SCHOOL’S open again and parents are pondering, as usual, the whole education dilemma. Nobody has to wake up before bird’s wife and walk barefooted for ten miles to get to school. Teachers didn’t have fancy letters behind their names and there weren’t such fancy teaching aids and methods.
School was where they taught you the golden rule and the three Rs were learnt as easily and as naturally as breathing air. Teachers were respected, and not assaulted and paid salaries less than their bus fare. And, children went willingly to school without L.A. Gear.
William Young of Friendship spoke of how it was in his time:
I was born right here on Friendship Middle Walk which is 50 rods away from Buxton. Every Dutch plantation is 100 rods wide. In 1923 I became a pupil teacher at the Methodist school. In those days they taught the three Rs — reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic.
Everybody went to school, at least until they were 14. That was compulsory for the children in Buxton, Georgetown and New Amsterdam. In a way, we were more advanced. In other parts of the country you could have left school at 13.
Buxton was a place from which great people came. There was Mr. Edward Fitzgerald Fredericks, the first full blooded Negro lawyer to sit on the executive council in the Court of Policy the second highest decision making body in the land. There was also Dr. Telamachus Wills, a doctor who treated leprosy patients before Dr. Rose, Dan Scharples, Joseph Eleazer a solicitor who became the Mayor of New Amsterdam, Shortt who became the Mayor of Georgetown and Samuel Edgar Wills, one of the greatest criminal lawyers. And, of course there were the great women like Mrs. Louisa Mc Lennon and Mrs. Baird and Mrs. Winifred Gaskin.”
In that time, too, the village was not bitten by racial problems and people lived and worked together. When you met another Buxtonian you greeted him with ‘country man’ and you hugged each other and fell the love and brotherhood. Every Buxtonian had a nickname. Sometimes you earned it at school. Sometimes it passed down from your father.
There were the peculiar people too, like ‘Prophet’ Wills who foretold the rain and preached when the spirit bade him at the roadside or at the ‘Found Out’ rum shop, by the light of a bottle lamp. Even he had his following. Mr. Young didn’t feel he was 100 per cent ‘there’ but in those times you didn’t laugh at your elders. He was harmless enough, and asked donations of a chosen few, always dressed in his long overcoat and beaver (or top hat). Prophet Wills died praying.
At school a good portion of religion was dished up along with the discipline. The church took part in the grooming of the child. You prayed three times a day and had religious instruction. The church also built the schools.
And for good they exalted families of ‘good standing’. It was at church that you had your first elocution lessons and learnt to speak in public.
At school your teachers not only taught the regular subjects, they ran you through drills and examined you to ensure you were clean. You had to hold your finger nails up for inspection, show your teeth and had a pencil run through your hair.
You had to learn to salute your elders, and the girls to bow.
It was at school too, that you learnt to play. Not Nintendo. There were seasons for games. You spun tops, played marbles with awara seeds, played for buttons and had yo-yos and taggaa. There was also the now lost arts of hairy-dory and oya. You gobbled up your food and ran back to school as fast as you could, to play. If you lived far away you ate your homecooked lunch out of a small saucepan. Lunch was the big meal of the day.
Latecoming was almost nonexistent and treated like an unpardonable sin.
Girls were expected to be neatly dressed and were never seen on the road at night. For this reason the elder girls were glad to go to Sunday school in the afternoons. They had the chance of walking on the seawall with friends for a glimpse of the boys.
Friday nights were for choir practice. Music was an essential part of life.
Everyone who could, learnt the piano. The men who worked the fields learnt tonic sol-fa.
Farming the entire eight mile to the conservancy was of a high standard. Buxton lands belonged to its people.
The pears, bananas coconuts and ground provisions were sold at the roadside market. Cane from the farm was sold to the then grinding mills of Non-Pareil and Lusignan.
Now, the parasite anti-Desmond which has overgrown the fields has also silenced tales from the past.
Teachers of that time believed in punishment and reward. They never spared the rod, fearing the child’s soul was in peril if no discipline was taught.
Teacher Young feels to this day that our colonial heritage dictated that we shirk hard work.
He feels too, that a lack of cooperation between home and school causes much of the problems today. No child could have stayed at home.
Homework was compulsory, parents stood over you to make you do it, even if the parent were illiterate. You had respect for older siblings and couldn’t call anybody ‘full mouth’, but had to address ‘Brother’ or ’Sister’. So, by the time you were ready to relate to persons outside the home, the respect was ingrained. You were also the community’s child. When you did well everyone cheered. And, with those very hands everyone punished you when you were wrong.