A new focus in education
For some of us, the attendance at the sessions of the Nature Island Literary Festival has been very disappointing. One gets the impression that the organizers are living in a world very different from that of their fellow-men. Equally disappointing has been the attendance at the Arts Show, a few weeks ago, the display of sculpture, graciously put on by Roger Burnett. I was present on the opening night. I found it hard to understand that in modern day Dominica we could be so distant in spirit from the world of art.
However, a look at the past history of our educational activities should give us some idea of what we are lacking today. Surely, we have known better days. A genuine examination of where we are and what we are called to be could lead us into pathways very different from those in which we are now travelling.
When I was in primary school, we were made to learn word for word great poems, like 'Deserted Village' by Oliver Goldsmith, and 'Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard' by Thomas Gray. This inspired in us the beginnings of a love for poetry. At Christmas time, we staged a play. The actors were primary school pupils. We were initiated in the educational value of drama.
Later, at the Dominica Grammar School, we studied poetry. We learnt to love poetry. How can I ever forget the poetic voice of Mr. N.A. Jeffers as he himself read to us memorable poems! How can I ever forget the colossal memory of Mr. V.A. Archer, our headmaster, for poetry, which was continually displayed in the classroom! At graduation ceremonies, known as 'Speech Night', the evening ended with the staging of one of Shakespeare's plays.
On one occasion, all secondary school students were invited to attend a special session at the St. Gerard's Hall. An English lady entertained us with an acting presentation from 'David Copperfield', a novel by Charles Dickens. What a beautiful, artistic performance! On another occasion, we, secondary school students, gathered together to watch a film, 'Henry V' by Shakespeare. To this day, I can recall the background music.
Young minds are very elastic. They are very receptive. Young people are very good at listening. If we want to educate or even redirect the education of a country, it is with them that we must begin.
There is much that is lacking in human development in our country. This is most crucial. The results are there for all to see. To move on we need to have an open mind.
It is possible to exist on Planet Earth without having learnt to enjoy the blessings which Mother Earth has in store for us. It is possible to carve our destiny with very little perception of the tremendous scope for the appreciation of beauty that lies within the human being. It is possible to live our life without being fully human.
Living in a Third World country, as we do, our development has not been adequate. The fullness of human development still eludes us. We do not experience to the full the joys that life has to offer.
I myself have had to travel a long way. When I left Dominica at the age of nineteen, I could not appreciate a beautiful landscape. It was when I was at the seminary in Europe that I learnt this. Classical music was boring for me. But when I became a lover of classical music, I knew that I had found the "pearl of great price". I knew nothing about painting, architecture and sculpture. That was a world which was completely closed to me. I had to grow into an appreciation of these tremendous gifts.
What then must we do? Today, because of our lack of a comprehensive education, we have a mindset which does not favour the appreciation of the joys of art and literature. We have made for ourselves a very mechanical world. We lack a sense of beauty, a sense of wonder. Imagination is a powerful transforming force. We need to develop this.
Just as we listen to our political leaders when they call out to us, just as we embrace the direction in which they want to lead us, we have to listen to our cultural leaders. People, like Alwin Bully, Schuyler Esprit, Lennox Honychurch, Roger Burnett, Earl Etienne and others, are a treasure to our country. To move on, to grow in wisdom, to experience the fullness of life, to share in their vision of life, we must give them our support. We must be willing to listen and to learn.