Garveyism on the curriculum

Michael Burke

Thursday, August 23, 2012    

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Garveyism as a subject in Jamaican schools was launched on August 17, 2012, the 125th birthday of Marcus Garvey. In the 1960s, leaflets in support of this were circulated in schools, including Jamaica College, where I was a student at the time. Such a call at that time was considered dangerously radical by the same sort of people who had Walter Rodney expelled from Jamaica. In the 1960s it just would not happen.

So many things took place in the 1970s that Garveyism in schools was something that the government of the day did not get around to before they lost power in 1980. And the incoming government would not ruffle any feathers, especially taking into consideration the strong anti-progressive views of their financial backers in that election.

The government changed again in 1989. That time around, the new PNP government, under the same Michael Manley seemed reluctant because the world had changed and he felt obliged to shelve the progressive ideas. But in 1992 when PJ Patterson was prime minister, Burchell Whiteman as minister of education announced that as of September that year, Garveyism would be taught in schools.

I became a newspaper columnist in 1988. From 1989 onwards I wrote several columns calling for Garveyism to be taught in schools. I also made such calls in the commentary, As I see it, which I formerly did on IRIE FM. Indeed, one advertisement for As I see it was a clip of me saying, "Another school year has begun and Garveyism is yet to be taught in schools." This was in the years following the announcement by Burchell Whiteman that Garveyism as a subject would be taught in schools as of September 1992.

I understand that it was the civil servants in the Ministry of Education as well as some teachers who delayed the start of Garveyism in schools. They argued that there were no Garvey textbooks. Many, including myself, argued that it was no excuse because the teachers in the beginning could simply take The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, read one chapter ahead and explain to the class. I believed this would have been better than nothing until a textbook was put together. Still, they did not budge.

Even then I knew that it was not true that there were no high school textbooks on Marcus Garvey. True, those Garvey textbooks were written by African Americans for children in the United States of America. I did not bother to state it because I know that it would be said that they were not suited for Jamaicans even though there are many foreign textbooks that are used in schools. I preferred to simply argue that the source could be used.

And how did I know that there were Garvey textbooks, although they were written in the USA? Between 1972 and 1974, I was employed at the Social Development Commission as a teacher in the youth camps (later called youth community training centres and upgraded to HEART in the 1980s). Between 1973 to sometime later, the MIND programme (then the latest technology using videos and tape recorders as well as books) was used to teach English and mathematics in the training centres (formerly youth camps). It was an African-American programme and MIND was an acronym for "Method of Intellectual Development". One of the English language textbooks was about Marcus Garvey.

The amazing irony is that it took a white-skinned Jamaican minister of education (Deacon Ronald Thwaites) to figuratively take the bull by the horns and decide that it was going to happen this September. But if this is the way for the start of Garvey to be taught in schools, then so be it. I have not seen the textbook but I am prepared to believe that it will at least be a start. Improvements if needed can come later.

I am hoping that in 10 years' time when Jamaica celebrates its 60th anniversary, the high school students who have been taught Garveyism will be able to stage some sort of a play or pageant or create a video, if that word is in vogue then, that explains Garvey's teachings. This is needed to see the effectiveness of the teaching. The exposition that I am suggesting 10 years from now could also explain what life was like when Garvey made his calls for certain changes and state how many changes have been made and how many more need to be done.

Indeed, any effective teaching of Garveyism must take into account what life was like in Garvey's time. It is the only way that the youngsters can have an appreciation of what Garvey stood for. Indeed, it is the only way that they can have an appreciation of the work of all of our heroes and appreciate the improvements in Jamaica since Independence 50 years ago.

But more important, the teaching of Garveyism must bring about a sense of pride in African ethnicity. It is my hope and prayer that there will be continuity with Garveyism, no matter who is elected to power. Too many progressive things have been started in this country only for a change of government to stop it. This must not happen with Garveyism.





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