Recolonising our children’s minds?

Last week, I pointed out that even though “colonialism” might have ended (for us in 1966), its deeply embedded structures stubbornly persist as “coloniality”. These could be subsumed under three broad and interlocking systems of racial hierarchy, systems of knowledge, and cultural systems. After slavery, the Christian Church was supported by the state to pacify the ex-slaves and convince them that they should accept the racial hierarchy of Whites on top and Blacks at the bottom. They were to direct all their energies into acquiring an (classics) education, acting proper and marrying up – meaning “whiter”. The indentured labourers who followed them on the plantation also gradually harked to these “white values”.
Queen’s College and Bishops were the epitome of the “education”, and were founded in the mid-19th century to impart the hierarchical system of knowledge that dismissed local insights. The “Royal Readers” were issued towards the end of the long 19th century, and their contents were carefully curated to convince us natives of the necessity of the European “civilizing mission”. We cried about the poor “Little Match Girl” perishing in the cold even as our children died like flies from malnutrition, malaria and overwork here. We gnashed our teeth at the depravities and ungratefulness of those “heathen Indians” who imprisoned and suffocated those poor East India employees in the “Black hole of Calcutta”, who “only wanted to save India”.
But, by the 1930s, Britain realised they were laying it on a bit thick in their colonies, and sent out one of their “educators, J.O. Cutteridge, who issued the “West Indian Readers”. These merely daubed on a patina of local colour to the same imperial narrative that fooled no one. During the struggle for independence after WWII, the local intelligentsia exposed this source of “mental slavery”, and began subverting it. UWI Mona established a unit to review our school curricula.
In 1963, a year after Trinidad’s Independence, Sparrow spoofed the W.I. Readers better than any PhD dissertation with “Dan is the man (in the van)”. By then, the “Caribbean Readers” that I was weaned on, and which supposedly was cleansed of hegemonic narratives, were issued. I learnt about the farmer, Mr Joe, in his spotless white shirt, building a house with his menagerie of animals, including Mr Willie, the pig. Mr Joe was nothing like my Nana, however, who farmed at De Willem in grimy clothes, and where I occasionally laboured. Even then, I realised the discordance of a farmer’s shirt remaining untouched by dirt.
While we may criticise the PNC (and this writer has done so profusely), after independence, they at least self-consciously articulated a decolonial agenda in the school system that was inherited from the 1957-1964 PPP Government. In the 1970s, the “Rampat Family”, “A Happy Family” and Timehri Readers “Market Day” went further, not only in terms of cultural inclusivity, but decoloniality in valorising local Guyanese forms of knowledge. Colonisation was nothing if not epistemological in imposing its hegemony. My children consumed these Readers, in addition to the “Nelson’s New WI Readers”, into the new millennium.
It was therefore quite shocking to read the critiques of the Atlantic Readers, and then actually browse them on the MoE website. The illustrations are resplendent – as the Imperial Royal Readers were – with foreign fruits and vegetables, along with blonde and red-haired ruddy-cheeked children. But our Indigenous Peoples are literally an afterthought through the artifice of a “visit to Lethem”. Why marginalise the practices, beliefs, cultures and unique identities of those whose stolen land we live on? Most unbelievably, after we have all been alerted for decades to the arrogance of Europeans claiming that Columbus “discovered” the Americas – thus denying Indigenous Peoples their humanity – Atlantic Reader Bk 5 declares that “Barrington Brown discovered Kaieteur Falls”! Even as it ironically follows with Brown being informed of the legend of Kai and the falls by Amerindians.
In my previous letter, I quoted Anibal Quijano: “Europe’s hegemony over the new model of global power concentrated all forms of the control of subjectivity, culture, and especially knowledge and the production of knowledge, under its hegemony.” I suggested it “should be especially relevant to academics in our local university”, and asked, “How do we break out? The Atlantic Reader, rather than the Royal Reader, suffices?”
Clearly, they don’t for our next generation now in primary school. Back to the drawing board.