Marina Salandy-Browne writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
It is very difficult to keep heart just now when TT seems in a state of perpetual decline into anarchy and confusion. Almost everyone I speak to has the sense that we have reached a tipping point, but one of those people said to me, “We have to believe that we can fix it; we cannot give up hope, as we have nowhere else to go to.” The question is, where does one start?
The simple answer has to be that we must start with the young. It has taken us several decades to arrive at the morass in which we find ourselves, so it is obvious that saving ourselves is not going to be an overnight affair and it will not happen by osmosis. We have each to take deliberate steps to fix what we can in our own back yard. There is a lot of work being done by civil society in TT, trying to mitigate the worst effects of our present predicament and I want to highlight a quiet revolution that is happening in schools through a creative intervention that it is my good fortune to be involved in.
I wrote recently about a series of school visits made by four winning writers of young adult fiction organised by the Bocas Lit Fest, and the general surprise felt by all the adults present among a congregation of about 200 teenaged students when none of them knew the word “segregation” and few knew what a boycott was. I did not mention then that two of those very young people later gave powerful Spoken Word performances about personal experience, which reflected their relationship to society.
Newsday reported last week that two young TT men have won Queen’s Young Leaders Awards for exceptional work in their communities, one, Benedict Bryan, for understanding that refugees have special needs and doing something about it and the other, Jean Claude Cournand, whose work involves a creative approach to empowering young people in self-development, using their own powers of observation and self-expression. Spoken Word (or performance poetry) has emerged as a unique tool in assisting young people in giving form to and making sense of their own lives as they struggle with complicated matters of identity, sexuality, race, gender, body type and image, against the corrosive influence of social media and peer group pressure, not to mention the difficulties of family life that is often chaotic and damaging.
Over the last five years Cournand the Youth Outreach Co-ordinator of the Bocas Lit Fest has led the Spoken Word group he founded, the 2 Cents Movement, in delivering our annual secondary schools project, funded by Courts, that has taken us into over 250 schools and engaged with thousands of students. The Ministry of Education and teachers have seen the value of allowing creativity to find a place at the heart of learning and are pleased that many of their students have taken to Spoken Word like ducks to water. These unimagined poets, nearly all of whom, prior to our school appearances, would have laughed at the prospect of poetry, have to conceive of an idea, then hone it into a lyrical narrative, following certain conventions, then to memorise that three to five minute poem and perform it without props but to achieve impact. Simple, but powerful in getting students to use their heads and hearts and many of the skills needed in their education. Spoken Word as a craft has given young people voice and an unexpected vehicle to articulate their strong opinions and feelings in an educational system that, in many ways, shuts them down, geared as it is to exam results and constrained by the national curriculum.
It may be that we require a different focus in our education system, one that combines deep thinking, talking, ideas generation and engaging with the world outside. We need to breed better functioning human beings, people who can analyse their problems and not resort to violence, who have the tools to analyse the big picture and the ability to find ways to create a better society. Teachers have to carry much of that load and so must be oriented to manage ways of making learning more powerful. Although we are a creative people there is less respect in our education system for the humanities. Creative disciplines are often treated like distractions in a “serious” school curriculum but evidence suggests that students who study the arts, languages and hard sciences are more successful in life.
Our young people are showing us a way; we should pay attention.