OUT OF CONTROL? WHAT ELSE COULD BE EXPECTED? (Part 3)
By Clarence O. Perry
What we want our nation to be we must first put in our schools.
If certain inhumane tendencies (for example, immunity to the suffering of others, or, hard self-interest) do not start in our primary schools, then it is clear that they are deepened and authenticated there,- hence Ian Lye’s letter (KN 25-11-09) “What If This Were A Queen’s College Boy?”
This letter highlighted the lack of empathy, by the Queen’s College “elite”, who were having a reunion in Guyana while celebrating the 165th anniversary of the College, with the teen who was allegedly tortured by the police at the Leonora police station.
It would appear that the more elitist you are, the greater is your immunity to the suffering of others. During the French Revolution, when told that the people were revolting because they had no bread to eat, the Queen of France is reported to have responded: “If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake.”
Since schooling is by law compulsory in Guyana, then our school system must be regarded as a primary source of violence (and there are others), or legal ally of the murderous value system, or winner-take-all (mini-bus) mentality which permeates our society.
This inculcated immunity to the suffering of others was thrown into sharp relief by Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine during his address to the Queen’s College alumni at the Queen’s College 165th anniversary and reunion in October, 2009.
Dr. Roopnaraine said; “We were the beneficiaries of an educational legacy imbued with the colonial ethos and harking back to the public and grammar schools of England…I did later come to understand how much of our experience in and out of the classroom was being shaped by the ideology of the Victorian public school.
“From early we were imbued with the sense of responsibility to the tradition to which we were now heirs. The programme was clear: as the cream of the crop, we were trained to take up our rightful place in the middle and upper echelons of the colonial hierarchy.” Speaking of his generation of the 50’s and 60’s: “we were the last of the colonially educated generations, the product of the empire for service of the empire.
“The extent to which we would be able to maintain, build on and deepen the best of these learned values, while jettisoning what was oppressive and backward-looking, was the supreme test of my own generation.
“Sad to say it was not a test that many who went on to assume positions of leadership in the society managed to pass….On the contrary too many of us were seduced by the habits of authoritarianism and hierarchical privilege, blinkered in their lack of concern for the poor and powerless.”
Dr. Roopnaraine goes on to note that “of all the generations of Queen’s College alumni, it was only the late Dr. Walter Rodney who had the supreme distinction of initiating in his personal and professional life a decisive break with the tradition he had been trained to serve.” For those of us who are not familiar with the way the British Empire was won and maintained, – it was won by the force of arms and maintained by division, violence and fear.
Dr. Roopnaraine believes, most correctly, “that there is no greater, nor more urgent task confronting Guyanese today in our tormented country, than the overcoming of the accumulated bitterness and fears of the past…”
What can be a more appropriate place to start the processes of constructive social change other than in our schools? The school is the one national institution through which every Guyanese must pass.
To reiterate, environment influences behaviour. Almost every one of us is immune to the suffering of others.
This is not only vividly illustrated by the treatment (whether officially or otherwise) of our elderly or senior citizens and persons who are differently abled or physically challenged, but also, by the dehumanizing conditions that are allowed to prevail in some schools, health institutions and places of incarceration.
Many of us are unwilling to share knowledge, but will prefer to willfully re-shelve a library book in the wrong place, or even go to the extent of removing pages from a book or journal, in order to deny other students access to vital information in the ruthless competition for some coveted prize.
Many of us would seek to pervert the course of justice for our own selfish and narrow ends. Many of us are intolerant and unwilling to share the road with other road users. We exhibit a “winner-take-all” or “minibus” mentality. Many of us are motivated only by self-interest and greed.
We perpetrate all kinds of fraud and are corrupt and deceitful. Many of us expend tremendous energy trying to institutionalize racism in Guyana. All of these behaviours are forms of violence and examples of immunity to the suffering of others. And what do all of us have in common? We are all products of the Guyanese school environment.