History Needs To Be More Prominent In Schools

Published on June 24, 2014 by Shamkoe Pilé
BGIS Media Release
History needs to be made central to the academic curriculum at all levels of the education system within the Caribbean.

Professor Verene A. Shepherd made this assertion recently when she gave the fourth annual George Lamming Distinguished Lecture at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Professor Shepherd, who is the Chair of the National Commission on Reparations in Jamaica and the Vice Chair of the CARICOM Reparation Commission, spoke on the topic Reparation, Psychological Rehabilitation & Pedagogical Strategies.

She indicated that the teaching of History would build support for the reparation movement, especially among the youth.

“The greatest weapon in this arsenal will have to be culturally-relevant education, history education. But first, we will have to lobby for mandatory History education in our schools…for the surest way to defect the reparation movement is to ensure our children remain ignorant of their past and the legacy of activism around issues of justice and human rights for which your [and] our ancestors fought,” she declared.

The Reparations activist pointed out that in 2013, “only six per cent of our students sat the CSEC Caribbean History examination”. She further lamented that of the total 50,948 regional students who did CAPE last year, “only 1,780 sat the CAPE History exam…amounting to a diminutive three per cent”.

“It is any wonder why the identity crises, which permeate and incapacitate our societies, are perpetuated?” she queried, adding that because of this dilemma, people leave school without a true sense of themselves.

Professor Shepherd reiterated her solution: make History central to the education curriculum at all levels. “History is a way of ordering knowledge, which could become an active part of the consciousness of the uncertified, not the uneducated, mass of ordinary people and could be used by all as an instrument of social changes.”

However, the Reparations activist stressed that teaching History alone was not enough. In fact, she called for careful attention to be given to the type of content that is, and would be, taught.

“We will have to ensure that the content of History education is aligned with truth and indigenous knowledge. It is not only about making history compulsory, but about the ideological orientation of that history,” she surmised. “There are various reviews of texts used to teach History in our schools that reveal the racial biases, the sexism, [and] the Eurocentricity – and we have to do something about this.

“We have to cement the idea that there is such a thing as Caribbean History and that those who wish to engage with it cannot only read William Green, but must get acquainted with the revisionist history of post-colonial historians, many trained at UWI, who have aligned themselves with the project of true emancipation,” Professor Shepherd stressed.

She further suggested that the teaching of History should include empowering stories of activism and anti-slavery ideology honed in the Caribbean by the likes of Gordon K. Lewis and Walter Rodney. She also recommended the works of the late Nelson Mandela, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the late Rex Nettleford and the late Trinidadian-American, Dr. Maya Angelou.

Professor Shepherd also called for sensitisation to take place beyond the classroom “because many Caribbean and diasporic people will never have access to History education”. Consequently, she recommended the use of public media – specifically television and radio – to teach revisionist Caribbean History, “so we can build the reparation army in the Caribbean”.

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