Forty years and maybe more, or falling off the balance beam

are meaningless
except to measure the process
of maturing.

Pat Rahming, "Still and Maybe More -- A Trilogy"

Need I say it? I am overcommitted, and I am feeling compromised, and am consequently conflicted and a little angry at both myself and the system which governs us. I feel like I'm swimming underwater and there's a pressure building up inside (or is it outside?) my head that is uncomfortable, to say the least.

This post is one small step towards equalizing the pressure.


The feeling of compromise comes from the fact that as long ago as August 2012 I was asked to serve as co-chair of the fortieth anniversary of independence committee. Back then, in the golden haze that surrounded the change of government, there was a sense of excitement regarding this anniversary. It's not always an excitement that stretches across both sides of the political divide; often I get the sense that supporters of the PLP tend to make a whole lot more of being independent than supporters of the FNM, but maybe that's an assumption. Certainly there was a measure of scepticism about a big-time forty anniversary celebration. It's a scepticism that I understand. After all, it's not the fortieth anniversary that usually gets the attention, but the half-century, and rightly so.

I even share some of the reservations about a fortieth anniversary celebration that I have heard expressed. No need to go all out on this one; fifty is coming up. Now this is something that I happen to believe, to an extent. Fifty is coming up, and fifty should get most of the attention; true. But when I hear the easy and (forgive me) lazy comments that we don't have the money to waste on celebrating the fortieth anniversary of our independence something happens along my spine and up the back of my neck. I suppose if I were a cat or a dog that's where the fur would be standing up on end. I have very little patience in this uncontested oh-so-Bahamian habit of suggesting that spending money on national events is somehow a waste of time; and the more reading I do about our history the more my hair stands on end.

Money more sacred than people

We come from a tradition where it has been an unquestioned truism that money is somehow more sacred than people. It's more sacred than ideals, and it's more sacred than collective identities. It is an attitude that pervaded our governance all throughout the twentieth century. Back in the 1920s, the debates surrounding the establishment of a public high school that would make it possible for Bahamians who were not white to have even a hope of a high school education were fuelled by this question of affordability; opponents of the establishment of a government high school (who were, unsurprisingly, pretty exclusively wealthy and white) argued that it would be more cost-effective to establish a reformatory school for children (a sort of work-house perhaps?) because there was nothing in the colony for educated black people to do. (Apparently the idea of creating space for educated black people to exist was not something that was affordable either). Back in the 1940s, the argument for not paying the Bahamian workers on the Windsor Field project American wages was that the colony could not afford the consequent raise in wages that those workers would expect from all of their employers.  Back in the early 1960s, the debates attending on independence which inevitably accompanied the changes that were being made in suffrage were countered by the idea that the colony could not afford the cost of creating its own diplomatic service or its own military—things that, strangely, less than ten years later were suddenly affordable. In the 1980s, for some reason our nation was unable to afford the cost of maintenance of public buildings, or of supplying them; those of us who came of age in that era will well remember the persistent shortage of basic amenities in public offices and buildings, from chalk to toilet paper in our schools, from drugs in our hospitals (this during a time when banks were turning away deposits of cash owing to the success of a very different drug trade) to books in our libraries, from docks on our family islands to places of public renewal (think Jumbey Village) in our urban communities.  And in the 2000s, we were unable to afford an investment in CARIFESTA which might have energized our cultural economy and rejuvenated our tourism product and given us the potential to take advantage of the most vibrant parts of the global economy, culture and tourism, today (though we were more than able to borrow ourselves into an economic depression to deepen our harbour and build roads in New Providence alone—things that make you go "hm").

Bahamian money: more important than Bahamian people.

Forty years of independence

So I am not likely to jump on the naysayer bandwagon and argue that we can't afford to celebrate our nationhood by commemorating forty years of independence. On the other hand, though, I am equally unlikely to ratify half-baked and wasteful decisions. I hope that I've made it clear that I don't believe in principle that celebrating our independence is either half-baked or wasteful; but there is such a thing as context, and context changes many things.

My personal challenge is simple. Each week I am called to attend a meeting of  the (recently formed) fortieth anniversary committee. Despite having been asked to serve as its chair in the middle of last year, the committee was appointed in January 2013. We are expected to sit around a table once a week to discuss activities for the year. At the same time, though, as I write, a document is circulating around my place of employment (the College of The Bahamas, for  those who may not know) which calls for fairly drastic budget cuts. These are cuts being imposed upon that institution by the government of the Bahamas, in the form of a (perhaps unprecedented?) reduction of the government's subvention: a 10% reduction in 2013-2014, rising to 25% reduction in 2014-2015—the same government who has asked me to co-chair a committee that plans activities in honour of our fortieth anniversary of independence. They are cuts that will not simply require the trimming of some fat at what is already a fairly lean institution, but will certainly require the letting of some blood as well—and, if rumours about 2015 and beyond are to be believed, the chopping off of a limb or two. At the same time, 2015 is the year by which my institution is to be a university. Add to the mix the fundamental conservatism by which the institution has come to be governed internally—according to philosophies that privilege central control over shared governance—and also add the ways in which protests have generally been made within that institution—by personal attack, divisiveness and a pitting of one constituency (faculty, for example) against another, and you will understand that the balancing act with which I am currently faced appears impossible.

Falling off the balance beam

On the one hand, I understand the desire to recognize our fortieth anniversary of  independence in some tangible and uplifting manner. Among other things, in this country where our history is as well-known as the speaking of Latin, it has a practical significance that in some ways trumps the symbolic significance that our fiftieth anniversary in 2023 will have; it is the last major anniversary of independence when the people who will shape the Bahamas of the future can converse and work together with the people who laid the foundations of the Bahamian nation (and here I'm not just talking about the political leaders). That we celebrate it appropriately, to my mind, is imperative.

But on the other hand, when we are being asked to "celebrate" in a climate where one of the most solid achievements of our forty years of independence, the College/University of The Bahamas, is being asked to cut services which are already woefully under-funded and under-supported by successive governments, the question of what is appropriate looms large. And the irony of my personal situation is not lost on me. I know one thing for sure: that if the College is forced to cut 25% of its budget in an attempt to meet the shortfall it will face from the 25+% cut in government subvention, the independence that I am called to celebrate will lose much of its meaning not only for me, but also for the generation of Bahamians to come, whether they know it yet or not. 

On the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

One of the reasons I am unmoved by either any of the current political parties' manifesti, plans or proposals, is that I have the pleasure of teaching new groups of young Bahamians every year. This is a pleasure, because they are far more open and interested than they have any right to be, given the abysmal neglect of their generation and those immediately preceding them by the governments of our nation; but it is also a scandal. They know so very little about their country, themselves, and the world they are expected to navigate.We came into our own as a nation in 1973, almost 40 years ago. The generations that straddled that watershed were erudite, educated, aware of the world and our place in it, bent on changing the world they had grown up in, and educated to do so. The generations that they produced, by contrast, are none of those things. There are of course pockets of erudition, handfuls of individuals who can be considered "educated" in the democratic sense of the term, but these are not common. They are usually the products of families for whom The Bahamas matters, who may have earned a critical place in Bahamian history, who invest in education for themselves and their children, not because of what they perceive that education might earn them but for its own sake. More damningly, they are all too often also the graduates of private schools, hailing from the middle class or the upper middle class, children of privilege. Ironically, our self-rule and our independence, bought at some cost by people for whom education was by no means a given, to whom education was prohibited, has created a society in which the so-called "universal" education has bred a population whose ignorance is legion.As I tell my students, I don't blame them for reaching voting age without knowing anything important about themselves or their country. I can't; the fault is not theirs. But as I also tell them, I will blame them henceforth (to invoke the one-word motto of my alma mater) if they maintain that ignorance now that they know they possess it. That it should proliferate after a generation of Bahamian scholars, all of them investing their time, money, and energy into writing our stories, in penning our histories, in telling tales about us, is an indictment on every single government of The Bahamas since independence.But even that indictment cannot be evenly spread. Different administrations bear different kinds of guilt. The first Progressive Liberal Party administrations must shoulder the responsibility for skewing our history, for telling only part of it, for erasing whole chunks of Bahamian life and experience from the spoken record. Even given the fact that there is something understandable in the fact that the first decade of community building in the wake of majority rule was given over to the Black Bahamian experience, the continuation of that bias into the third decade after Majority Rule is unconscionable, given the fact that The Bahamas was the site of not one but two important republics in the New World, and a site of a very ancient, if politically skewed, democracy. The myth created out of the PLP rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s was that Black Bahamians had no vote and no voice in the pre-PLP era. The result of this half-truth is that young Black Bahamians were never made aware of the role of free African settlers in the Eleutherian Republic—the second republic in the new world—or of the Pirates' Republic of the end of the seventeenth century, which, though branded as lawless and rebellious by a Britain intent on global conquest, was also multi-racial and strangely democratic. The other result of this half-truth is that successive generations of Black Bahamians were created who had, and have, no comprehension of the actual composition of the Bahamian population, who take fair-skinned Bahamians of colour for the "whites" who controlled the nation in the past, and who take actual white Bahamians of ancient pedigree for tourists; and this serves to disenfranchise otherwise productive Bahamian citizens, to render them invisible, to remove from them a real stake in the fortunes of the nation.The first Free National Movement administrations, on the other hand, must bear a different responsibility. Perhaps coincidentally, the change of government from PLP to FNM occurred in the same year as the complete phasing-out of General Certificate of Education, the international school-leaving qualification previously earned by Bahamian students. The creation of the BGCSE was not the doing of the FNM, but the way in which it was administered must be. It is on the doorstep of the FNM that we must lay the blame for the continued miseducation of Bahamians. The miseducation of Bahamians with regard to the Bahamian citizenry and the place of whites within the Bahamas was addressed, but was done so as destructively as the miseducation of Bahamians under the PLP had been done. Instead of increasing the knowledge of young Bahamians about their nation and the world within which it existed, a choice was made to decrease that knowledge. History was not only made an optional subject, but even the origins of the Bahamian nation itself were concealed. It is impossible to recount the story of the rise of universal democracy in The Bahamas without privileging the role of the PLP; and so the history of the post-independence Bahamas was not taught at all. It is impossible to talk about slavery without acknowledging the oppression of Africans by Europeans; and so the history of Bahamian enslavement was not taught at all. By erasing critical eras of Bahamian history, by valourizing pre-1967 heroes such as Stafford Sands and Roland Symonette, or by recognizing (belatedly) other pre-independence heroes such as Cecil Wallace-Whitfield,  the first two FNM administrations effectively blotted out the story of the Bahamas that obtained between 1967/73 and 1992.I am told—I wasn't there, but have no reason to doubt the source—that during the 1990s, attempts to address living Bahamian history were actively discouraged by serving educators. I am thinking about an incident recounted by a colleague of mine, who told of a time when he stood up to make some reference to the days of Black Bahamian oppression at a school assembly where he was a guest speaker, only to be rebuked by the head teacher, who told him that teaching young Bahamians about the past would encourage racism against white people. That helps to explain the huge gaps in the knowledge of the students I teach today, some twenty years after that most recent active erasure of our selves. These are students who have heard of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, of Barack Obama, but who have no idea of who Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield were, much less having even heard of other great Bahamians like Randol Fawkes, Etienne Dupuch, or Roland Symonette. They do not know what was suffered to give them free access to education, or what it means to be able to earn a college degree. They have barely heard of apartheid, the Holocaust, or colonialism. They do not know that the red, white and blue they associate with the Stars and Stripes were also once the colours of the Bahamian colony, not because of our American proximity, but because of our annexure to Britain. They have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, or know that Haiti was the first and the only successful ex-slave republic anywhere in the world. They do not know that, when he was released from prison and knew that victory for native South Africans was assured, Nelson Mandela came to The Bahamas to study the way in which we had achieved majority rule without bloodshed and created a successful society in its wake. They do not know who Nelson Mandela is. They do not know, and yet they are expected to become full citizens of this African-influenced, slave-shaped, postcolonial nation. The idea is absurd.And so I regard the incoherencies that pass for election rhetoric with a sense of disgust. These people who are now on their game, who are engaged in the grotesque performance that passes for "democracy" in the voting nations of the late capitalist era, are either complicit in the creation of the mass ignorance of the voters, or they are the products of the skew-eyed histories that have shaped our existence since independence. How can anyone who believes in democracy as the expression of the will of a people, support any set of politicians who have so completely seen to the erasure of the kind of knowledge that best informs that will? How can one, with good conscience, cast a vote in this climate? Why should I care about the leaders of the parties, when I know that they will all come out the same in the wash—blustery, misinformed/misinforming, irresponsible?Somebody tell me why.

Presentation Zen: Is education killing creativity?

Came across this:

our education systems (around the world) are outdated and mainly designed to meet the needs of industrialization. Sir Ken [Robinson] makes many good points — some you may not agree with — but he certainly is not saying that math and science should be taught or studied less, rather that music and the arts and creativity in general should be pursued more.Presentation Zen: Is education killing creativity?

I think I tend to agree.Forget being tentative. I totally agree.Here's what Sir Ken says in his own words:

Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects ... At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth. And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in school than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics.

See for yourself - the YouTube clip via Riz Khan:[youtube]And the whole thing itself thanks to TED: and culture make good business.