Magazine article Insight on the News

American-Style 'Progress' Leaving Its Mark on Trinidad

Magazine article Insight on the News

American-Style 'Progress' Leaving Its Mark on Trinidad

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Stix, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

"Let no child be left behind"; ... "It takes a village to raise a child"; ... "Quality time"; ... "Crime Stoppers." Each of the foregoing, unfortunate phrases is supposed by many to be an expression of progress, is as American as Enron and now is at home in the West Indian Republic of Trinidad and Tobago?

During our just-concluded annual visit to my wife's folks in Trinidad, my family was bombarded with warmed-over Americanisms on television. (While prosperous, tiny Tobago with its beautiful beaches is the preferred destination of tourists, 93 percent of the 1.3 million largely hardworking, hard-luck citizens in the two-island republic live in Trinidad.)

In 2001, then-prime minister Basdeo Panday of the (Indian) United National Congress Party demanded, "Let no child be left behind." Panday got American welfare guru Marian Wright Edelman's phrase from his American political consultant, Trinidadian-born, retired California congressman Mervyn Dymally. In a bold reform, Panday extended schooling for all Trinidadians and Tobagonians beyond grammar school. While acknowledging that many of the reform's beneficiaries had little to gain from extended schooling, Panday spoke of "remedial education."

In the United States, most folks are unaware of how such "progress" routinely works. In my Hungarian-born grandmother's benighted day, children in America graduated literate from grammar school, as she did in 1907. Today, however, functional illiterates now routinely are graduated from U.S. high schools and admitted to college.

While Trinidadian politicians speak of educational opportunity, once-rigid school discipline is collapsing. Three years ago, a then 16-year-old nephew of mine dropped out of school. Though he was strong enough to cut sugarcane in the blazing sun for 12 hours a day, he could not handle the routine violence of school.

"It takes a village to raise a child," now spouted by nonprofit organizations in Trinidad, is a made-in-America "African" saying. Taken literally, it would mean that each village could have only one child. Indeed, its meaning has nothing to do with villages; rather, it is an argument for replacing parents with agents of the state.

American-style progress in Trinidad has resulted in the nascent spread of out-of-wedlock childbirth, which until recently was extremely rare. Compared to the United States, the Trinidadian family is intact, but it won't be able to withstand much more "progress."

"Quality time" is a phrase coined by a yuppie journalist to put a happy face on middle-class child neglect. …

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