This is the time when children learn the most. At least it should be, because that is when they explore things in the society. They explore canals and they fashion all manner of toys, none of which one would find in stores.
That used to be the case when I was a boy. By exploring the canals, which were nothing compared to the infested bodies of water running through villages, I learnt to swim. That was an experience.
A group of us had gone to the backlands for mangoes, because this is the mango season. We didn’t own the trees, but the fruits were there for the taking. We walked with jute bags because we were not going to collect just a few to stuff in our pockets.
On one side of the canal were trees with what we called long mangoes. These were the types that we pounded then sucked. I almost filled my bag, not realising that I would have to fetch it back home. Across the canal were the succulent Buxton Spice.
I was made to empty the bag that I had just filled and cross the canal. I could not swim. I must have been about eight or nine. Like the other boys, I stripped to my birth suit. In those days, young boys did not wear underwear, not even when we were going to school.
I just stood there when the thought came to me that I could walk around, a distance of about half-a-mile. I made my suggestion known. Then suddenly, I was in the water. A cousin merely grabbed me and jumped overboard.
He was good. He dragged me across, him diving and me being dragged along. I did get a bag full of Buxton Spice, something I struggled to fetch home, having to stop on many occasions to dump mangoes.
Two days later, I was in another canal learning to swim. Within a week, I could manage. I ensured that my sons learnt to swim later in life.
We had some dangerous toys—spinners scraped from small milk tins, slingshots, which we used to shoot birds and even at each other when we played war break. It is a wonder none of us ever got blinded.
But most of all, we would sit under trees and exchange stories. The bigger boys had tales that left kids like me with my eyes open and a desire to grow up in a hurry. We also discussed right from wrong. If one of us was inclined to do something evil, like stealing, others would prevail upon him to shed such thoughts. We did not want to go to jail.
We learnt to cook through the famous bush cook and we learnt to understand people. We knew when to back off because someone was getting angry. We also learnt to fight, not by causing a battle, but by simply challenging each other. We used no weapons.
Today, when I expect to see children playing cricket or football, I see them with phones glued to their faces. Not surprisingly, they do not use the phone as a source of academic learning. They do not research words and ideas. They are glued to some video game or to some chat.
Even adults are caught up in this mode and I see the level of their intelligence. They simply cannot use the language and they cannot spell. I see strange computations of the language. Taught becomes thought; led becomes lead. And I hasten to say that this is common among our reporters.
They prefer to ask questions rather than investigate the answer on their phones.
With all this technology, I would expect teachers to guide them, but I suppose that many of the teachers are no better. I see them making the same mistakes. I remember going into a city school and seeing on the blackboard this question. “How many hands do a clock has.” Obviously, a case of error of attraction.
Yesterday marked an historic day in history. Man walked on the moon. There was no television in Guyana. Many of us followed this on radio. We saw the photographs in the newspapers the next day.
Very few young people know about this. In fact, they do not care but we, the young ones then, went to Fogarty’s to see pieces of the moon rock on display. There we were, excited to see a piece of the moon in Guyana. The moon was no longer this remote object floating in the skies.
We read books. I became enamoured with authors such as Leon Uris, James Michener, Irving Wallace, William Golding and of course Franklin W. Dixon, who gave boys the Hardy Boys. Ian Fleming came after the Hardy Boys.
Years later, thanks to the computer I learnt that Franklin W. Dixon never existed. Franklin W. Dixon was the pseudonym devised by Edward Stratemeyer for the author of a series of mystery books he was developing which became the Hardy Boys series.
The first book, The Tower Treasure, originally published in 1927, was written by Leslie MacFarlane, who went on to write 19 more.
Stratemeyer, born in 1862, was an American publisher and writer of children’s fiction. He was one of the most prolific writers in the world, producing in excess of 1,300 books himself, selling in excess of 500 million copies.
We simply read any and everything we could, with the result that our language was efficient. Our writing styles developed as did our ability to express ourselves.
At the end of the holidays, we schoolboys would compare notes of our reading. We shared stories and the books. We even got our teachers involved in the exercise, because they, too, had grown up reading books.
Our children do none of these things, although the scope is so much larger than when I was a boy. Scarcely a day goes by without me asking some young reporter about the last book he or she read. The answer is always the same.
At university, I encountered Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.” Just the other day my employer discovered it. Given his penchant for protecting Guyana’s resources, he secured a copy, which he is ploughing through.
He was no great academic, but through reading, he has put himself among the best of us. And he is still reading.
I wonder if I could get more people to do what some of the older folks are doing—putting aside a lot to read and to develop their vocabulary.
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