3 reasons Jamaica's 'booklist' mentality needs to stop!


3 reasons Jamaica's 'booklist' mentality needs to stop!

Nicole Nation

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!

Jamaica's Emancipendence is celebrated annually with much fervour and jubilation. But amidst the social media posts about emancipating ourselves from mental slavery there still exist the everyday depictions of just how mentally enslaved as a people we still are.

Jamaica's 'booklist' mentality is one example. We have all had this experience before. It's the weekend before the start of the new school year and thousands of Jamaican parents are descending upon local bookstores. It's a tight squeeze as parents scurry to find the items on their children's booklist. Parents assault shop floor attendants querying prices, and then they bemoan the cost of the books. It's as if the booklist was given to them only the day before.

From early childhood to the tertiary level Jamaican parents go all-out to source the recommended texts and tools. I can recall lugging an oversized backpack of textbooks to and from school as I prepared for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Back then, and even now, parents made it a mark of duty to secure every single textbook on the list out of fear that their child may be at a disadvantage. Despite the best of intentions, there are a few things that are fundamentally wrong with this type of conditioned behaviour. Here are three reasons this habit is detrimental to the nation in the long run:

1) It enables disempowered parenting

Every year, like clockwork, books fly off the shelves, but how much of the knowledge contained within these books, fly into our children's heads? Many Jamaican parents have been stooped into thinking that by doing the very act of buying the textbooks on the booklist that their child will learn. By buying into the booklist mentality, many parents believe that they are being good parents and doing right by their children. This is only half the truth.

The booklist mentality facilitates disengaged parenting. Jamaican parents have grown accustomed to outsourcing the responsibility of educating their children to the nation's teachers. All they have to do is buy the textbook and the teacher will do the rest — after all, that's their job, right? Wrong!

The booklist mentality facilitates a hands-off approach as it relates to parents playing an active role in their children's education. It grooms them into thinking that, as long as I check all the boxes, buy all the resources, then my child will learn.

The COVID-19 lockdown might have been the first time that many parents have had to actively engage with their children's curricula. The nation's teachers will tell you that some of the same textbooks that parents search high and low to get remain untouched for most of the academic year. I can appreciate that most parents are bogged down with the demands of a busy life; however, by unconsciously subscribing to the booklist mentality you are wilfully engaging in a detached form of parenting which will yield children who are ill-prepared for life.

2) Jamaica's book industry suffers

I am sure that if we were privy to the financials of most local bookstores we would see that book sales spike during the summer months right before back-to-school, and for the remainder of the year they barely break even. This is unfortunate. Speaking from personal experience as a self-published author of two books, I have learnt a lot about the literary consumption patterns of Jamaicans. Majority of my book sales are from colleagues and friends. I'm sure other local authors/publishers can speak to how difficult it is to sell books in Jamaica. Let's just say it is not as easy as selling lottery/party tickets. The only way that Jamaican authors can sell books to the Jamaican public is if the books are recommended by an authority. Are there currently any State-issued booklists for people over 30? If there is, I haven't got a copy.

Think about it, after a Jamaican pupil exits the formal schooling system, what are the chances of them walking into a bookstore and purchasing a book of their own volition? From my experience, I say negligible. That's the ripple effect of the booklist mentality. The booklist mindset dictates that if it is not recommended it will not be bought.

As a people, do we have to be told what to read? I have had to experience giving my books to a local bookstore on consignment and having all the books returned to me with not one copy being sold. Or better yet, I have had to locate storage space for hundreds of my books, whilst trying to devise a plan to market these books to my target audience. If Jamaicans weren't avid booklist mentality practitioners then walking into a bookstore and browsing through the aisles all year round would be commonplace.

There is an African proverb: “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.” Jamaican authors serve a vital function, in that they help capture our history — they portray stories by us and for us. Why then would we not want to support them?

When I decide to publish a new book, the publisher/copywriter, the printery, the graphic designer/illustrator all get a call. Book sales, however, dictate if I am even able to make a call, let alone an enquiry for a quotation. We see authors in other countries being able to publish dozens of books because their content is consumed by the masses. Jamaicans need to break out of the booklist mentality and support their local authors.

Question: How many of you reading this have ever been to the Kingston Book Festival? Raise your hand. I was an exhibitor in 2018, and for the six hours that my booth was open, I made one sale.

3) Keeps us in mental bondage

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says there is nothing new under the sun. What this means in real life is that there is nothing that has ever confronted mankind that is new; it has all happened before in some way, shape or form. Why then would we, as Jamaicans, want to reinvent the wheel? Why not just read a book and learn from those who have come before us?

Marcus Garvey said, “Whatsoever things common to man that man has done, man can do.” Meaning, every and anything that you want to learn how to do can be found in a book. Anything is possible; you just have to read.

As people we all have problems, but that does not mean solutions don't exist. Man has always been scribbling down solutions since papyrus paper was first made in Egypt. Why then don't we just actively go in search of these solutions? If every Jamaican was reading books on income generation, dispute resolution, parenting, love languages, repatriation, health, without a doubt we would be a better nation. The booklist culture stunts Jamaican people's growth because, rather than learning how to seek solutions to life's problems in books, they remain forever trapped in a vicious cycle of ignorance.

Author D Haynes said, “The best way to hide something from black people is to put it in a book.” With our ever-shortening attention spans and ever-increasing screen time you have to wonder if there isn't truth to that statement. These days it would seem that it is much easier to watch Snapchat and take selfies than it is to read. Our forefathers fought long and hard for our right to literacy, but we take it for granted. Case in point, what percentage of Jamaicans do you believe religiously read the newspapers daily?

I wasn't introduced to the term 'self-directed learning' until university, but strange enough I'd been practising it all along. The booklist mentality inculcates an attitude of laziness when it comes to learning, as one's appetite for reading is force-fed. Students who are products of such a system will only read what they are told to read.

Question: Do Jamaicans read for pleasure? Perhaps the learned do, but what about everyone else? Apart from a booklist or through the church, how else do books enter the Jamaican home? The instruction manual for a new appliance, perhaps?

US motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” Why then aren't we cracking open more books? Pursuing higher education isn't the point of this article; taking the initiative to learn is.

Actress Emilia Clarke said she will never trust anyone whose TV is bigger than their bookshelf. How many Jamaican people would be trustworthy, then? My people, just as how we keep our refrigerators well-stocked, we should endeavour to have a bookshelf with an extensive collection.

The booklist mentality is akin to an enslaved mind. In the days of chattel slavery, slaves were not allowed to read and write. And when they did learn, it was either in secret on their own or at the behest of their enslavers. Now that there are no limits on our freedom to learn, why not relish this opportunity?

In 2019 I did just that. I made the pilgrimage to Europe's largest bookstore, the Waterstones Bookstore in Piccadilly, London. Books on every conceivable topic lined the six floors of this repository. Mind-blowing when you think about it, right? Untapped power remains hidden in unopened books.

The Jamaica Library Service's National Reading Competition is held yearly, and there is no upper age limit. I have entered twice. I want to see the National Reading Competition oversubscribed.

As we celebrate another Emancipendence, I want to see Jamaicans truly emancipate themselves from the booklist mentality. We might celebrate Emancipendence yearly, but don't jump for joy unless your mental shackles have been broken.

Nicole Nation is a medical doctor and a 2018 Chevening scholar. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or butter7almond@gmail.com .

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon