Mon | Sep 26, 2022

That history syllabus again

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Keith Noel,

Recently, a columnist pulled no punches in arguing that the CXC history syllabus was so designed that it could lead to the students being taught erroneous 'facts' about our history. Although valuable, this discussion will not lead to the type of changes that must be made to make the history syllabus truly relevant to us as a Caribbean people.

I have made the point before that since the attainment of Independence, we continue to miss the opportunity to reform our education system to suit our needs. We have 'accepted' that the system we inherited from the British was good for us and, apart from making occasional adjustments so as to facilitate more people being 'educated', we never seem to think that we should stop and consider whether a system that was created to serve the imperial powers could have elements in it that were fundamentally wrong for us.

European standards and styles

The system we inherited had, as part of its underpinning philosophy, that what was British was good, and that education meant the ridding ourselves, as much as possible, of things African or Asian and adopting, as much as possible, European standards and styles. This has perpetually being embedded in us and this is why the 'educated' among us are constantly annoyed by arguments that hark back to the evils of slavery, or suggest that Jamaican Creole (Patois) is a language in its own right, or that our popular music and dance forms are anything but claptrap and empty vulgarity.

So let us look at the history syllabus.

Why does a person study history? Through this study one learns about oneself and one's position in the world. A study of British or German or Chinese history gives you an insight into these people. You understand why they behave as they do, how they as a people think, speak, act, worship, believe and play. You understand their customs and their culture, having seen how they evolved. When children in societies such as these learn their own history, it explains to them who they are and why they behave, act, worship, as they do. They also learn to appreciate their ancestral and modern culture.

But the history our children study does not achieve this. It does not help them to understand themselves and their position in the world.

No aid for understanding self

In order to avoid having to expose the young to their African origins, instead of us teaching them the history of the Caribbean people, we teach them the history of the islands. So our 'history' begins with the study of persons with whom we have no more than a 'museum' relationship: the Tainos and the Caribs. Apart from the origin of a few food items, the study of the culture of these people teach our youth nothing about themselves and their culture. It in no way helps them to understand themselves.

Then to make matters worse, the next stage of this history syllabus has to do with 'The People Who Came'. And this is where our ancestors are introduced: as one of the set of people 'who came'! No real effort is made to have our young people understand the rich legacies that were brought by our ancestors from Africa. They are not taught to unlock the secrets of their beliefs and customs. And this is deliberate because it makes it easier to convince them that all African religion is but 'devil worship', African based dance and music cannot be seen as 'classical' and, in general, all things African are debased.

And then we go on to slavery, colonialism, Independence. So, according to our history syllabi, our story in Jamaica, a country to which we 'came', begins with slavery. None of the glories and wonders, defeats and anguish of the centuries before are relevant. How can we develop a nation of positive-thinking people when this is what we teach them/withhold from them?

The Mighty Sparrow has a line in a calypso: "If mi head was bright ah woulda be a damn fool" Maybe this is it. Maybe it is that so many of our people did not attend school regularly, or were not 'bright' in school that the negative brainwashing did not sink in.

Keith Noel is an educator. Feedback may be sent to