“Any good teacher knows how important it is to connect with students and understand our culture.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to present research on Curriculum Development and Culturally Responsive Education at the Biennial Conference of the School of Education of the University of West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. The conference was held at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay. One of my colleagues in research, Rhonesha Blache and I headed to Jamdown with our melanated pride, our research, and documentation to explain how the implementation of responsive programming and knowledge of self correlates positively to the progressive education of people of African descent.
In other words, the presentation should have been called “THIS IS WHY WE LITTY!!”
I was truly honored to be able to present on such a platform with so many innovative scholars and dedicated educators. But the truth is, presenting at the conference just affirmed the fact that we need to decolonize EVERYTHING about our education experience and adopt a FUBU mentality to the highest degree.
Presenting at the conference was the actualization of one of my many goals as an educator. Being able to provide documented validation of CRE in action on an international stage, with an audience of diasporic game changers was encouraging and inspiring….AND… in Jamaica, the land of ackee and saltfish…there is NOTHING better than that.
While at the conference, I was able to recall a lot of my perspectives about the culture of education that I observed in Jamaica during my youth. Growing up, my parents traveled a lot, so we spent many Summers with family there.
Everytime I hear Chronixx’s “Smile Jamaica,” it makes me reminisce about those beautiful Summers I spent in my parents’ birthplace. Chronixx sings of his homeland with an affinity, pride, and reverence that brings me right back to my childhood exuberance and admiration for the beauty that is Jamaica.
One of the most important things that resonated with me during those Summers in Jamaica was the difference in approaches to education. I remember waking up and being ready to round up all my friends for some fun and games. However, my enthusiasm and coordination efforts would be met by statements like,
“So and so can’t come out now, him have exam fi tek and dem ah study.”
OKAY….but they can’t even come outside to chill during the SUMMER.
What kinda vacation plan was they on?
Why was this test soooo important that their whole lives had to be shut down?
Their whole summer?
What was this test about anyway???
You wanna talk about communal pressure…. enter Common Entrance Examination.
The Common Entrance Exam (CEE) is an exam that was usually given to students at the end of the 6th grade in Jamaica. The test was based on the British educational system and standards. Students had up to 2 -3 chances to take and pass the CEE. Whether you passed or failed the exam literally determined what your next steps were educationally, what high schools you were eligible to attend, and how the community viewed you academically.
If you were considered “bright”/ brilliant or “dunce”/stupid depended on what your test results and those indications had a lot of social implications.
I remember feeling like I hadn’t seen my cousins all Summer for two Summers straight because of this test. I recall the intense scrutiny from my aunts and grandparents looking for their names and the names of other children from our community in the newspaper. The newspaper featured the names of students that had passed the CEE and their destination high school.
So you betta mek sure seh your name come up or else ah problem.
Even as a child, I often thought about the social stigma and depression that was associated with passing or not being able to pass the test. My mother has spoken very passionately to me about that time of her life being one of the most difficult, due to being ostracized and humiliated because of her struggles with passing the test. She always states that this testing experience had a huge impact on her self-esteem and self-confidence as a young woman.
My friends would also talk about how their peers were considering suicide due to failing the test or being fearful of what would happen to them if they didn’t pass. Sooooo, I was never really a fan of this means of testing and social scrutiny. Additionally, I always had questions about this process.
What if you passed, but your score wasn’t calculated correctly?
What if you only missed passing by one or a few points?
These vivid memories stand out for me when I think about education in Jamaica and how it was very different from my experience in the United States. We took our end of year exams, but none of those tests carried the same social pressure and weight of the CEE.
In my opinion (then and now), the island has such a rich and captivating history that is so intricately connected to Africa, that they don’t need to continue to use so much of the British educational framework.
Damn, when you think about the teachings and legacy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey ALONE….what more do you really need?
There is actually an overall sentiment of downplaying the music, patios, and other essential elements of Jamaican culture in favor of “socially acceptable” alternatives when referencing education. Infusing these elements into anything that represented the island on many levels was definitely frowned upon.
But there is hope on the horizon as Caribbean educators are beginning to embrace culture as a framework for academic enrichment. Earlier this year, Chris Emdin announced that he would be partnering with some of Jamaica’s leading dancehall artists to spearhead the expansion of the Science Genius program on the island. In fact, some of the island’s evolving perspectives on CRE was featured in a blog entry that was posted on CREAD earlier this year, Science Genius: Rock and Come IN. It was also AMAZING to recently see the graduating students of JC (Jamaica College) perform a rendition of Chronixx’s Likes to celebrate their tremendous accomplishment.
The performance mirrors the types of celebrations and displays of Black excellence featured in another CREAD blog entry last month, Graduation So Black. We just do OUR THING very differently and when we fully embrace that, it is a BEAUTIFUL and artistic experience.
As a people with so much cultural capital and influence on the world, it is time for Jamaica and people of African Descent in the diaspora to accept their position as “Cultural Producers”. The educational institutions of Jamaica need to consistently establish a culturally responsive lens for “goodness” to flow through. The youths need to be more validated in the beauty of their home and island culture through seeing it woven into the curriculum as much as possible.
Until then, Walk GOOD!!!