Ian Boyne, Contributor
As we prepare for back-to-school, I hope we had been following those interesting and inspiring stories of Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) distinctions being carried by this newspaper. I hope some of those stories were shared with those young people who don't read newspapers.
As a people, we revel in destination, not journey; product, not process. We like the spectacular finish, but loathe what gets one there. We don't prize the postponement of gratification; we want our marshmallows, however few, now.
I am one of those who believe that economic development cannot be divorced from culture; or at least that culture either advances or hinders economic development. I have no doubt that some of our cultural proclivities are inimical to economic development; so no matter which party is in power, we continue to stagnate. It's not just our corruption. Other countries experiencing corruption grow (China, India and Russia are prime examples.)
Our educational outcomes don't just have to do with the State's providing adequate facilities, infrastructure, appropriate teacher training and compensation, etc. Those things are crucial. But students have to have a passion for learning, a passion for excellence. Parents have to be interested in their children's learning. They have to motivate their children. They have to apply sanctions and set strict standards of discipline. Academic achievement is not just a function of right conditions and genetics. Attitude and motivation are major factors. Go back over those articles with the high CSEC achievers.
One of these 'distinction' schoolgirls said that at the start of the school year, she parked her BlackBerry, un-friended Facebook and gave up cable. That she had the discipline to do that says a lot, and is probably a more important indicator of future success than sheer academic brilliance.
I bet if you do a longitudinal study of those multiple distinction students, and isolate those with the highest levels of discipline and ability to postpone gratification and check them 20 years' time, you would find that they are more likely to have been successful at tertiary-level studies and their professional careers than those CSEC achievers who did not display high levels of discipline.
And many can attest to the fact that there have been many less-than-brilliant students who have achieved amazing results simply because of their Teutonic self-discipline. As a nation, we need to inculcate these things.
But we are largely a gratification culture. We are a party people. Nothing is wrong with some fun and sports. But we can't be known just for that. Let's mix them with some other values.
We have a higher cellphone penetration per capita than most countries in the world, including the United States. What are we using it for? To swap ideas about better studying methods? To exchange views on how to develop a viable business or second income in these challenging economic times? To talk to friends about how we can improve our lives in general?
Well, check Dr Marcia Forbes' new book about the use of social media. She has done the empirical work. What she has found has confirmed my long-held suspicions.
When one thinks of the vast amount of information available on the Internet and what one can access on a BlackBerry, an iPhone, an iPad, or a simple personal computer, it's a tragedy that these tools are so wasted. In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty, as Bob sang.
PERSONAL VS STATE RESPONSIBILITY
If our youth were maximising the tools they already have, this school year would be far more productive and successful for them. While they sit and bawl about what the Government is not doing, they have much in their very hands, literally, which they are not using. This country needs a sense of personal responsibility. And this is where progressives and people on the Left have fallen down, for they have not maintained a balance between personal responsibility and state responsibility.
Take the issue of squatting. It is a fact that the State has failed to provide adequate housing solutions for its citizens. I reject the Right-wing view that the State has little responsibility to its citizens outside of providing security and collecting garbage. The State has a responsibility, an obligation, to provide social justice to the poor and marginalised.
But to tell squatter women who have seven children with seven different men that it is the Government's fault why they are in that predicament is almost criminally irresponsible. I think Betty Ann Blaine and Ian Lyn Muhammad's hearts are in the right place but their heads certainly aren't.
People have a responsibility for their personal lives. We must not give people the impression that because there have, indeed, been historical inequities and a present class system which systemically produces an army of losers, that this absolves people of any personal responsibility.
JUSTICE FOR WHOM?
People have the nerve to be yelling before television cameras that they have been living on other people's land for 30 years and that "we want justice!" because the man has finally come to claim his land! It does not occur to them, or their defenders like Sister Betty and Brother Muhammad that rather than multiplying without being able to legally find a roof over their heads, they should have used those decades to try something for themselves, or not wickedly bring children into the world that they can't afford to look after.
Part of the continuing irrelevance of intellectuals to society is their lack of balance. I heard one overzealous but misguided and unbalanced presenter at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies conference talk about people making moral judgements on squatters while absolving the State of responsibility. We have to do both: Reaffirm the State's responsibility to deal with social deficits, while preaching personal responsibility.People have been saying that Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites has been "preaching too much" and "talking too much", but it is Ronnie's philosophical sophistication, tradition of Catholic social thought and acute understanding of ghetto life which leads him to inveigh against the things he does. Ronnie understands the connection between our social and economic woes and our cultural deficits. Continue speaking out, Ronnie, at every opportunity.
DITCH THE BLING
Ronnie is one progressive who sees the nexus between social and personal responsibility. Those who lack intellectual nuance see them as counterposed. There are poor people on minimum wage or who are unemployed who waste money on hairpiece, nails and dancehall fashion. They will stretch to pay down on bling furniture while their children lack books. I am not stereotyping poor people. Many ghetto mothers do a great job in educating their children. I want to big them up.
But we have to 'bun a fire' on those who spend foolishly. It is not just a downtown thing. It is a problem of the society as a whole. We are not productive as a society, uptown, downtown. We are living off other people's savings. We are consumption-oriented. And we wonder why we have to enlist China as our latest benefactor, while we await IMF money to save our dollar?
Financial journalist Ralston Hyman has been lamenting all week on his 'Real Business' programme on Power 106 that our import bill is too high. We are importing too much oil, too many consumer goods, too many cars and SUVs, he has been wailing. He has been pointing out that releasing money for stimulus does not mean Government has to find more money to spend. Ralston knows that game is no longer on.
But he is saying if we could import less oil, less food, etc., we would release multiple billions to stimulate the economy. Less oil imports mean less leisure travel for ATI weekends, FAME parties, less gallivanting. Who wants to stop that? It means consuming less - and as a people, we are not into less, we are into more. What, fewer luxury cars and SUVs, or fewer affordable cars for teachers, civil servants and hairdressers who want to step up inna life, Ralston? Man fi have more car! Gas fi bun!
Eat Jamaican foods instead of those imported delicacies? (DWL!) I wonder when we make our prescriptions whether we understand which country we are living in and what people we are living among? This is not Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China or India when they were developing. It's a different culture. It's a bling culture.
Champagne taste on lemonade pocket. Left-wing people can lecture, write papers and hold conferences till they are blue. Unless you tackle these cultural and social capital deficits, we are going round in circles.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email
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