In a time when people feel powerless in the face of economic uncertainty and reduced personal security, demonstrations are increasingly being used as a means to voice disaffection from or allegiance to particular causes moral, religious, ethnic and economic or any combination of the above.
So while we are invited to join the marches or to boycott particular public gatherings in order to demonstrate the strength of feeling around the cause, the sheer energy expended in physical movement and vociferation may deaden any possibility for reasoned reflection about the issues at stake.
In our digital age, mass movement may not require physical displacement, with social media offering platforms for adding our voices to the protest but avoiding reflection and rational discussion.
The current debate about the boundaries surrounding state-supported education can offer us a point of entry into a reflection on the agenda that drives educational policy and practice in Trinidad and Tobago today.
Why do denominations expend valuable resources on educating young people in a climate only marginally tolerant of their raison d’être? Why do governments agree to support denominational institutes of education to which they have limited access?
Why do parents and guardians exert themselves to place their charges in the learning environments they judge most advantageous? And what criteria do the various stakeholders in the educational sweepstakes use to judge schools? Do they even share the same criteria?
If we agree that education is the method groups within societies use to ensure the survival of their worldview and value system, we will immediately see the potential for conflict.
Most political directors see education as a tool for forming compliant citizens, useful for the advancement of the state’s agenda. So we support science today and Information Technology tomorrow, throw in a foreign language according to our trading priorities and pay lip service to the ‘softer’ skills that may be useful for lubricating social interactions.
Denominational bodies, on the other hand have a longer view—the preparation of a population for allegiance to a Higher Power and the adoption of a value system dependent on the dictates of this Higher Power.
It is when the goals of these two collide, as indeed they must, that the various players in the various groupings of the society must examine the traditions from which their societies have evolved, the new environment in which we find ourselves today, and the future towards which they would direct their young.
So before we light up our devices, perhaps it would contribute more light if we offered some answers to the questions about the purpose of schools.
Are schools to be places where young people find the talents and gifts they have for creating and negotiating a world very different from the one in which we grew up? If that is their purpose, what is the role of the Catholic Church and indeed of any denomination in assisting in this quest?
How will the agendas of the state, business and families find a place in this setting? What about the agenda of the wider world in which we are inserted?
Understandably, most people would prefer not to tackle these thorny issues, but once we abdicate this responsibility, we leave our space open to the actions of intolerant or manipulative demagogues of varying styles who quietly or vociferously advance their narrow agendas into the space we have invited them through our laziness.
So parents, students, community and Church leaders as well as the political directorate must devote time and grey matter to reshaping education for the development of a civilisation of love if we are to emerge from the dark cloud of crime and corruption and violence that is stifling our nation, and assume our place in the discourse about the kind of world we want for our descendants. It is a question of survival.