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The need for self-esteem and self-knowledge

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 03, 2021

The headline read: "It was a bloody weekend across Trinidad and Tobago".

The news story announced: "From Friday night into yesterday, eight people were killed, pushing the murder toll for the year so far to 113. Victims were found dead in St James, Arima, La Horquetta, Valencia, Curepe, Embacadere, Tunapuna and Petit Valley." (Express, April 26.) Two more people may have been murdered on that weekend.

All victims were black. There is no evidence that the murderers were black. However, all of these murders took place in black communities which suggests that there might be a lot of pain in those communities. The question remains: what can we do to relieve these communities of this constant trauma of hurt and ineffable loss?

Speaking at the La Divina Pastora RC Church in Siparia last Sunday, Archbishop Jason Gordon lamented that next to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pandemics of domestic and gang violence "are really the tragedies at this time". He said those tragedies occur "due to insufficient communication skills and an inability to express oneself when in disagreements or when one feels powerless and disrespected. If we find those skills and teach those skills, I think we could bring the violence down and have a beautiful nation". (Express, April 26.)

Although "an inability to express oneself", a sense of powerlessness and a feeling of being disrespected are powerful motivators for reverting to brute force, I believe education in the broadest sense (one that inculcates aspects of self-esteem, self-dignity, knowledge of self, etc) can curtail this revolting expression of our animal passions. I also believe an enlightened curriculum, one that informs a pupil about him/herself, can go a long way towards freeing oneself of these crippling beliefs of worthlessness. About a month ago, the College Board (US) invited several scholars around the United States, including myself, to participate in a conversation about developing an advanced placement (AP) course in African American Studies for high school pupils. This was one of many sessions that the AP programme held to assist them in developing this course which they hope to offer by the fall of 2022.

The Advanced Placement Programme "represents the largest partnership between higher education and high school educators in the United States". In 2018, "close to 40 per cent of US seniors (over 1.2 million students) took at least one AP exam while they were in high school. Growing numbers of low-income students, students from under-represented minorities, and students from rural areas, who are the first-generation of their families who plan on going on to college participate in AP".

Such AP courses allow pupils to take college and university courses while they are in high school. Our goal was to create an AP course that reflects "the best practices within the discipline and provide the maximum alignment to introductory courses in colleges and universities". Among other things, we were asked to suggest important texts and resources that allow a pupil to understand the field and its importance within the context of US political realities.

It was important to me that high school pupils were being tested in a subject that holds a very important place in the political and social climate in the United States. I have often wondered why such a course—on the history and culture of black people in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean—is not part of our high school curriculum. Such a course, I am willing to bet, will give our pupils, particularly our black pupils, a better sense of themselves, and provide an impetus to understand their being in this world.

Such a course at the high school level should be supplemented by annual vacation camps during the months of July and August for pupils between the ages of 12 and 17 that aims at increasing their self-esteem, self-dignity and their educational and cultural development. All pupils should be introduced to the literature, history and culture of Africa and India.

There is no reason why we can't create approximately 100 vacation camps (of about 100 pupils each) around the country, conducted by our university students, graduates and community activists, that engage our young people in meaningful courses in the humanities, sciences, physical education, sporting programmes and related fields. These courses should be about a month long, perhaps four days a week. We should provide these pupils with a meal and a small stipend.

I know it sounds old-fashioned, but the greatest gift we can give to our young people is the gift of reading and writing. I have always contended that any educated Trinbagonian should have read VS Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas; Earl Lovelace, The Dragon Can't Dance; Ralph De Boissiere, Crown Jewel; Merle Hodge, For the Life of Laetitia; and CLR James, Beyond a Boundary.

Reading is the key to discovering one's identity and sense of self. While Malcolm X was an inmate at Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts, he discovered the joy of reading. He said when he discovered the riches of the prison library, "You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr Muhammad's teachings, my correspondence, my visitors... and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life." (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

The AP motto is "Clearing the path for all students to own their future". We can prepare our young people to own their future if we inculcate in them a knowledge of our history as a people. Raising their intellectual and cultural levels is key to our country's future development.

Prof. 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