IN a heartfelt response in the Express of February 10 to my recent column “The mis-education of black children” (Sunday Express, January 24), Dr Lennox Bernard published “We failed to act on ‘hotspot’ RC schools,” revealing that the Catholic education hierarchy had deliberated over the poor performance of its East Port of Spain schools, but then stalled.
He speaks of a proposal titled “Transforming Outcomes at Catholic Primary Schools in East Port of Spain” which required funding via “Catholic benefactors and philanthropists”.
The project, aimed at reforming Catholic schools in the areas, almost all of which were failing, was not supported by these prospective donors.
I had the good fortune of having Dr Bernard as a colleague back in the 1970s when we both were among the first group of teachers who were there on the first day when St Augustine Senior Comprehensive opened.
I am not surprised that his sentiments are with the children and that he remains anguished that the Catholic establishment would not come forward to fund the reform of failing schools.
Dr Bernard, a co-author of the Ryan Report No time to Quit, knows the issue of inner-city pain well. His anguish about Catholic default in Laventille and Beetham schools amid the social carnage is genuine.
I well remember the 2015 gatherings convened to discuss the project Dr Bernard outlines.
I was an invited presenter at two of them. I expressed my frustrations.
I remember the head of DOMA lecturing us about the work ethic of his forebears.
I remember too, the active involvement of Fr Clyde Harvey in the conversations. We now have Chinatown on the landscape there.
I think a higher priority should be to get Despers back in their yard near the church. Get the community back in balance.
The most significant African figure in the Catholic hierarchy, Harvey now functions in exile as Archbishop of Grenada. Away from the scene here.
Clyde used to be parish priest of Laventille. Accessible to everybody. Unafraid of the place because he was born behind there. Dismissing bandits who tied him up as “stupid little fellas”.
He belongs here. On our soil.
His singular presence in the country could change the ethos of schools. And indeed, the ethos of criminality in East Dry River. But he has been sent away, no one to authentically replace him, and that is how the Catholic establishment like it, and want it. He is the new Dom Basil. Push him out.
The church in former colonial states like ours makes its own rules. These days, for example, they want to be at the forefront of Venezuelan migration issues. Who is to stop them?
European churches were here since slavery. They joined the planters in owning slaves. The planter class and the clerics jointly constituted the upper stratum of slave society.
Churches were part of the slave establishment. Priests with their mystical bearing took control of slave behaviour, shaping it through baptism, conversion, mysticism, and the word.
As slavery came to an end, the colonial authorities relied on the churches to continue in their mission, of engaging in thought—shaping proselytising, aimed at making the ex-slave more pliable, more passive, more conforming.
But it is not at all logical to me, how a church of any denomination could be associated with secular education (which is different from indoctrination).
Education requires questioning. But religion often has answers to questions it poses.
For example, in my own preparations for first communion and confirmation in the Catholic church, the church Catechism provided all questions and all answers.
For example, the question “Who made you?” required the answer “God made me.”
As a boy, in my mind I thought that my mother was being excluded from this.
There is no logical connection that I can discern between churches and education.
Churches are one of the strongest sources of racial and ethnic segregation and intolerance in the country.
Schools are sites of insularity, working in opposition to what education should be about.
Dr Bernard writes that in East Port of Spain, “There was also little indication that the propagation of the faith was taking place in many of these schools.”
So, poor education, and no religion.
These schools are just holding pens, with the Catholic Church as landlord, collecting rent for the buildings.
The people of East Dry River constitute the strongest People’s National Movement supporters in the country. And what they have gotten in return for that are Catholic schools oozing failure.
What Dr Bernard reveals, to be sure, is an indictment of Catholic primary education in the country.
But the people of Laventille did not go to the polls to elect Catholics, and so the failure of these schools is an indictment of the Government, which has abdicated its responsibility for the education of the children of East Dry River, and other urban areas in the country.
It has no process for monitoring and ensuring quality in Catholic schools.
Schooling is a function of governments. Where they outsource education to schools, they are still obligated to be watchdogs of these schools to ensure they offer quality education.
I think the churches should be pushed out of the business of providing elementary education in urban schools, and that Government should partner with community-based entities, such as the Emancipation Support Committee, retired teachers and principals, or parent-teachers associations, in seeking to imagine new ways to manage these schools so that they become places of excellence.