The Norman Washington Manley award for excellence – Reply

INTRODUCTION

Master of Ceremonies Ms. Fae Ellington; Chairman Ainsley Henriquez and Mrs. Henriquez and Members of the Board of the Norman Washington Manley Foundation; Mrs. Glynn Manley; Mr. Joseph Manley other members of the Manley family, distinguished ladies and gentlemen all,  it is a signal honor to be bestowed with the Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence in your presence.

All awards are special. An award in the name of one of the National Heroes of Jamaica is very special. An award in the name of National Hero Norman Washington Manley is extremely special. The Right Honorable Norman Washington Manley, National Hero, has been my role model of public service. Norman Washington Manley was a visionary, a builder of institutions, principled to his own detriment, a self-sacrificing patriot who was erudite and eloquent in his enunciation of the ideals that he espoused and disarmingly persuasive in his presentations on political platforms, in Parliament or in courts. To bestow on me The Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence seems to suggest that in some small way I have served with vague resemblance to the service of this multitalented colossus of our nation and history. The last time I attended a political meeting in Jamaica was when I was 20 years old. I went to hear Mr. Manley speak at a big meeting in Half-Way-Tree. He enunciated a vision of Jamaica and of the Jamaican people that was sufficient for me for a lifetime.  With all due respect, Mr. Chairman and members of the Board of the Foundation, you seem to have been overwhelmed with magnanimity and generosity in assessing my service in tertiary education. Please accept my gratitude.

I am not a self-made man. I live in great debt and with deep gratitude to many, without whom I would not be the recipient of any award. I am grateful to and for

  • Having been born and brought up in a home with parents and grandparents who shared and lived common values concerning family, community, and country. I can still hear our father’s frequent recitation: “I slept and dreamt that life was beauty, I woke and found that life is duty”
  • Having brothers and sisters who have passed on what we caught to our children thus creating a family community, across generations, that is caring and celebratory. We embrace every opportunity for a family lime.
  • My wife, Sharon, and children Garth, Ye Kengale and Catherine who are loving, supportive and increasingly protective in constantly ensuring my well-being.
  • Calabar High School which fostered in me the spirit to strive to succeed against odds opened my understanding to the reality that individuality is best expressed within the framework of teamwork and induced in me a love of history, through West Indian history.
  • The University of the West Indies and The Mico which have never let me go.
  • Mentors from among the leadership of the JTA, the Hon. Wesley Powell, Professor Aubrey Phillips and Mrs. Fay Saunders who saw in me as a young teacher, capabilities that were unknown to me. It was their discernment of needs in the country, their challenges to me and their confidence in me that accounts for all the jobs I have had in education.
  • Pastors of the Bethel Baptist Church, Rev William Edwards, Rev Dr Burchell Taylor and Rev Dr Glenroy Lalor who by their sustained exhortations to godly living and their exemplary Christian lives have, along with the friendship and fellowship of members of Bethel who are similarly committed, collectively been a blessing and a joy in my life.

Yes, there have been trials and tribulations, gloomy and dark days, but these pale when compared to the bountiful blessings that the Lord has shown upon me. They go far beyond my greatest aspirations and most fanciful expectations. To Him be all the glory forever.

Growing up I knew the Right Hon. Norman Washington Manley. For several years the Miller family lived in the St Andrew Eastern constituency, later reconfigured and renamed St Andrew East Urban and Suburban, which Mr. Manley represented. My mother, Joyce Miller, was a founding member of the Peoples National Party and was for many years the Constituency Secretary and member of the powerful Group 49. On occasion, Mr. Manley visited the Miller home. The visit that I remember most vividly was a family meeting gathered to hear from Mr. Manley concerning his desire for my Mother to run as Councilor for the Molynes Division. When it came to my turn, I said that while I should only speak for myself, I was not in favor of my mother running for elective office. Mr. Manley’s rebuke was instant. “Young man, what would happen to the country if all the good people stayed out of elective politics?” Of course, I had no answer to this stern rebuke, given the authenticity and authority of his own example. But the question that has lived with me is if all the good people went into politics, who would do the work? Who would give sound and unbiased advice? Who would implement policies and plans?

Another legacy of that rebuke has been recognition, respect, and support for good people, of whatever partisan persuasion, who have had the courage to serve as elected representatives of the sovereign people. My anguish has been the alacrity with which politicians of opposing views level charges of corruption and incompetence against each other thus adding to the disrepute brought by those who pursue politics for greed and gain.

SCHOOLING AND EDUCATION

It would be remiss of me not to say something about education. General Fortescue, who was part of the capture of Jamaica in 1655, wrote to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, stating that Jamaica was a fruitful and pleasant land and that others wiser than him regarded it as the best land they had ever set foot on. All it wanted was godly society, and for the present, bread. Jamaica has remained bountiful and beautiful and is still in need of godly society and bread, more equitably distributed. Schooling and education are critical to both needs.

Schooling is the major means of mobilization of a people to share a common vision, to embrace its underpinning values, to practice its sustaining virtues and to construct their future, socially, culturally and economically.  At the same time education involves several contradictory processes which makes it dynamic and not static. Functionality and dysfunction work in tandem. Providers offer schooling for one set of purposes while some parents and students take the education provided to serve other purposes. Education critiques and constructs; it creates and conserves; it transmits and transforms; it disrupts and consolidates; it can be subversive, and it can sustain the status quo. Education is a tool. It is employed for ends, yet it includes its own enjoyment in the love of learning.

This dynamic character of education requires all who would be educators to be life-long students of its intricacies and nuances, constantly discriminating between fads, fashions and fundamentals, and patiently persistent in what it takes to form and change the human person. I continue to be a student of education with the hope of constantly becoming a better educator as it discretely divulges it secrets.

Schooling is always offered in an arena of contending intentions. In a nutshell schooling and education are always contextual: politically, socially and culturally. As a practicing educator, I have found it mandatory to continue to increase my understanding of Jamaican and Commonwealth Caribbean society. My life has been oscillation between activism and reflection. In leading action, you must truly believe if you are to persuade others to join in actions. Doubt undermines activism. But after every stint of activism I have asked myself, Errol what have you really done? Certainty undermines reflection. Doubt is the most potent analytic tool of interrogating achievements, failures and persistent problems. Activism and reflection can lead to increased understanding especially when placed in historical sequence. Let me to share with you a collection of my key understandings of Jamaican society.

  1. Modern Jamaica was not founded on any noble vision of society.  Merchants and soldiers in search of quick fortune, conquered Jamaica in 1655. Noble and idealist notions of society are later infusions from this beginning in aspirations for immediate material advancement.
  2. The merchants and soldiers who first came were not from the top tier of English society. The same is true of every ethnic groups that came or were brought to Jamaica from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean.
  3. Every ethnic group that comprises the Jamaican society has a story to tell of coming from humble beginnings: of struggle; and of a fight against odds. No group is particularly sympathetic to any other group. Narratives compete. The common good is uncommon.
  4. From the outset Jamaicans have had to confound and debunk negative stereotypes held by the elites of the continents from which we came. This includes English.       
  5. In every century since 1655 Jamaica has risen to global prominence and importance in some area that defies its size. Jamaica has always punched above its weight, globally.       
  6. Jamaica has been built by people who decided that Jamaica was home. Whether born here or elsewhere, or of what ethnicity, for myriad reasons they chose Jamaica as their domicile. Being Jamaican is as much a choice as a place of birth.
  7. Freedom is aboriginal to the Jamaican psyche. Power and authority are always suspected and subjected to scrutiny. Ask Maroons; owners of provision grounds; sellers in local market systems; ex-soldiers of the West India Regiment; middle-class professionals; persons of conscience of the privileged elites. They have all been among the ardent guardians of freedom, some of whom have paid the ultimate price in its defense.
  8. Jamaican audacity had its genesis in the lack of financial obligation to outsiders. The first Jamaicans financed the settlement of Jamaica from their own enterprise, legal and illegal. The settlement of Jamaica was not financed by any joint-stock company as in New England or Virginia; or by any lord proprietor offering venture capital, as in some Southern colonies in the USA; or by the Crown as in some other colonies. Some early Jamaicans brought their wealth from Barbados and Nevis. Others acquired wealth by the theft of Spanish gold; others by the exploitation of bondservants, and still others by trading in enslaved people. Early Jamaicans owed little to anybody from outside.  Huge moral questions surround their means of self-reliance, but nascent Jamaican nationalism was born in this admixture.
  9. Debt financing has subsequently become the bane of Jamaica’s advancement and the source of mendicancy. First debt to the Imperial Government over the course of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century and more recently debt to the international community in the second half of the twentieth century. While there have been gems of altruism that have advanced Jamaican society, for the most part, debt has served the agendas of the lenders.
  10. Diversity, division, disagreement, and discord are defining features of Jamaican society. The upside is relationships between groups and individuals that are vertical, horizontal, diagonal, tangential, semi-circular, and circular. Alliances form, fracture and are reformulated according to issues and circumstances. This accounts for riots and rebellions punctuating over history but no successful insurrection leading to the violent overthrow of any government.
  11. Generalizing exceptions is a common ploy of advocacy by most groups. Fact-finding, evidence and data are obligatory pre-conditions for planning action.
  12. Oligarchy has been the modal form of governance of Jamaica over its modern history after civil governance replaced six years of military governance in 1661. Jamaican democracy is still in its infancy following the transition from rule by British officials between 1944 and 1953, when Ministries headed by elected representatives were created. Jamaica is a young nation still in formation.

Jamaican Society, Governance and Education

Currently, I am writing a book on Governance and the Electoral System in Jamaica since 1661. I am about 70 percent through. What I am learning from this project is that throughout our colonial history Jamaica was governed by three oligarchies: The White Planter Merchant Oligarchy 1661 to 1830; the Multiracial Oligarchy 1831 to 1865; and the Oligarchy of British Officials 1866 to 1953.

Following adult suffrage and responsible government in 1943, there was a decade of transition to democracy which ended in 1953 when Ministries were established and incorporated or replaced Departments headed by British directors. We are now in the era of democratic governance., the fourth era of our history. What has been fascinating for me has been to match the evolution of schooling and education with each of these four eras!

The most economical way to define oligarchy is with respect to the White Planter/Merchant Oligarchy from 1661 t0o 1830. On paper officers of the military and of the militias; public officials; appointed members of Legislative Council; elected members of the Assembly; elected members of Vestries; Rectors, Curates and elected wardens of the Church of England; Justices of the Peace, Custodes, Magistrates and Judges were officially distinct categories in governance. In reality they constituted an overlapping highly incestuous set of interlocking relationships which all they to govern Jamaica for their own benefit to the exclusion of the rest of the society. Like all oligarchies it was held together by power, privilege and patronage. It mirrored the oligarchy in England.

Schools were not part of the infrastructure brought to Jamaica by men in search of quick wealth. Schooling were established as the cause embraced by wealthy men whose conscience was revealed posthumously through wills establishing trusts. The legacy of the conscience and the cause is preserved in the names of Wolmer, Manning, Rusea, Titchfield, Drax, Beckford and Smith. This first oligarchy lasted from 1661 to 1830. White, Black, Jewish and Mulatto men of conscience, many educated through trust schools, were among those who brought about its demise.

Jamaica in 1831 was one of the first polities in the world to eliminate race and color as criteria of eligibility to vote and to hold elected office. Class remained the principal criterion as ownership of property and payment of taxes determined which men could vote and hold elective office. What emerged was the Multiracial Oligarchy which lasted from 1831 to 1865. This oligarchy proved short-lived as many of its champions were coopted by privilege and patronage; relied upon manipulation of the electoral system to exclude the newly freed by emancipation; and miscalculated the strident resistance that came from the newly freed and their children who had succeeded through education and refused to accept the deferment of the promise citizenship to their excluded brethren. The oligarchy had become more cosmopolitan in race and colour but remained the same in modus operandi. The riot at Morant Bay, and the brutal reign of terror in response, prompted the British to accept the voluntary plea of impotence to govern by the Multiracial oligarchy.

Crown Colony government between 1866 and 1892 started to deliver on the promises of emancipation. Public education at the early childhood, elementary levels and teacher education levels, laid by religious denominations after 1834, was expanded and consolidated. The foundations of secondary education were firmly established with connections to Cambridge examinations. This was a period of great boon for Jamaica as Crown Colony governors sided with the people. At the same time oligarchy returned. British Officials recruited their own to fill supervisory and executive positions across the systems that were created. They neglected tertiary education thus providing the justification for recruitment of their own, thus denying opportunity to Jamaicans who had succeeded in the expanded education system they had engineered. This is the milieu in the first decades of the 20th century that fostered resistant movements such as Black consciousness, Rastafarianism; trade unions and nationalism involving Black, White, Jewish and Brown men and women which coalesced to bring about the end of British Official oligarchy. Of course, the end was signaled by riots and strikes tinged with violence in 1938.

As a society we are now in an era of democratic governance and greatly expanded schooling at all levels of education. The plural society held together by force, described by M. G. Smith, is giving way to heterogenous society held together by constitution, the rule of law and electoral mandates from the sovereign people. In the Grace Kennedy Lecture of 2001, Contending Choices, I referenced the fact that we as a people have a way of confronting problems, solving problems, un-solving solutions, and re-solving the same problems. In statistics there is the phenomenon of regression toward to mean by which the status quo returns.

As I have observed the transfer of governance across generations of politicians and critically examine actions of our two major political parties as they alternate in government, I have not been able to dismiss the prospect of a return to oligarchy, a PNP/JLP oligarchy, where even as they contend and compete they look after their own, and to each other, to the exclusion of the rest of the society. I am comforted by the fact that as in the past there will be successful, educated men and women of conscience and character who choose Jamaica as home, like Norman Washington Manley, who will lead the resistance to prevent or to bring about the demise of that oligarchy.

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