05 January 2008

Slouching Toward Civilisation

Slouching Toward Civilisation
John Maxwell
It was exactly thirty-six years ago this week that the legendary teacher John Searchwell made one of the most profound proposals in Jamaica’s history.
According to Hartley Neita’s ‘This Day in our Past’ in Thursday’s Gleaner, Searchwell called for priority attention to be focused on early education, beginning preferably at age three but not later than four. Searchwell, as I recall the speech, didn’t just call for universal early childhood education; he demanded it; as Neita reports “ not as a concession or by ad hoc arrangements, but as an educational policy, as a human right and as a basic Jamaican philosophy.
The Jamaica Labour Party was then in the throes of an election campaign, at the end of nearly ten years as the first government of independent Jamaica.
Two months after Searchwell spoke the Peoples National Party swept into power by an unprecedented landslide, even more remarkable since the victory was despite some of the most sophisticated gerrymandering of constituencies and the fact that nearly one-third of the electorate was denied the right to vote.
In a short. sharp row with Michael Manley shortly after the PNP victory he told me that this was no time for belt tightening, for an austerity programme; Look, he said, at what the people have given us; it would be ingratitude to ask them to sacrifice at this time.
Despite that, Manley and the PNP did have to practice some belt tightening and they did, against the odds, make some steps towards implementing a comprehensive reform of education, including making it free. But the hectoring of wise and thoughtful columnists condemning distributive politics, the machinations of the new leader of the JLP, Edward Seaga, and the stringencies of the IMF put paid to all those bright ideas.
The PNP tried. Douglas Manley, Professor of Education at the UWI was pulled away from his job and other eminent educators, Fay Saunders, Searchwell’s immediate predecessor as head if the Jamaica teachers’ Association (the teachers’ union) Errol Miller himself destined to become UWI professor of Education and Phyllis McPherson Russell were just a few of the dedicated specialists drafted into the effort.
Murder and Education
The Jamaican murder rate, under 70 annually in 1962, had risen to more than 400 by 1872, and except for a brief levelling off in the 80s, has continued out of control until now.
I myself got into the act, proposing an amnesty for the return of firearms and later, at Public Eye, campaigning for the disarming of the entire society and the reform of the police force into a socially responsible community service organisation and away from its (then) developing counter-insurgency role in which it remained foreign to its clients, only ‘parachuting’ into the ghetto to put disaffected youth in their proper place – May Pen cemetery.
The counter-insurgency role was magnified by the fear, which enveloped the society as political propagandists spoke of a Cuban invasion while encouraging intervention by the CIA. The Gun Court and the Suppression of Crimes Act and even the State of Emergency were welcomed by the populace (according to the Stone polls) and, of course, did not work
Three decades ago we refused to acknowledge what the problem really was. We were told that the answer was not populist distributive politics, it was “Wealth creation”. It was, however, never explained how wealth was to be created if we were unable to put people to work and we could not put people to work when most of the land is idle and the largest section of the labour force consists of domestic helpers.
John Searchwell knew part of the answer. Education would put the intellectual power of the people at their own service. The World Bank knows it too. In report after report the Bank has told our leaders that education alone could significantly raise the GDP and reduce the crime rate.
There is an enormous amount of information on education in the Caribbean and lots of it is about Jamaica. Here is a quote from a World Bank document titled ‘Secondary education in the Caribbean’.
In addition to reducing poverty and boosting economic growth, education also creates opportunities for a better life, thus reducing inequalities in society. Children with access to a quality primary education gain the basic literacy skills and cognitive abilities for personal advancement that will put them in a position to move on to secondary and higher education, develop their local economies and forge advantageous links with the outside world.
As the gap between rich and poor in LAC countries continues to grow wider, bringing the benefits of education to the most disadvantaged children becomes progressively more difficult. Children from extremely poor families are at a disadvantage from the start, and rapidly fall further behind. Often undernourished, they are prone to develop more slowly.
Many of the region's poorest children come to school ill, hungry and thus unprepared for learning. Education cannot be effective if children in the region do not have access to adequate health care, good nutrition and live in a stable home environment.” (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/LACEXT/EXTLACREGTOPED... -)
We know all this. The World Bank doesn't have to tell us! We’ve known it for a long time.
So why do we avoid tackling the problem? Why is it that we do not have a unified political programme to give some measure of justice to our young?
One reason is simple. We are, no matter how civilised we think we are, subject to some of the most atavistic responses from our ‘reptile brain’ the most ancient part of the human brain and the most primitive. Some people live their entire lives in there; the fundamentalists who urge an eye for an eye are growing in number and influence. As I write on Thursday morning I have just read an open letter on the internet from a young Jamaican woman who asks why we are not disturbed, angry or take action when we hear that three men described as goat thieves were butchered in St Elizabeth.
That question reminded me of an editorial I wrote in Public Opinion in 1964 when irate farmers slaughtered three presumed goat thieves in Padmore, St Andrew. The police paid no attention. Why should they have? The society thought it was a good idea.
That was 44 years ago. Since then I no longer leave my front door unlocked for months at a time. Since then the cage built round his house by one of Jamaica’s millionaires in Jacks Hill has been tastefully concealed by bougainvillea. Since then we have been busy building gated communities right next door to the ghettoes. And if that doesn’t pacify our dreads some of us can always escape to the biggest gated community of All – Cayman.
But, as members of Alcoholics Anonymous know, you cannot escape your disease by moving away. And as AA says, most of us are unprepared to deal with our disease until we hit absolute, abject bottom, when you have lost everything you cherish, all that means anything to you. Some manage to escape before they reach the pits, but most don’t. And, most who don’t – die.
Some of us have a death wish. We are always ready to up the ante, as they say in the casinos. One letter writer to the Gleaner in December attempted to provide a final solution to the crime problem.
I won’t attempt to paraphrase his effusions. Here is a sample:
“The garrisons, by and large, occupy prime real estate in Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine and HYPERLINK "http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20071221/letters/letters1.html#". They are primarily the political enclaves of powerful parliamentarians and therein lies our problem of dismantling these albatrosses around our necks.
A solution has to be found to deal with this monster and I am, therefore, proposing that we immediately, and as a beginning, set about to remove and separate the people from the western belt of the city and scatter them across the length and breadth of Jamaica, provide jobs and housing for them and, by all means necessary, prevent them from forming themselves into any group or realigning with their former neighbours. The houses and most other structures should then be blown up and we can then open up the areas and build huge shopping malls and other high-income-generating complexes.”
This was the ‘Letter of the Day’ in the Gleaner.
In another ‘Letter of the Day’, this time on Wednesday this week, the same writer suggests that every law-abiding citizen should be allowed to purchase a firearm.
“It is very ironic that the outlaws and criminals can gain such easy access to guns, while the decent citizens are left to the mercy of those hoodlums and the state's bureaucracy from owning firearms.
No laws have stopped the criminals from getting guns into the country and nothing has stopped them from using them illegally to maim or kill thousands of our citizens.”
These statements are recipes for civil war.
The only law-abiding citizens who could purchase firearms are those – a small minority – who are not challenged to find food and money for school fees and clothing.
When we can publish this sort of juvenile gibberish as ideas to which we should pay attention, something is very wrong with our society.
The urgent question is: how many of us believe what this person believes. I suspect that there are more than many of us suspect.
Barack Obama

“They said this day would never come” he said.
But there were enough people who believed in Barack Obama’s dream and message of hope to turn the conventional wisdom on its head and to confound people like me who dodn’t think it could be done.
Reading abiout the campaign from thousand miles away and watching the posturing of television experts was never the best way to prognosticate the results of any political process, especially one which now seems so dependent on the chemistry between a leader and his followers.
My editor has graciously allowed me to change my column after deadline which allows me to briefly point out some significant facts.
Barack Obama beat Hilary Clinton among women voters 35 t0 30 percent; among registered Democrats 32:21 %; among Independents 44:17%; among crossover Republicans 41:10; among working class and poor people 37:30; among rich people 41:19%
As Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone says “Most astounding however, he beat her among her core supporters, women, by five points. What more can I say than — in a night of mind boggling statistics — that that’s the stat of the night.
A black man did this. In a state that’s 96 percent white. This is truly a historic night in America.”
I didn’t believe it was possible, and that is probably because facts alone can’t give the texture of a leader’s appeal to his people.Some things have got to be felt, smelled and tasted. Clearly the people of Iowa, 94% white, smelled, felt and tasted the hope for a new and better world that Obama symbolised.
And on the Republican side I believe the world should be thankful that Plastic Man, Mitt Romney, had his breakfast eaten by the rank and impoverished outsider, Mike Huckabee.
It may not be morning in America just yet, but the rest of the world glimpses the bright streaks of a new day.
Aspirins for Cancer
Just over a hundred years ago the celebrated African-American writer, W.E.B. du Bois wrote that the problem of the twentieth century would be the problem of the colour line.
It is also the problem of the twenty-first.
Researchers in several studies have found that black males, or images of them, are likely to cause some level of alarm in most Americans, including other black males. And, as TIME magazine has told us, heroes shouldn’t really be black, which is why O.J.Simpson was portrayed as much darker than he was in order to put him in his proper perspective.
This week another study disclosed that dark-skinned people including Hispanics are less likely than whites to be properly treated in emergency rooms of hospitals. They are less likely than like skinned people to get the more powerful painkillers they appeared to deserve. They don’t get the heavy-duty drugs, which would ease their suffering, because of the fear that they may be presenting themselves for a ‘FIX’!
This prejudice seems to apply to black doctors as well as to whites, and mirrors the research on fear I mentioned earlier.
In a country which began by defining one fifth of its citizenry as only three-fights human, such progress should perhaps be welcomed.
But the problem is not really ‘racial’ or ethnic. Queen Victoria, just over a century ago, was astonished that labourers in England could have such white skin. She thought they were all black.
So, when the world decides to deal with a problem involving black people one should be conscious that the European prejudices have long ago been absorbed by most of us. In dealing with Haiti, for example, do you really expect that a President Romney – any more than George Bush – would believe that the people there are entirely human?
Remember the whole panoply of myth and lies spun about Haiti from the beginning, when Haiti was first a political bogeyman, because it threatened the hegemony of France and the slave industry of the United States. It was only later that the myth transformed it into a haven for savages.
If we are considering the state of the world it may be useful to remember how far we have come and more important, how far we still have to go.
Copyright©2007John Maxwell

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