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Strategic focus on African heritage education

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by Maxwell Haywood 23.FEB.07

I was stimulated to write this article because of three things:

(1) the workshops for primary and secondary school teachers on the slave trade mentioned in the calendar of activities for the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade;

(2) the release of Oscar Allen’s book titled “We Want To Become Wise”; and

(3) further development of the theme of my previous article which appeared in the Searchlight on February 9, 2007 titled “Young people and their African heritage”.{{more}}

In this article, I will provide a very brief outline of just some of the main substantive and organizational challenges that would face a national initiative to make African history an integral part of the national development process. When I say African history or heritage, I necessarily include its Vincentian component, since over ninety-five percent of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is of African descent. Therefore the contributions of Vincentians to Caribbean civilization should also be seen as continuing and enriching African heritage, history and civilization.

The education of a people about their culture is an essential strategy to build a firmly planted humane society that could resist social ills. A vibrant society is the outcome. Such a vibrant society is the foundation for economic, social and political development.

Serious attention must be given to the substantive aspects of African heritage education.

Many educators have agreed on one thing: that the study of history is about gaining power. According to these educators, studying history or heritage is not only about feeling good about oneself, which of course is important, but it is fundamentally about acquiring a consciousness in connection to gaining, sustaining and developing power.

It is easier to comprehend contemporary issues and challenges when one possesses a historical understanding of them. Teaching and learning history should be more than memorizing facts and dates. It should essentially be about empowering people to develop visions for the future and to consciously shape the future on the basis of historical knowledge. The basic aim in our context is to use the rich and positive aspects of African heritage to call forth from within us the behaviors and attitudes that complement human perfection. It is mainly for this reason that African heritage should hold a special place in all the institutions of socialization in SVG.

It is of the highest importance that we grasp with all our might the fact that the bad-mouthing or denigration of African heritage played a huge role in the perpetuation of chattel slavery and colonialism. The challenge is to change that denigration into an uplifting educational experience that does not shackle minds and does not prevent people from reclaiming the excellence in their heritage, an excellence that was well known centuries ago and still continues despite the adversities.

African heritage education needs a strong organizational foundation. To support the teaching of African heritage in our schools and communities, a conducive and appropriate infrastructure or resource base must be created, supported, sustained and continuously developed. This infrastructure must be stocked or equipped with educational materials or resources such as books, journals, magazines, computers, audio visuals (videotapes, DVDs) maps, etc. This infrastructure should be able to support research, conferences, lectures, workshops, seminars, and resource persons.

A special effort must be made to collect and store sources of information on African heritage, which of course must include the Vincentian component of African civilization. Every school and educational center such as the community resource centers must be equipped with an African heritage section. The new library that will be built should house the major collection on African heritage.

Indeed, all this will cost money. Efforts at reparations must keep these infrastructural needs high on the list of priorities. Herein lies the role of the government of SVG, civil society organizations, and the private sector of SVG. Moreover, the international community and the former slave-holding colonialist nations of Europe, especially Britain, and also North America should play a resourceful role in helping to develop this important infrastructure for the teaching and promotion of African heritage in SVG. It must be remembered that Vincentians were never compensated by the former slave-holding and colonialist nations for their role in suppressing and distorting African heritage. This is a clear opportunity for them to do so.

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