Post 213.

Is your child’s homework sparking greater creativity? Is it igniting her imagination? Is it encouraging her to ask and follow her own questions about the world? Is it teaching fearlessness as well as compassion and cooperativeness? Will it make her more passionate about learning? Is her homework fun?

I reflected on these questions while on a boat to Nelson Island this Saturday, thinking about how much learning should happen outside of classrooms, promising myself to create my own curriculum of subjects like math, geography, history, science and languages by roaming as much of the country as I can with Zi.

For example, she learned about her indentured Indian ancestors’ confinement on the island, Butler’s six year incarceration, the words “workers’ rights” and “capitalism”, and saw the prison cells where the grandfather of a boy she knows was held in the 1970s. She counted islands and observed ocean garbage. I know many parents who value just this approach, involving their children in cooking, growing food, stargazing, and know-your-country-trips to highlight the relevance of knowledge and skills to their lives.

I know fewer parents as opposed as I am to early induction into stress-producing test preparation, free-time-eliminating extra lessons, and strictness as the key to academic success. I also don’t believe that children, especially five year olds, should get homework. Nor do I think children’s other activities should be determined by how much homework they have.

With test culture and standardization, teachers are doing their best, and schools can’t do or be everything. I’m not against revision, but feel that homework should either include or leave evenings and weekends free for other possibilities for dreaming, making-believe, and making unique and unexpected meanings. Mostly it does neither, and is more likely to be associated with boredom and drudgery than inspire delight and curiosity.

I have my own philosophy about the purpose of education, and my own take on schooling’s approach to learning as well as its weight on how learning is experienced in and out of school. I’m open to the benefits of school, and the genuine love and efforts of teachers, but after the bell rings, other ways and kinds of learning should be given fair chance. When can that happen when children spend so much time on homework so many evenings each week, even on weekends? Is more time spent sitting still, being stressed by pressuring parents, and being taught to complete work to avoid trouble the best lessons we can provide?

Other activities, like music or gymnastics, where the body moves as part of learning, even if it’s just hands beating pan or fingers tapping piano keys, are necessary for growing minds to map themselves and for different learning styles to find their space in ways that P.E. classes cannot substitute. After-school play helps children’s brains to develop capacities and connections which schools may be able to give neither time nor priority. Self-directed time is crucial for cognitive and emotional development, which are inseparable. For me, adventure, beyond habitual routes and routines, is key for continually opening those boxes that my university students eventually think from within, without even noticing their passivity to the status quo.

Imagine asking children to do whatever makes them super-excited about the subject for homework. What would they choose? And, if we tried that, what might we discover about how children wish to learn and actually do? Perhaps then, there might be less quarreling about not staying focused or taking responsibility, not wanting to do well or taking an interest in school work, and not trying hard enough at an almost everyday activity which, let’s be real, isn’t meant to be interesting or likable. We would instead ask ourselves about our own responsibility, as adults, for reproducing a national system where a good portion of students opt out of learning or forget it’s something that they were hard-wired to pursue and enjoy.

Wise parents warn me about homework burdens in years just ahead, the pleasures it infrequently offers, and its narrowing rather than expanding of independent reasoning. I’m not sure how I’m going to negotiate it then, but there’s a good chance I’ll decide while Zi and I are somewhere on land or sea, dreevaying.

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Post 181.

As Saturday’s crescent moon rose over Cazabon Street in Belmont, people gathered from all over the world to remember Claudia Vera Cumberbatch, better known as Claudia Jones, on the one hundredth anniversary of her birth.

There were also gatherings in Harlem and London, but it was the few dozen holding hands in a lamp lit circle on a ribbon of rough asphalt, who got to hear the unexpectedly beautiful percussion of corn and rice rolling like rain off the galvanize roof of her childhood home, and who witnessed the first time that African invocations, water, palm oil, memories and appreciation were offered from us here to this little known daughter of the soil.

For women busily going about life, organizing communities, hand sewing their traditional portrayals for Carnival, establishing their own incomes, dreaming of being writers or wanting to make a fairer world, Claudia Jones is the inspiration whose picture you could pin to your clothes, like Bobo Shantis do with Haile Selassie, to remind yourself that articulate, fearless and powerful women have long been home grown.

Born in Trinidad, on February 21, 1915, Claudia Jones became the leading black woman in international communism between the 1930s and 1950s. While living in the US, she was arrested and imprisoned for ten months for giving a speech on “International Women’s Day and the Struggle for Peace”. Facing deportation and eventually choosing exile to England in 1955, because Trinidad’s Governor was too frightened of her movement-building capacity to let her resettle here, she organized the first Carnival celebrations in London. Her belief that “a people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” established the precedent for every Caribbean Carnival now held around the world.

A communist, pan-African and women’s rights political agitator, more radical than any men of her time or region including Marcus Garvey and CLR James, Claudia Cumberbatch began to write as Claudia Jones to throw the CIA off her tracks, knowing that the US government considered her a threat. She was indomitably bad ass, crossing out the job title of secretary that was put on her passport, and writing ‘journalist’ instead, the only right thing to do for an immigrant woman who later wrote for and edited youth, women’s, workers’ rights and African American magazines, and founded her own newspaper, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

Last term, my students and I read Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce-Davies’ book about Claudia Jones’ life and politics, marveling that she even met China’s Mao Tse-tung and Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted them to know that when Caribbean students learn about transnational, anti-imperialist, anti-racist feminist theory, we don’t start with US Black feminism and Angela Davis or Third World feminism and Chandra Mohanty, and we don’t start in the 1960s. We start decades earlier, in Belmont, with the thinking of Claudia Jones, an activist, intellectual, cultural worker and writer without any degrees to her name, now buried in London, to the left of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.

Yet, even having taught her book, it never occurred to me to turn onto the lane where she walked as a child and to look up at the same moon she would have seen, on her birthday. It did occur to those who invited the nation to honour a woman who died, at forty-nine years old, alone on Christmas day.

By putting passion and pen to our principles, making transformation of black working class women’s lives our marker of change, and unapologetically pursuing equality and emancipation for all across the world, may we mightily walk in the footsteps of the path-breaking Claudia Jones.

Conversation about ending violence and changing masculinities in T and T.

Post 110.

Hopefully the day that Ziya leaves home, she won’t do so in anger and rebellion, but with maturity. Hopefully, before that happens, I will have learned how to be that person that she looks up to and feels will listen without misrecognizing her message or putting it down.

I will have confronted how I must grow, change, mature and reflect if I want us to actually have the relationship that I say that we do. I will do the difficult work of seeing us and me through her eyes, and taking responsibility for my limitations, blind spots and hypocrisies.

 I will have been truthful that I need help and support, not because it is due to the parent or mother and not because traditions or God or rules demand it and not because those were the sacrifices I made which she must too. Hopefully, I will have enabled her to make her contribution to who I am because I recognize that she has wisdom, reciprocity, power and insight which I need, which are uniquely hers to bring, and without which our negotiations would be unfair, superficial and hollow.

 Hopefully, when she leaves, it will not be for worse circumstances, but for better, and it will not really be a leaving. May this home respect her rights and wishes, allow her to challenge and choose, and to feel safe. Whatever our mistakes, it will be here that she belongs because she wants to.

These were my thoughts as I sat on set at CNC3, on the morning after Jack Warner’s by-election win, listening to Basdeo Panday talk about the difference between the old and new UNC. I’ve never been a member of a political party, but I definitely don’t want back the old UNC.  Neither do the members who voted against it finally in 2010. That old UNC is where Rudy, the PM, Glen, Chandresh and all the others learned how to politick. I saw it up close these last weeks. CEPEP and URP workers compelled and paid to attend walkabouts and rallies, race and religion talk on the platform, exchange of cups, pencils and t-shirts for votes, speakers’ demands for loyalty at all costs, intolerance for dissent with the party family, corralling the Youth Arm for the campaign without empowering them with anything close to an ideology, a failure to defend real party democracy, and the unaccounted spending of hovering business men’s money. The new UNC is strapped for strategies that work because their tactics are textbook old UNC. They add insult to injury. That’s why UNC Indians of all ages, religions and creeds are yet again rejecting that kind of leadership by any means necessary.

My analysis here isn’t balanced and fair, but personal and fearless. I hope that Jack Warner’s win sparks a mass ‘spring’ for representation and local-level accountability. Given the heavy hand of our Governor-mode political system, that could be revolutionary.  Consolidation of Jack Warner’s power would not be. I think he is ruthless and not trustworthy. I think he can become the Dudus of Laventille, the Don of Chaguanas West, the authoritarian that gets the trains to run on time while establishing a police state like Mussolini. That said, I completely support voters’ mutiny and I think it’s breathtaking that before burning tires they have first tried the vox dei of democracy.  

For the UNC, these are lessons about the emotion of withdrawal, the heart-break of home failing to be a refuge, the ego-crushing work it takes for relationships to be based on empowerment rather than exploitation, ignorance and dishonesty.

There are parallels of the personal and political in our nation and our families. I see lessons about the demands of love and solidarity in watershed moments in our Republic and in the momentous trivialities of my negotiations with Zi. 

 

Post 101.

This week, listening to 30 year old memories of the Grenada Revolution, all I could think about is the legacy of forgetting. My generation feels almost no connection to the vision of the revolution, the sweat and solidarities of the women and men involved, and the reverberations of pain that rippled across the entire Caribbean when gunshots, assassinations, US occupation, and fear, secrets and loss marked the end.

Being as intimate with that history as we are with the long plot of Game of Thrones or the personal sagas of the Kardashians could change us all. Claiming Cuba’s attempt to strike out against passivity about our economies and lives would help us realise that what happens in Chaguanas West matters less than what deals our Ministers sign, without a study to stand on, for highways to be built or tar sands to be mined.

Party school wouldn’t be about the history of the party but about the history of political attempts to free us from the kind of development that creates more who have but, inevitably, many who will not. It would be a place for establishing adult education at night in every school or mobilising community campaigns to grow the vitamins we need in our backyards or advocating for an end to criminalization of young people’s same sex desires in the law.

The Youth Arm of the UNC or the PNM wouldn’t be limited to election campaigning or proving loyalty to the leadership.  Imagine if those very youth learned about the bloody resistances that mark the country from Sangre Chiquito to San Fernando. They would start roaming the nation and the region to fill up on lessons of how politics can be and has been done differently. Party schools that teach them etiquette, correct dress and their leaders’ biographies would be rightfully empty.

If the Women’s Arms of the parties were even once taught about the role that women can play beyond waving flags, you think housewives would be running around in hot sun securing votes for a parliament and a Cabinet that remains indecently, overwhelmingly dominated by men? Knowing their power, these women would rise up and say no to inequity at the top because party school taught them this is what they do. They would wield the names of women from Elma Francois to Jacqueline Creft like a bilna and a balisier, symbolizing to their parties that it is these women’s struggles that they came to continue.

For all their participation in their political parties, not a PNM or UNC Women’s Arm activist can stand on a corner, while Celine Dion or Bryan Adams blares from the loudspeakers, and ex-tempo about how women and men from little two by four countries dreamed for more and then fought for those dreams until big stick diplomacy beat them into their corner. This is why today’s leadership will not organize for all out regional self-determination. Caribbean people have not recovered from the economic and political punishments and pain of Haiti, Guyana, Cuba and Grenada.

What can my generation could do to remember Grenada, plan a new revolution that promises never to leave women behind and invent a regionalism that fits our realities thirty years later? I know young feminist women and men from Guyana to Barbados to Jamaica. We can mine our islands and our seas for more than oil, we can mine them for memories. All those still alive, who are holding them safe and close, are just waiting for us to ask the right questions. I’m humbled by how much there is for us to know and to still achieve.

Post 92.

The only thing stopping me from burning down billboards is the fact that I don’t drive around with gasoline and a flame-thrower in my trunk. I’m talking about billboards with images of women lying with a bottle opener by their open mouth (is she the bottle or is the opener a penis or is it that if you open the bottle you get to open the woman?) or sprawled across a shower with tiles over their breasts (as if that’s what tiles are for) or lying topless next to car batteries (because this is something women actually do when they go to the mechanic).

I’m not a violent person. This is a rational response to the violence being done to my daughter who I see watching these billboards as we drive by them, the same violence that was done to me by these entirely inescapable images.  It’s a rationale borne out of being a survivor of such violence and knowing exactly how Ziya will have to learn to survive amongst it and with it within her, despite everything I try to teach her and almost no matter what I do.

I was not given a chance to grow into womanhood without having to learn that women should be sexy and what that ideal means, that only some bodies are considered really beautiful, that some skin colour and hair are more valued, and that being a well-adjusted woman means keeping calm in a world ruled by others, who define your worth through their eyes and define even your resistance, because one day you can no longer see yourself free from how they see you.  

Every woman knows the effect of growing up in this world. Every woman knows what that has done to her sense of self, to her confidence, to what she now loves and totally hates about her body, to the fact that when she looks in the mirror, she is evaluating herself in terms of these standards, ones most women cannot ever meet nor should ever have to. Sometimes for years at a time, sometimes for her whole life, every woman battles with her body and her beauty as if they let her down. Every woman knows the damage done, the secret insecurities she carries, her feelings of not being good enough if she is not attractive enough, of wishing to have another body besides her own or look like someone she is not. Every woman knows.  Every girl learns.

In a world that didn’t constantly churn out airbrushed, narrow images of women, maybe Zi could grow up just valuing herself because she is, not devaluing herself because of how she looks, not learning first self-loathing and then, with age, difficulty and concession, something approximating self-love. Maybe she wouldn’t learn to try harder than she needs to simply to be loved for who she is, to spend more money on make-up than helps her be beautiful, to fall for the myth that high heels empower. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard to remind her that a pedestal may look seductive, but what it ultimately does is make you afraid of stepping out of place. Why not let her grow up in a world where these images have been burned to the ground, rather than being burned on the minds, bodies and psyches of women? Don’t Ziya and a generation of girls like her deserve that chance? Fire bun these billboards and their violence.

Post 90.

Last Friday, I completed International Women’s Day by walking the labyrinth at the Anglican Church in Port of Spain. The labyrinth is pre-Christian and associated with meditation and contemplation, and for me, the divine feminine. As I arrived, eight primary schoolgirls flocked to the gate like curious brown and black birds, wanting to follow my steps. ‘The labyrinth is magical’, I said, ‘walk along its path, picture what you want to be when you grow up and imagine that it will happen. Then, as you follow the curves back out, give thanks for everything that will help you fulfill that dream’.

What did these little girls want to be? ‘A billionaire’, said the first one. ‘Barbie’, said the second. ‘A pop star’, said another. ‘A dancer’, said a fourth. One wanted to be a doctor, influencing the billionaire-aspirant to say she now wanted to be a doctor too. ‘Who wants to be a flower?’ I asked. One of them chimed in, ‘what about being a Kiskeedee’? ‘Or a dolpin’? I suggested, glad that these little girls could still imagine without boundaries.

I traced the pattern like a mother duck with a buoyant brood of bright, beautiful and powerful young, telling them the magic of the labyrinth is that it teaches you to focus on your steps and direction until your journey is complete. When we reached the centre, we held hands and affirmed our aspirations. One little one said she wanted to be a police, another a teacher. ‘That’s cool’, I said, ‘I’m a teacher’. ‘And, I want to be a sunflower’, she added. ‘Yes’, I agreed, ‘I’ve always dreamt of being a sunflower too’.

I’ve walked that labyrinth before but never with such bubbling, giggling joy for nothing but the adventure of the moment. On the way back, we gave thanks for the stars and the sun, the sea and the animals. A different little girl now holding hands with me gave thanks for our homes, another for food, another for friends, and, one added, for being popular. Whatever I went to meditate on was completely forgotten and no longer mattered which, I suppose, was my lesson to learn.

I could only be grateful for the reminder that feminism needs to continue to struggle to offer girls options beyond bling, Barbie and pop-stardom so that they also live with fantasies of being Nobel Prize scientists and inventors, history-setting architects and engineers, astronauts, world leaders and, yes, police, doctors, mothers and sunflowers too. We still need revolution in a world where men rule irresponsibly, selling bodies and fame as girls’ biggest assets and best hope, marketing the myth that their moneymaker doesn’t refer to their minds. As with the labyrinth, they will have to navigate sharp twists and turns, meandering paths and unexpected directions as they find their way. I was blessed enough to encounter them long enough to say, you are the future divine feminine, be unafraid.

When we ended back at the beginning, these little birds scattered, skipping away with a confident playfulness I wish I still had. I experienced both happiness and renewed passion for a politics that seeks to conquer, with love, labour and even laughter, every form of violence and inequality that defines girls by less than their boldest dreams. I got hugs more vast that the sky itself from their skinny arms before I walked away into the dusty traffic, knowing by instinct rather than logic, I had just witnessed the labyrinth work its most enchanting magic.