THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Once upon a time, we had a history teacher at the Antigua Grammar School who made history; for real. He would waltz into class and rattle off his stories of English kings as if he and Henry, Richard, George, Edward, William and James were drinking buddies and he had gained access to historical facts that were secluded from all the history books in all the libraries in all the world. He did no home work. He did no school work. He did no real work at all. He was such a good storyteller, he became an ambassador; for real.
Teachers are not just highly valuable, they are highly vulnerable. They stand before a class of ingrates and are expected to mold fine sculptures out of lumps of clay. All the while they are doing this, the little, snotty wretches observe their every move within and without the classroom. The teacher is the first and last lesson.
It must be that some teachers deliberately teach nonsense just to see if their students are really learning. It cannot be that teachers are so daft to unwittingly teach abject nonsense. What would be the object, the verb or the predicate, the cause or the adverbial clause of such a proposition? Why, I can recall a teacher telling our first form that for that one week only, no one must stand up when he entered the classroom, and that anyone who continued to obey the normal, stand-up rule would be punished. And punished some of us were indeed. What about the response from the recently departed, enigmatic, mathematics teacher, Ottway Davis, when our entire fifth form decided to be rude to him by remaining seated when he entered the classroom one day? Without a filigree of annoyance, he simply and kindly asked us to be seated and got on with the lesson.
Good teachers teach their subjects very well. All of their students love them dearly and many students imagined they were their parents or their future wives or husbands, since, while students get older, good teachers never grow old. The really great teachers are remarkably different from the good ones. The great ones get us to learn the subject just as well but, crucially, they allow us to study the object critically. They, the teachers, are the object. To really learn, the student must become better and greater than the teacher. This is only possible if the faults of the teacher are exposed; if the vulnerabilities of both the teaching-subject and the teacher-object are scrutinized and argued fiercely. This romantic war between student and teacher can lead to temporary estrangement. So be it. The time must come when the former student walks away from the erstwhile master-teacher, puts away childish things and becomes truly independent.
It is in this general context that Antigua and Barbuda must emotionally walk away from excessive adherence to the Father of the Nation to become truly independent. This walking away is not a negation of the father. No; no; no, my dear good Labourites. Au contraire. It is an acknowledgement of the great works of the father because those very great works dictate and mandate the walking away. How else can plants propagate if seeds and spores do not abandon the parent tree and rely on the mercy of the wind of nature to find new fertile ground, confident in the knowledge that their father provided them with the gift of lasting life? Indeed, the father would be stark-raving mad with himself, dejected and unfulfilled if we religiously adhered to him, to the detriment of the springing up of new life.
For valid, historical reasons, we showered virtually all of our affections on the Father of the Nation. Even his nemesis, Tim Hector, praised him highly, at least as much as he criticized him harshly. (And we must do the same to Tim). However, the arithmetic of emotions dictates that if we put all our love and affection into one national personage, we will shortchange the love and affection we have left for the country. Our wars of liberation naturally created heroes; and heroes we must have. But some heroes are so powerful, too powerful; we have to deliberately pull away, or take them in doses, admixing their good, bad and ugly qualities.
Could it be that after he would have done something wrong (he had his faults), the Father of the Nation was appalled at the way we would continue to praise him as if we were docile idiots? He must have felt that we were, at those times, the dumbest, most “foolie” people on earth to genuflect to his occasional rubbish. Where were the harsh counterarguments, the banter, the taunting viragos and the running, verbal battles that he loved so well; on which he had cut his political teeth? He must have wondered, as he wandered lonely as a cloud, over vales and hills, where, oh where was the crowd, the host, of golden Tims?
At 26 years of age, as we get older and wiser and hopefully more independent, we understand that we must cherish dearly all those who went before; all those slaves and all those free men and women, natives and foreigners of every hue and dye, who fought to build this blessed country. The only fitting epitaph to all our national heroes, sung and unsung, especially the greatest of them all, the Father of The Nation, is a declaration of independence to balance the equation of national emotions. Take some emotions away from him and put some of these sterling passions into the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, if only because that is precisely what he did and what he would have wanted us to do, to be like the best and noblest part of him.