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Posted by:Jul 6th 2004, 03:08:53 pm
Fig Tree News TeamCivic Education, and Democracy
The Bahama Journal
www.jonescommunicationsltd.com/journal

Editor
06/07/2004

As Bahamians get set to celebrate, and commemorate the birth of the Nation, they are also taking some time to reflect on milestones reached, and goals yet to be achieved. High on the list of some thoughtful Bahamians are issues germane to civic education, and the part it might yet play in deepening the process of development in The Bahamas.



These observers of the national social scene are convinced that democracy in the Bahamas will only be sustained if it is grounded and continuously nurtured. This is precisely where schools come in, and where curriculum reform is vitally important. Society succeeds when schools succeed. And, for sure, society fails, when its schools fail.



We hasten to add that we claim no originality, as we offer this conclusion about the vital importance of schools, and their relationship to democratic governance, social progress, and sustained development.



As we are often reminded, democratic citizenship has two dimensions, which are essential for a healthy democracy. One dimension is political engagement, which encompasses both the willingness and the capability of citizens to participate effectively in self-rule. The second dimension consists of an understanding of and a commitment to the fundamental principles and processes of democracy.



Today some political theorists contend that engagement is the more important component, while others believe that understanding of and commitment to democracy are the most critical elements. Both camps, however, agree that education is strongly related to the maintenance and improvement of democratic rule.



The critical role of education in developing the cognitive and moral qualities of citizenship is not a matter of recent discovery. In the Republic, Plato contended that only those who know what good is are fit to rule, and he prescribed a long and rigorous period of intellectual training, which he thought would yield “knowledge of the whole.” In his famous analogy, Plato asserted that this knowledge will loose the bonds that keep most men confined in a “cave underground and allow us to ascend to the real world outside.”



And as we now note, Aristotle, in Politics VII, writes that the system of education, which is appropriate to a city, depends on the way in which rulers and ruled are distinguished from one another. Therefore, in our city the young must learn to obey a free government of which they will eventually be members; and in doing so they will also be learning to govern when their turn comes. In thus learning generally “the virtue of the good citizen, they will also be learning the virtue of the good man,” for the virtues as he argued before are fundamentally the same.



We are persuaded that the time has come for all Bahamians to reflect deeply on the kinds of schools, and the kinds of citizens who are being nurtured in them. We are also quite persuaded that more, indeed much more, needs to be done to see to it that Bahamians are taught and imbued with a deep sense of what it means to be Bahamian.



Here we add (parenthetically, so speak), the point that ‘being Bahamian’ must involve more than junkanoo and rake-and-scrape. It must also be about the forging of an identity that would allow the Bahamian to have a distinctive voice in the region, and in the wider world. This sense of what it means to be Bahamian would push beyond the boundaries of mimicry, and provide Bahamians with a sense of agency, and purposeful direction wherever they happen to be.



This is why we argue that there must be real curriculum, a process that would put the world in the Bahamian classroom, and which will situate the Bahamas in the region, and in the wider world. Put otherwise, in a world that is getting smaller, Bahamians must now come to a deeper appreciation of their potential to help shape, and inform the development of their country, and their world.



In this regard, we reiterate a point we have previously made, to the effect that most Bahamians have cognitive maps that are exceedingly narrow. Many of them have no real feel for the vastness of their patrimony. Unlike a number of savvy business types who know every nook and cranny in the Bahamas, some Bahamians are blithely oblivious of what they say is theirs. Few Bahamians can say, or sing with any conviction the little song that starts with these words: This Land is My Land…



And, sadly as a direct consequence of their mis-education, most Bahamian children will grow into adulthood with a stunted and extremely limited sense of their own possibilities.



This need not be so.



Truly progressive leadership can make a profound difference in this matter. For our part, we know that media can, and should play a large role in uniting Bahamians, and in inculcating a deeper sense of patriotism. But, for sure, and from a policy-wise perspective, the government must lead the way in seeing to it that Bahamian students are taught about their country in all its aspects.



In this regard, then, we yearn for the day when Bahamians would feel at home throughout The Bahamas, and when identity is not so focused on ‘settlement’ with all of its connotations of isolation, destitution, and social backwardness. This larger and more informed sense of what it means to be Bahamian would also extend to agency, and engagement in the wider region, and world.

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