We produced two Nobel laureates! That’s the knee-jerk reaction whenever the collective brain power of Saint Lucians is challenged. That is to say, whenever someone cites the poor quality of local job applicants or the inability of our elected officials to chew gum and walk at the same time. The problem cannot possibly be us, right? We have the highest number of Nobel winners per capita in the world, haven’t we? Well, actually, the special distinction belongs to the Faroe Islands with a population of only 48,199 and two Nobel awards.
But what if, thanks to Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott, our country did in fact hold the record for Nobel winners? What would be the practical significance? That their special achievements proved the effectiveness of our education system? How much do we know about our cited two heroic sons of the soil whose names we hypocritically use to stave off all suggestions of our general mediocrity?
How many of us can say, without help from Google, which schools Walcott attended? How familiar are we with his oeuvre? How about Sir Arthur? We piled ridicule upon him when he visited shortly after collecting his Nobel prize for Economics, and turned his funeral service into a macabre carnival! Meanwhile we worship from afar the convicted killer, Vybz Kartel. What a bunch of “inglorious bastards” we are. Sucking at the teat of greatness – but only like a child forced to swallow a tablespoon of castor oil!
The notion resides close to insanity – that the excellence of a handful of individuals with accidental ties to our country somehow renders the rest of us exceptional. The perhaps inconvenient truth is that the select few Saint Lucians that have excelled in their chosen fields – Walcott, Lewis, St. Omer, Rick Wayne, John Compton inter alia – achieved despite our socio-cultural norms and our education system, not because of them.
Our cultural norms significantly influence the development of our personality. Erik Erickson, a mid-twentieth century ego psychologist, theorized that the socialization of individuals affects the development of their self-esteem. He suggested that there are eight stages of development from infancy to adulthood, a theory which is a staple in all forms of psychological analysis and therapy. In each stage the ego develops as the individual experiences social conflicts of thought or action, with the results of each conflict informing the development of successive stages. From birth to the age of two we learn how to trust, based on the consistency and quality of care provided by our caretakers. We develop autonomy from eighteen months to three years by being permitted to perform basic tasks on our own, bolstered with encouragement when we fail.
Interpersonal skills are cultivated between ages three and five by initiating activities with others. We develop industriousness between age five and twelve by attempting to solidify our place in peer groups through displaying proficiency in skill sets of value to said peer groups. From age twelve to eighteen the sense of self begins to take shape through exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals. And finally, it is from eighteen to forty that we actively seek out emotional connections via intimacy.
Our own societal norms do not accommodate the healthy developmental path just described. We are disadvantaged from birth, with ingrained mistrust being fostered by a perennial preponderance of single teenage mothers. Still children themselves, they are financially and emotionally incapable of taking proper care of their offspring and demonstrate little interest in spending quality time with them. We cultivate dependence and feelings of inadequacy through our reluctance to allow children to do for themselves, constantly lambasting them with abusive criticism and excessive control. This reality is self-perpetuating: children have a natural tendency to repeat the sins of their parents. So round and round we go on the wheel of misfortune!
One way to break the cycle is through education; but alas, our education system is a major part of the problem. Despite claims by the island’s educational powerbrokers that they appreciate the importance of education, the contrary is evident. Our education seems designed to provide erudition, not cultivate intelligence.
Erudition is knowledge. Intelligence is the capacity to understand knowledge and apply it objectively in the analysis and evaluation of situations or circumstances to form judgments and arrive at conclusions. Our education system – the curricula, the way our teachers are prepared at Teachers’ College, what is tested for and how the tests are administered – neither develops nor encourages critical thinking.
In addition, the resources allocated to education belie any claims of understanding and appreciation of its importance. Politicians often open, punctuate and conclude speeches about national development with sweet nothings about the importance of our human resource. However, they continually fail to allocate a percentage of the national budget which would bear out those sentiments. Our teachers are not adequately compensated. The ratio of teachers to students in the various schools is not ideal for the learning process. Our schools are falling apart!
We have millions to give to prospectors to establish start-ups which only promise a handful of menial jobs. We routinely throw away small fortunes on consultants and feasibility studies for the purpose of perfuming the stench of ill-fated and self-serving initiatives. However, teachers and schools are left to ‘scrunt’ parents for donations and hold BBQs and bake sales to supplement the financing of their operations. As I write, Babonneau Secondary School has been closed for urgent maintenance work in the middle of the school term. So much for the children being our future – the leaders of tomorrow!
We are socially and educationally predisposed to dysfunction and mediocrity. In order to break the generational curse, we need to change how we raise our children, with the necessary social mechanisms being made available to support the families. Also, our education system needs to be given the attention it so desperately deserves. Finally, dear reader, take the time to familiarize yourself with the economic theories of Sir Arthur Lewis; get acquainted with at least one of Derek Walcott’s many books; educate yourself on the many transcendent talents of Rick Wayne, and read up on Sir John Compton.