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Suffer the little children

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 27, 2021

My mother, Carmen Cudjoe (nee Batson), was born in Belmont in 1909. After spending her childhood years there, she moved to San Juan where she met my dad, married him, and moved to Tacarigua. Although my mother attended only primary school, she read constantly and wrote with eloquence and grace. In Tacarigua she was the secretary of most of the voluntary organisations there, such as the Garden Club and the Village Council.

My mother also ran a sou sou, as our ancestors in Ghana did. In Senegal and Benin, a sou sou is called tontines. In Nigeria, where it began in the 1700s, it's called esusu. In Jamaica it is called partners. Two months ago, Michael Brooks, an English writer, reminded us that this "system of large-scale money-pooling for mutual benefit shows that Africa has never had a problem with mathematics" ("Mathematics in Africa Has Been Written Out of History Books," Independent, October 24, 2021).

Mathematics, as Brooks points out, was an important skill in the lives of Africans even though we are taught more about the achievements of Greek, Indian, Chinese, and Arabic civilisations in this area. "If we learn anything about African mathematics, it's almost entirely about Egypt. But Sub-Saharan Africa has a rich mathematical history too."

I offer this introduction to show the important role that mathematics played in African civilisations and even in our parents' lives. It suggests that the excuses that are being used to demonstrate that the children of Port of Spain and its environs and even Tobago (see Reginald Dumas's article on the state of education in Tobago) are merely a ruse to get inefficient teachers and a non-performing system off the hook.

The recent Joint Select Committee report suggesting that various traumas prevent African children from doing well in the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) has a false ring to it. It contradicts everything in our educational history. It is often forgotten that our parents succeeded although our parents and grandparents had as many psychological burdens as some of today's children. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon, a Martinique psychiatrist, tells us that violence was the core character of colonialism.

Fanon was not the first person to tell us that. Canon Philip Douglin, the son of a Barbadian enslaved man who had worked in the Rio Pongos region in Africa (Sierra Leone) and eventually became the pastor of St Clements in Naparima, wrote about what slavery had done to our minds. He said that although slavery had brought much physical pain, "those inflictions which tend to contract and destroy the mind—those cruelties which benumb the sensibility of the soul—those influences which chill and arrest the currency of the heart's affection—these are the awful instruments of real sufferings and the denigration; and these have been made to operate on the Negro" (San Fernando Gazette, August 11, 1888).

While we complain about the trauma that our children undergo today, our parents, grandparents and our great-grandparents had their problems too. They didn't have Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, or Jacques Lacan, his noble follower, to draw upon. They simply had to make the best of a bad situation. Yet, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us, they left "their footprints on the sands of time" ("A Psalm of Life").

Since psychological trauma is always at the centre of the colonial and post-colonial situation, I wonder if there are any basic approaches to pedagogy that our teachers have found useful in reaching these students. Can they share these lesson plans with teachers in Port of Spain, and its environs, and Tobago? Can we implement a pilot programme during the August holidays in which we get some of our best teachers to share their knowledge with junior teachers? Can we select about 100 recent graduates from The University of the West Indies to work with about ten students each to find better ways to get these students to learn?

I believe that central to this problem is the need for economic/industrial development of these areas where parents can have meaningful jobs. More CEPEP programmes are not the answer. I am convinced that part of the problem lies in the continued pauperisation of these areas. These negative results will persist until we offer meaningful employment to the people of these areas.

At the same time that the JSE was doing its deliberation, the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs was circulating its "Draft National Diaspora Policy." Among other things, it noted its desire "to utilise the skills professionals have acquired in the host countries to mentor people in the homeland as well as provide expertise to the government where there are gaps locally and to further develop local content" (December 9, 2021).

I was wondering if the Ministry of Education, in preparing its documents, drew on the expertise of education professionals abroad to assist in this process. If they did, I would like to know what the response to their request was.

In September, the late Imam Yasin Abu Bakr observed: "They [the T&T government] don't want our [African] children to be properly educated. And they will put them in systems which will see them in unfavourable schools for 11 years of their lives, simply just to end up working in KFC [and URP]" (Express, September 12).

When Jesus commanded "Suffer [Permit] little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me," he was addressing the forgotten and oppressed segments of the society. He believed that children in their vulnerability needed to be taken care of. If we treat them harshly, they will respond with venom and violence.

Previous generations found a way to educate their children. With all our money and so many people with so many degrees, why can't we do the same thing?

Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe

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