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About saying good morning

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Interestingly when I wrote from Tortola last week, the thing that prompted my article was strangely omitted. Perhaps, not so strange! In any event, it is not a sign of creeping senility, that is, as far as I know. Really, I had to take time off to write my article while I was in the midst of preparing a talk I was to deliver in Tortola that evening. I now have to come back to it because it really struck me and set me thinking about a number of things. I was totally shocked to be walking around and meet people who don’t know you from Adam saying a polite good morning or good afternoon. Coming from St.Vincent and the Grenadines you must be shocked with this, for with increasingly rare exceptions when you say good morning people look at you as if you are a strange creature from Mars or from some other planet.{{more}} But I must mention that before I made this observation I got totally mad with an advertisement, it might have been a tourism ad. I am not sure, but it went on for ever with people walking along and just saying good morning to each other. I don’t know how to fit all of this together, but there must have been some method in that apparent madness.

I don’t know if this has to do with Tortola’s colonial status or because of its tourism thrust. If it is the latter it is still strange. Barbados is a tourist country but the people of Barbados are more likely to say hello to the white tourist than to you whether Barbadian or alien, or whatever they call us non-belongers. It might also have something to do with the size and with non-belongers being happy to see someone they probably recognise as one of them, one not born there. Whatever it is, it is something that is very positive. I say this because of my view that many of our problems, especially that of crime, have to do with the growing impersonality of the society and the break down in community spirit. The other person you see is no longer a brother or a sister but an impersonal being who if the opportunity presents itself could be ripped off. I am not sure but my guess is that you wouldn’t want to say good morning or good day to some one you saw as a potential victim of whatever crime.

Having said all of that I hope there is no one who really feels that to be civil and to greet each other is a colonial legacy. It is just a human quality that we need to maintain because to be able to do that must reflect something in you that is good and positive. Can we tie in all of this with the increase in crime? I did mention last week that my sources have indicated that there was growing concern in Tortola about crime. Criminal activity without doubt stems from a number of different sources. I have not looked at the statistics but obviously unemployment is not a problem there. The cost of living is of course high but at least the people are working. So part of the problem lies deeper and has to do with the kind of societies we are becoming, materialistic, increasingly individualistic with break down in family and community relationships. So while it is important in tackling crime to have increased police surveillance and all that goes with that it seems to require also something deeper, something that touches our souls.

Reading our newspapers these days is not a pleasant task. In the News newspaper of May 11 the front page had the following captions; “Student molested in school’; “Contractor beaten and robbed;” and “Students charged for gun in school”. Two other stories that reflect the state of our schools are carried in all of the papers- they were about a teacher being attacked and threatened by a student and a teacher allegedly wrestling with a student for a .38 revolver. To read about crime at home is bad enough but to read about this kind of behaviour in schools is extremely frightening because we have a group of young people who are already on track. This obviously is not limited to St.Vincent and the Grenadines but has become a pattern in a region that one report describes as the most murderous in the world. We have to tackle crime on all possible fronts and it should be a united approach by a society which feels comradeship with every one, not a society that is so divided by politics that some will glory with any unfortunate happenings that befall someone they consider from the other side. We need also to look closely at our schools and education system. It is one thing to make sure that persons have the opportunity to receive at least a secondary education but we have to go beyond that and look at what we are teaching, how we are teaching what we are teaching and how our schools are organised.

One of the things that concern me have to do with the number of persons in school who don’t want to be there. I’ll better clarify this. Despite the talk and availability of multi-purpose schools I feel that there are still a number of students streamed into the academic line who don’t want to be there but who would prefer to do something else that challenges their interests and skills. Because of the emphasis in our societies on certification, the CXC and GCE syllabuses dictate what and how we teach. We aim merely to produce good results however we do that. Some things are probably not taught because they do not fit into the syllabus. Andrew Cummings in an address he gave at the University’s recognition of graduates’ ceremony in January called for the reintroduction of Civics. The word ‘Civics’ still reminds me too much of Ebenezer Duncan’s emphasis on the glories of being a good citizen, that is colonial person. But the issues are not colonial. Maybe we should use a different word.

The University has what are called Foundation courses that are compulsory courses and are really meant to go toward producing a holistic individual. Again students see these courses merely as ones they have to do in order to graduate and nothing more. They do not consider them relevant to their future areas of endeavour. We have however to start restructuring our education, looking at content and approach, at a much earlier stage. There has in the past been a lot of talk about removing the Common Entrance exams and our approach to them is now quite different, but they are still there and there is the pressure to make sure you get among the first 500 so you could to some extent select the school you want to go to. We still have further to go in arriving at methods of evaluation without the kind of pressures that come with final exams. As a society we can simply not sit back and say that the police are not doing their work. The nature of crime is that even with increased sophistication (which of course we need) in dealing with crime the problem will not necessarily or easily disappear. How for instance do you deal with the drug trade and how do you deal with a young student who states in front of his parents that it didn’t matter to him whether or not he went to prison? There are all sorts of forces that shape today’s young people, but in shaping the young people they also shape the adults. Really we have a serious problem and cannot sit back and say that we are not alone. We have to be concerned about ourselves. This is where we have to begin. It has to be a united effort but we have a divided people.

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