When I was growing up and thought I was old enough to have opinions about most things, I remember my mother describing someone as “very well-read”, and even then, it seemed to me to be a very strange way of describing people. Some of you may recall that of a person who was open and transparent, unable to dissemble or hide his true feelings, it would be said that you could “read him like a book”. So was a “well-read” person someone who was “an open book”? Hardly likely, I thought and put the idea to the back of my mind.
Obviously, as I grew older and became, like my friends, a veritable omnivore when it came to devouring books, digesting magazines and metabolizing knowledge of just about everything, that I came to appreciate the importance of being “well-read”.
Let’s put that thought on one side for a moment and consider the question of learning. One of the most disturbing aspects of education in St Lucia is the narrowness of its scope from the earliest of ages, which is of course entirely due to the inability of politicians – note that I said politicians; teachers have little to do with what becomes required reading for their students – to see further than the end of noses that are forever buried in the Common Entrance Exam. Badly-read adults ensure that equally badly-read children tread steadfastly in their footsteps.
(A quick aside here: Thankfully, with the advent of the Internet, children have access to more reading materials than any generation before, so they are reading more – but reading what?)
Homes in St Lucia do not have books. Without books in the home, reading remains a stranger to most.
Take my doctor friend, for example; lovely lady, well educated, good at her job, yet she bemoans the fact that she cannot help her children because she is so ignorant of everything non-medical that goes on around her. She never reads a book, or so she claims, and regrets having not been able to read to her kids at bedtime.
Take my lawyer friend as another example: Years ago, when I was Chairperson of the Committee for the Rotary Club of Gros Islet, I bought a book each week for a year, read it, and then chose an excerpt to read at the weekly Tuesday luncheon meeting. I would then offer the book to a Rotarian as a gift to be passed on round the club until everyone had read it. This way, I thought, we would all read at least 52 books that year. It didn’t work; being professionals, educated people, people like my lawyer friend simply had no time to read; they were far too busy leading sterile, monochrome lives.
In Sweden, we have a saying that someone is a “fakidiot”. “Fak” means subject or discipline; “idiot” means “idiot”, of course, though we pronounce it “idiote”. And we use the word to describe someone who is extremely “well-educated but only in one narrow field”, which is, of course, a contradiction in terms. You need to be “well-read” to be well-educated.
And this is why, despite this country having a plentitude of PhD’s, a plethora of academics, and a litany of people with huge alphabets after their names, it is all but impossible to hold a serious – or even entertaining – conversation with any but a small circle of friends.
When the venerable Arthur Miller visited Derek Walcott some years ago, his companion was an extremely attractive woman decades younger than he. The local testicular intelligentsia, invited to bask in borrowed glory and surrogate success, had but one topic of conversation: Why did the chick stick with Miller when there were so many eager St Lucians eager to give her the “wood” she, of necessity in their opinion, required? Why else would a man want a woman as a companion, and why would a younger person seek the company of an older one?
Given the propensity for suing at the drop of a pair of pants that enlivens political debate in this country, I am loath to mention who the members – pardon the pun – of the “bwa wèd” brigade were, but rest assured, it was the usual bunch of what passes for intellectual elitists around these parts.
When will St Lucia understand that the most scintillatingly-PhD-garlanded Neurologist will probably make a lousy government Minister? Horses for courses – that’s what we need – and well-read ones, naturally.