When Europe invaded Africa and America roughly five centuries ago, Europe conquered Africa and America with violence. Europe then sent her religious missionaries to Christianize and “civilize” the conquered Africans and Indigenous Americans. In all the cases of which we know, it was those Christian missionaries from Europe who opened the first schools in now subject Africa and America, and thus it was that education, as we know it today, began in Africa and America – as a sequel to invasion.
There was a time before the Europeans invaded, you know, when African and American peoples had lived and flourished. That “time” covered many centuries of existence, and in fact that “time” included millennia of existence. In some cases these millennia included glorious civilizations in places like Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Peru, and so on. There was, then, a way of life in Africa and America before the Europeans invaded, and so there had been systematic transfers of knowledge from generations to generations to generations, for many centuries, and in fact for millennia, before the Europeans came with their ships and their horses and their guns and their cannons.
We don’t usually think of these transfers of knowledge from pre-European African and American generations to succeeding generations as “education,” and the reason is that we natives in the slavery and colonial eras conceived of our ancestors as having been ignorant and illiterate. This was a conception deliberately planted in our children’s minds, and this was the prize the Europeans had won with their violent conquest: the Europeans won the power to impose their own technology and their own religions upon our children, by reason of the schools they established and controlled. They captured our minds. After the European invasion of Africa and America, there were no longer any African and American places of learning. (In fact, we know that the Christian missionaries burned thousands of Maya books in the Yucatan.) All that our people knew before the European invasion had been declared and made inferior and irrelevant, because we had been conquered, and there was no denying that.
The education establishment in colonial British Honduras was a Christian one, and that was the “beauty” of it all. The British, whose power over us was ultimately derived from force, or the threat thereof, did not teach us anything: it was their Christian missionaries who did the teaching, and yet it never occurred to some of us that the Christian schools were teaching our children exactly what the British rulers wanted them to teach. How could it have been otherwise? So that, the native education establishment which emerged in the pre-nationalist first half of the twentieth century, consisted of natives who had accepted historical “truths” as presented to them by missionaries performing, if you think about it, as surrogates for conquerors. In order to rise in the realm of education, you had to be submissive in British Honduras. Resistance and rebellion were not taught in the colonial schools. Resistance and rebellion came from the streets.
It is important that you know, dear readers, for the purposes of this essay, that these wealthy, powerful European nations which rule our world today were poor, brutish territories before they conquered Africa and America. Yes, they already had enough military technology in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to smash our ancestors, but the development of all the fabulous technology which is characteristic of European and neo-European societies today was facilitated and financed by the forced labor and resource wealth of conquered Africa and America. That is a fact.
As our streets resisted and rebelled in post-World War II Africa and Indigenous America, what we natives sought from education was a transfer of that modern technology to our children so that our American and Indigenous American societies could develop and compete economically. The only Indigenous American post-colonial nation which achieved that technology transfer was Cuba. All the rest of us have been getting out of our schools is education dominated by religion. Our streets have been betrayed by our education. Where the streets resisted and rebelled, our educators compromised and capitulated.
On Partridge Street, the late Dr. Leroy Taegar became our guru over the last two decades of his life. Dr. Taegar’s father had been a waterfront worker. Dr. Taegar’s son became an astrophysicist. Dr. Taegar’s life bore testimony to the fact, as first proposed by Malcolm X, that there was intellectual brilliance locked up in the minds of the oppressed. In Belize, we refer to the oppressed as “the streets,” and our waterfront workers were considered to be of the oppressed.
Dr. Taegar emphasized the absolute importance of the human mind. In today’s Belize it sometimes appears that our younger generations have given up on pursuits of the mind. There is a heavy focus on the pelvis, on alcohol and drugs, and on crime.
Theoretically, in sovereign, independent Belize, it is we natives who control what is taught to our children in the schools. But, this “theory” requires study and debate. It was the streets which resisted and rebelled against political colonialism, but how much of that resistance and rebellion had a nationalist effect on Belize’s educational curricula, on what was taught to our children? Remember, when those schools were established in nineteenth century British Honduras, white supremacy was accepted as Gospel by all and sundry.
UBAD and Kremandala have had an impact on the streets for 46 years. But, we have had almost no impact on the schools. We would have to say that the schools remain bastions of European power. If that is so, then we have to accuse our educators and our education administrators of being collaborators with white supremacy. No matter how “peaceful” and “constructive” the Belizean revolution was supposed to be, it was, at its roots, an attempt to reverse a racist and imperialist order of things which had been violently imposed on our ancestors. You Anglophiles and European apologists will not be allowed to dodge this historical fact: European hegemony was written in blood, and that blood was the blood of our African and American ancestors.
Until racism and imperialism are reversed, this newspaper will remain a source of resistance and rebellion. Our education system has not respected and reflected the militancy of our Belizean masses. An elitist education vision remains in place which has condemned the masses of our children to unproductive lives of despair and internecine violence. We remain a conquered people. Freedom begins in the mind. This is the legacy of Dr. Leroy Taegar. Free up our minds. Free up our schools.
Power to the people.