Who’s Version Of Our History?

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Many citizens would have done a collective facepalm this week, with the launch of a Government commissioned history book. This book that apparently is to be distributed to schools, and is focused on Trinidad and Tobago’s history. It is not a bad idea because it is a well known fact that not enough material currently exists to cater to our primary and secondary students in particular. But, if this is the way it’s being done, then lord help us!

The book was presumably put together by suitably qualified persons. However after the fact it was reviewed by Dr Rita Pemberton, a local historian and respected senior academic. Speaking at the book’s launch, she thankfully did not hold back on her criticism. One of the most disturbing observations she made was its skewed perspective. According to her, it focused a lot on “black power politics” and not enough on other political developments, and did not properly cover the oil industry which has been a cornerstone for local development. She was also disappointed by the representation of Tobago, both in terms of material and with regards to a map, which she believes may be misleading to younger children.

This begs the question, was this deliberate or not? One would think that proper planning would go into something that our students would be exposed to. Was there a proper plan outlining focus and topics? Was there consultation with experts, perhaps from the university, on the subject matter? Was any specialist asked to review and vet the work before it was actually published? All these questions need to be answered. Because either someone was trying to selectively tell our history, or someone didn’t care enough to tell it properly. Both prospects are disturbing. Many may not appreciate history, but as Marcus Garvey once said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.

Secondly, why put all the effort into something that is not directly going to benefit our students? According to the Education Minister there are 600 copies and these are going to go to school libraries to serve as “reference material”. So technically it’s not even a book to be included on the syllabus. Which means students may or may not use it. And after all the criticism from Dr Pemberton, the emphasis could be on “may not”.

And finally, many were left scratching their heads as the Education Minister was quoted as saying that he was not an expert in history, despite it being his first degree. Wait… what?! One would think that going to university and getting a degree would kinda make you some kind of expert. When Ministries advertise for jobs and ask for specific university degrees, are they not trying to get people who are in essence, experts? Or have they been hiring degree holdings non-experts? To be fair, we believe what the Minister may have been trying to say is that he himself would not have been able to vet the book in question. But then, we go all the way back to our initial concern: who was supposed to do that and why did they fall short?

Come nah man, you mean to say we can’t even get a book right?