Education and Colonization of the mind:
The place of education, too, had changed. It was becoming more widely available. Elected governments always build schools because construction work gives employment, employment gives votes, and elementary schooling enables voters to read propaganda and to mark ballot papers correctly. These are not, of course, the only reasons; but they are not insignificant ones. In the past, although only the rich could afford education, not all the rich were educated. But those who were; enjoyed an additional prestige because their education had been received abroad, in the schools and universities of Britain, Europe, and America, and because they were in the minority. In the minds of most Jamaicans, B.A. spelled “culture”. Education was a decorative thing. This had been simply a reflection of an earlier British view. But by the 1950’s we had begun to hear a good deal more about functional education; training for jobs, and training for good citizenship. It is, however, easier to describe a job than to define good citizenship. It is therefore more difficult to say what educational content is relevant to the latter purpose.
Be that as it may, it was abundantly clear, even in the 1950’s, that the education of Jamaicans was practically empty of relevance to Jamaican needs. In our schools we were brought up on English literature, English history, English geography, and mathematical quizzes about the times trains took to travel from London to Glasgow if they ran at x or y miles an hour. In the process of learning, where the fads were irrelevant and the imagery foreign, we counted on memory rather than on understanding. More dangerous still, we came to the assumption that the only information worth acquiring was about people, places, ideas, and things abroad. it was not difficult to swallow this assumption. Our long subservience to ‘the ship’ had prepared us for it. Our monuments, our folk-lore, our history and our social institutions, were left to the often amateur curiosity of a few expatriate intellectuals who presumably already knew all that was worth knowing and so had time to dabble in the luxury of the inconsequential.
I do not mean to deny the competence or the sincerity of some of these people, or the importance which we now attach to the work they began. I simply state the Jamaican view of what they were doing; and indicate one reason why, as we prepared for independence, we failed to seize the opportunity for change. Since we knew and cared little about what we were, we could scarcely attempt to say what we should like to be or how to achieve it.
The framers of our political constitution for independence had, like their federal predecessors, displayed great energy and little, if any, creativity. With very minor deviations we readily assumed the garb of Westminster, and our members of the new Parliament bewigged or frock-coated took their opposite seats as Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Six years later we still have our two political parties, well-balanced one against the other, and only occasionally disturbed by rumours of a third. We have our Speaker, our Cabinet, our front-benchers, our backbenchers, our Hansard, and all the trappings. We are sometimes praised for the stability of our two party system; the envy, it is assumed, of other Commonwealth Caribbean nations in whose governments one party clearly dominates; and, of course, the democratic example to the wayward Cubans. The facade is impressive. Let us look behind it.