Volume No. 2 Issue No. 28 - Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Reflections on education in Dominica By Laurelle JnoBaptiste
Laurelle JnoBaptiste reflects on the education system in Dominica.
Growing up in Dominica, I was taught that a good education was the means by which I could provide a better life for myself and for my future children.
This belief was instilled in me at a very early age, first by my mother, then by my teachers at primary school and high school, and finally by my professors at college.
A good education was defined as getting A’s and B’s in all of my courses with an emphasis on A’s. A better life was defined as having a husband and children and taking my rightful place as a caregiver in society.
Because Dominica was, and continues to be, a very patriarchal society, I understood that my job options would be limited to clerical roles such as those performed by a bank teller, or a teacher.
As preparation for my future roles in the Dominican society, I was taught Math, various sciences, English, History and Religion at primary school and high school; at college I specialized in Economics and Sociology.
Because Dominica was a British colony, the school curriculum was based on the British education system. Despite gaining independence from Britain in 1979, the education system today is still substantially based on the British system.
When I attended primary school and high school, over 80% of Dominicans were Catholic. As a result, religious education played a vital role in the socialization of every child.
This included attending a general assembly every morning where the Lord’s Prayer was rehearsed and having religious education every week.
Dominica, like many other Caribbean islands, is separated into parishes, with a resident parish priest for each parish.
The priest, who was typically from Belgium or Rome, played a vital role in the community. All of the images of Jesus Christ displayed at schools, churches and in books were images of a fair-skinned man with long hair.
Consequently, I, along with the majority of others, associated the priest with the image of Jesus Christ - and that made him a superior being. By extension, anyone who looked like the priest and Jesus Christ were considered superior beings.
By further extension, and over time for most Dominicans, the status quo represented by a Black/White unequal equation became accepted as the natural order.
The Role of Education in Socialization
The Webster’s dictionary describes socialization as, “the process involved when young children are becoming aware of society and learning how they are expected to behave”.
John Dewey, arguably one of the most influential contributors to the philosophy of Education in North America, viewed education as the transmitter of democratic values in society and key to the socialization and the preparation of the young for adult society.
If the Webster’s dictionary and John Dewey are correct in their definition of the role of education in society, then the education and socialization that I received in Dominica prepared me to take my place in a global society where my history and ancestors are viewed as second class to that of the Anglo Saxon or European history and ancestry.
In addition to systemic educational policies, negation and minimization of Black history was a key strategy used to destroy the identity of American and Caribbean Blacks, and in so doing, limit their socio-economic position in society.
Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, distinguished author, editor, publisher, and historian writes that “those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history” (http://www.chipublib.org/002branches/woodson/woodsonbib.html).
Known as the father of Black History, the work of Woodson explores the adverse effects of the American education system on Blacks. In the MIS-Education of the Negro, Woodson explores the role of what he terms “Eurocentric” education in severing the ties between Blacks and their culture and traditions.
Woodson argues that this type of education led Blacks to reject their own culture and placed them on the outskirts of a European culture with which they could not identify.
Woodson (1933) further states that “in schools of theology, Negroes are taught the interpretation of the Bible worked out by those who have justified segregation and winked at the economic debasement of the Negro” (p. 4).
According to Woodson, the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into children at schools by the books that they study.
Further influence on the history taught at schools was orchestrated by key figures through the set up of history and educational societies for which Blacks were not major contributors. Specifically, the Carnegie Foundation developed a working agreement with the Guggenheim Foundation to grant scholarships to their selected candidates who were seeking graduate degrees (Jones, 1996, p.60).
Jones affirms that through these types of strategies, the Carnegie foundation was able to influence the history that is taught at educational institutions today.
Jones continues, “The American Council of Learned Societies was founded in 1919 to encourage humanistic studies, including some of which today are classified as Social Sciences.
It is comprised of 24 constituent member associations. In its entirety, it appears to dominate the division of scholarships in America”(p. 61). Jones also notes that the “Social Science Research Council was established in 1923 to advance research in the Social Sciences” (p. 62).
The council represents and promotes research in the area of history, economics, sociology, statistics and anthropology. In addition, the Progressive Education Association was established in 1880; the American Historical Association was established in 1889; and the John Dewey Society was established in 1936 to promote educational research, including the educational philosophy of John Dewey (Jones, 1996, p.63).
Though many of the aforementioned societies were instrumental in promoting educational reform in the Western world, due to the impact of segregation and other exclusionary practices, Blacks were not able to influence and implement change to better account for their unique cultures and perspectives.
Jones, B.A. (1996). How The World Really Works. ABJ Press.
Maxcy, S. J.(1981). Progressivism and Rural Education in the Deep South,
1900-1950. In Ronald K. Goodenow & Arthur O. White (Eds.). Education and
the Rise of the New South (pp.47-71). MA: G.K. Hall and Co.