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PEARL RAMCHARAN-CROWLEY

Davis, California

CreoleCulture:

Outcastin WestIndianSchools

For the past century and a half, colonial educational policies in St. Lucia and Dominicahave been designed to eradicatethe local Creolecultures.These policies have resultedin a wide gulf between

formal education and everyday life. An anthropologicalstudy of these islandcultures suggestschanges that might be made in school programs to meet present and future needs, and to serve better the goals of the new Federationof the West Indies. The islandsof St. Lucia and Dominicalie in the southernsection of the chainof the LesserAntillesand are separated fromeach other

by the island of Martinique, which like Guadeloupe to the north is a departement of France. Although St. Lucia, Dominica, Mar- tinique, and Guadeloupe once sharedthe samecultureand language, the divergentregimes of Britainand Franceover the past hundred and fifty years have caused considerableculturalvariation. Today St. Lucia and Dominicaare British islands, and they form two of the ten administrativeterritorialunits in the Federation.

Dominica, with an area of 305 square miles, has a population of

sixty-five thousand; while the smallerisland of St.

areaof 233 square miles, has a population of ninety thousand.Both

populations are overwhelmingly of mixed European and African origin, with a few hundredlocal and foreign whites in each island,

Lucia, with an

PEARL

RAMCHARAN-CROWLEY

Trinidad.

She

among

the

Chokwe

annual meeting

at Madison,

Association

is

former

headmistress

Preparatory

recently com-

on a paper

Central States Branch of the American

of

Naparima

is based

School in San Fernando, research

pleted

read at the thirty-fifth

Anthropological

and her anthropologist-husband

of the

of the

Congo.

This

article

Wisconsin,

May 16, 1959.

429

430 THE SCHOOL REVIEW

Winter

1961

plus several thousand Christian East Indians in St. Lucia and a handful of Caribs in Dominica. Both islands were originally inhabited by Caribs and Arawaks, who successfully resisted European settlement until the seventeenth century, when France and Britain began an extended naval and

military struggle for supremacy. Before final British conquest at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Dominica changed hands five times and St. Lucia, thirteen times. The resulting Creole culture is a strange mixture of African and provincial French elements plus influences from the colonial British and the nearly extinct Caribs. French traditions linger in the legal

code, in formal religion, in dress, in cuisine, and in vocabulary; but

the heritage of Africa and of slavery continues in magic practices, in mating patterns, in family structure, in music, in folklore, in atti- tudes, and in values. These islands are not only poor and isolated, but also deeply different from the French and the British islands around them. In a hundred and fifty years of persistent effort, the British authorities have failed to replace the local Creole culture with more generalized British colonial patterns of behavior. In St. Lucia and in Dominica, as in other islands of the West Indies, the earliest schools were established by religious denomi- nations. But in recent years schools have come more and more under government control. Today most of the fifty-two primary schools in St. Lucia are run by the Catholic Church, several are run by Prot-

estant groups, and only one is a government school. However, all receive government funds. In Dominica there are forty-four govern- ment schools and only three government-aided religious schools. In spite of compulsory attendance laws in both islands, about 25 per cent of the children, most of them in rural areas, are not in school at all. If these children chose to attend, there would be no place for them in the schools, and there is little prospect that the governments and the churches will be able to finance schools for all the children in the foreseeable future. The spoken language of these islands and of nearby Martinique

WEST

INDIAN

SCHOOLS

431

and Guadeloupe is Creole, known locally as patois, a Frenchvocab- ulary with a simplifiedgrammarcontaining some Africanelements. Taylor(1), Verin (2), and Alleyne (3) have recently studiedCreole linguistic structureandthe culturaleffectsof its rivalry with English. Without a knowledge of Creole, neither French nor British colo- nizers could hope to understandthe island cultures. Even today

English-speakinggovernment officialsand professionals who areun- familiarwith the Creole language are out of touch with the life of

the people. The educational systems of these islands have aimed at substi-

tuting

Henry Breen, a Britishcivil servantin St. Lucia, spoke of the benefits

to be gained by the universal adoption of English in the schools (4). Yet today in St. Lucia 40 per cent of the people speak only Creole.In Dominica25 per cent speakonly Creole. SinceCreoleis an unwritten language, these people areilliterates. The illiteracy ratefor St. Luciais 45 per cent and for Dominica, 35 per cent. The ratesincludeilliterateswho speakEnglish. These two islandshave the highest illiteracy rates in the Caribbeanwith the exception of Haiti, where the rate is 89 per cent and where Creole

is also spoken. The local English, which is spoken with Creole intonations, is interlardedwith Creolisms, which have been partially translated (It

makin' hot, oui!). This colloquialEnglish is commonlyspoken even by highly educated islanders.For they, too, use Creole by choice

in everyday life. According to contemporarylearningtheory, a foreignlanguage is best learned through vernacularinstructionin the early years of schooling. Yet Creolehas traditionally been forbiddenin elementary schools, although of necessity this rule is often broken with the

younger childrenwho speak no English. The exclusiveuse of English as the medium of instructionhas

provensomething of a farce.In spite of

ing prestige, there is no indicationthat English is replacing Creole

its practicality and increas-

so-called culturally rich English for Creole.As early as 1844

432 THE SCHOOL REVIEW

Winter

1961

in the community. Rather, children from their earliest years are

forced to live two lives: the permissive, fun-filled daily

Creole life and the rigid, stultifying school life, where language expression is inhibitedand parrotreading is the practice. These people should be encouraged to be bilingual-literate in English while still speaking theirmother tongue.Although Antillean Creolecan easily be writtenin the McConnell-Laubach orthography used in Haiti, local patriotism has not yet developed sufficiently to demandthat this system be taught in the schools. The moralcode as propounded in the schoolsis also at variance

with local practice. Formal marriage,legitimacy, and the patrilineal family areheld up as the desirable patterns for children, 80 per cent of whom are born out of wedlock and live in matrifocalfamilies

marked by

round of

frequentlychanging common-lawunions. poor and undevelopableagricultural islands, unattain-

able foreign living standardsare presented as standardsfor the studentsto strivetoward.Courseson domesticscience are patheti-

cally unrealisticin termsof local products, tastes,needs, and equip- ment. Few girls in St. Lucia in theirhillside shacks equipped with coalpots and homemadefurniturewill need to knowhow to prepare

an

In these

elegant

tea with full silverservice.But they will need to knowthe

rudimentsof nutritionand child care. This gulf between what is taught in schoolandhow life is livedat homedrives deep into almost

everyaspect of living. Lessthan3 per cent of the populationget a high-school education. Those who do graduate consider agricultural labor and craft work degrading, and aim at government service and other white-collar

employment. Whenever possible they leave the islands to pursue careersabroad. High-school education aims primarily at preparing students to pass BritishExternal Examinations, which qualify studentsfor fur-

ther schooling in England. Thus, disproportionate stressis placed on high attainmentin academic subjects, since the reputation of a schoolis basedon the numberof its studentswho pass these British

WEST

INDIAN

SCHOOLS

433

examinations.As

ulum in keeping with local knowledge, interests, and expectations.

West

realisticand undemocraticexaminationsbecause they fear the loss

of standardsand prestige, and the difficulty of transferring credits abroad. Consequently, there are almostno vocational courses, no mechan-

ical or technical training courses, no opportunities to study crafts, agriculture, or husbandry. Few attempts aremadeto attractstudents to careersin these useful fields. The lack of businesscoursescom-

binedwith the local practice of mutualfinancial responsibilityamong all of one'srelatives discourages individualeffortsin trade.The re-

sult is that most of the local business enterprises are controlled by foreigners.Understandably, the youngpeople arediscontentedwhen they realize that they can never obtain the handful of professional

and white-collar jobs

see that they face a lifetime of ill-paid and despised subsistence agricultural or urbanlabor. The people, particularly the teachersin these islands, are sharply consciousof the demoralizedstate of their educational system, and there is considerable public and private discussionand criticism. If these islandsare to take their place in the new Federation, their people must be educatedmore effectively for the lives they are to lead in a democracy. Childrenmust be taught the duties and the responsibilities of citizenship in their new country. Illiterateadults who cannot speakEnglish are at the mercy of unscrupulousexploit- ers of all kinds and have no chance to share in the life and the wealth of theirnation.

The most obvious difficultyinhibiting reformis the shortage of financial resources available to the schools. Foreign missionary

groups are not interested in converting people who are already

Christian, especially when

proclaims its right to controlwhat is taught in the churchschools.

a result, most of the studentsare denied a curric-

Indian parentsfiercely resist any attempt to change these un-

availablein the community, and when they

the governmentpays the teachers and

Neitherislandhas a teacher-training institute.A few teachersare

434 THE SCHOOL REVIEW

Winter 1961

sent to normal schools in Trinidad and Barbados. Teachers are re-

cruited through a pupil-teacher apprenticeship system. An older teacher is asked to train a young recruit in educational theory and practice, and both take occasional examinations designed for British

teachers in a similar apprenticeship system. In an attempt to upgrade the training program, British teach- yourself textbooks were introduced in St. Lucia, but unfortunately the language and the concepts in the books proved to be beyond

the comprehension of the average West Indian adolescent. Under these circumstances it is not difficult to see why few of the better minds are attracted to the teaching profession. However, each island does have a group of devoted and profes- sionally alert teachers whose vision comes from long years of prac- tice rather than from formal training. More often than not, these teachers find themselves in conflict with a harried administration. A few years ago they forced the dismissal of the director of edu- cation in St. Lucia. They considered his teach-yourself system of

training impractical and disapproved of his uncompromising atti- tude toward the use of Creole in the early grades and his policy of

keeping foreign-trained teachers in administration rather than re- leasing them for teaching in the schools (5, 6). West Indian educators must ultimately recognize that the cen-

turies-old program of total Europeanization has been a failure. Cre-

ole culture has been remarkably tenacious in

indication of being durable in the future. A more realistic syllabus must be created, and the parents, the

churches, and the island governments must be persuaded to accept it. Along with more buildings, up-to-date West Indian textbooks, and better teacher recruitment and preparation, the schools of the islands need courses that interpret the world in local terms, courses that incorporate local materials and terminology, courses that give the child information that he will find attractive because he can see its usefulness. Because West Indians are hungry for education and have strong

the past and gives every

WEST

INDIAN

SCHOOLS

435

traditionsfor co-operativeactivity, these problems can be solved. In the mild Caribbeanclimate school buildings need not be elab- orate. Reasonably functional open-air structures of tapia (clay mixed with grass) with floorsof pounded earth, roofs of thatch or galvanized iron, and outdoor sanitary facilitiescan be built inexpen-

sively with few importedsupplies and possibly even with volunteer labor, as churchesoften are.

There are foreign-trained West Indian professionalsqualified to write local textbooksthat could easily gain governmentsupport. If the governmentsimproved teacher preparation and raisedteachers' salaries,moreand betterteacherswould be attractedto the profes-

sion. In the village, the teacher's prestige is second only to the

priest's; and, as secularism grows, the teacher will tend to

the priest as the authority on the power structureand the outside world. SinceWorldWarII, Belgian nunsin Dominicahave attackedthe problem of a realistic syllabus. Theirconvent high school, originally

open only to legitimate upper-class Catholic girls, was converted into a less selective school open to nearly all girls who apply. For

those who

do not specialize in academic subjects, the school offers

replace

classesin domesticscienceand crafts.

One nun who had considerable training in art experimented with native materialsand resurrectedan almostextinct island technique

for making rugs, mats, and other objects from palm, sisal, and other local fibers. Old Dominican women, who were paid for their work,

were brought in to train the girls, and country women were re- munerated for gathering and preparing the palm and other materi- als. An outlet for the finished products was found in a tourist shop in Barbados. Tourists and wealthy local people proved willing to

pay relatively high prices for these rugs, and they are now shipped all over the world. This craft has even been commemorated on a

Dominican postage stamp. The nuns not only support their schools and other charity work on the proceeds, but point out that the craft school is doing what the convent school failed to do: providing in-

436 THE SCHOOL nEVIEW

Winter 1961

comesfor younggirls so they canresistthe economicblandishments of men. More programs of this sort could use local skills and artistictal- ent, develop healthy small industries, attract touristsand income, anddirectthe West Indian urge for educationinto fruitfulchannels.

REFERENCES

1. Douglas MacRae Taylor, "Phonic Interference in Dominican Creole,"

Word, II (April, 1955),

45-52.

2. Pierre Verin "The Rivalry of Creole and English

in the West

Indies,"

West-Indische Gids, XXXVIII (December, 1958), 163-67.

3. Mervin Alleyne, "Language and Society in St. Lucia," Caribbean Studies,

I (April, 1961),

1-10.

4. Henry H.

Breen, St.

Lucia: Historical, Statistical, and

Descriptive

(London:

Longmans,

5. Harold

F.

C.

1844),

Simmons,

p.

169.

"Lucia

in

Wonderland,"

Voice

of

St.

Lucia

(January 18, January 25, February 1, 1958).

6. Elsa H. Walters, "Lucia in the Looking Glass," Voice of St. Lucia

5, 1958).

(April

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