had begun to control their education system and to chart their children's education. It is out of this environment that Joseph de Suze wrote Little Folks Trinidad (1901), the first indigenous school primer of the island.

Black folks—or indigenous educators—were charting their own ruins, an acerbic metaphor one of our poets employed to describe our process of becoming a people. From the 1850s Hindu pundits and scribes were educating their children in their own ways, with John Morton and the Presbyterians aiding in that process since the 1880s.

Justice Seepersad's article of October 26 spoke about the need for a coherent educational system and the establishment of a form of national service where Tribagonians of every race and creed can come together and forge a sense of national purpose.

But think of the irony, one hundred and eighty years after the abolition of slavery we are still faced with the challenge of forming a society from different creeds and races into a whole people. Dr. Farrell argued that we place a lot of faith in competitive examinations but have never studied how the students performed in the workplace and the society once they have completed their formal education.

Even in the postcolonial, independence era we still yearn to create a state, "where every creed and race find an equal place" and call upon God's mysterious intervention to achieve that goal. However, I don't know we can create a coherent society without a strategy or plan to make that possible.

Sunity Maharaj has argued that "the burden of democracy is too much for us," a rather dubious position to swallow. She continues: "The savagery out of which we were born does not allow the room for taking a chance on real democracy. Better to hold to the rotting legacy of the older, dying order with its self-contemptuous education system, biased justice system, pampering economic system, and degraded politics on non-representation."

I don't know how one takes a chance on democracy. I thought democracy was something a people cultivated in a systematic way over the course of its development. Farrell, it seems, may be on to something when he says: "The inequities and social injustices of the wider society are reflected between and within our schools," which suggests that we have to do much more work on the overall social order that encapsulates the formal system of education.

John Dewey, the American educator and philosopher, may have been correct when he argued in The School and Society (1915) that schools are nothing more than miniature replicas of the larger society.

Part of our continuing challenge resides in how we reconcile these two warring parts, recognizing that each part deserves as much consideration as the other. It's a challenge that we face as an emerging society.

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

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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe