Thursday, April 18, 2024

Come now, Joseph!


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I would have ignored Tennyson Joseph’s article as he seemed more offended by Barbados Today’s editorial that “saw in Mascoll’s submission a brave critique of our education policy’s tendency to “certification”, which has failed to “produce great thinkers, innovators”, but to “simply provide employees”.
I thought that the essence of my submission was that “to pursue greatness requires an individual or a country to focus on something/s”. In this regard, it was suggested that specialization could occur earlier in the educational system; an opinion that is certainly worthy of criticism.
Strangely enough, from out of left field, Joseph somehow reached the conclusion that “today’s graduate of economics is typically a quantitative econometrician trained to measure, not to think”. Perhaps this outrageous conclusion is consistent with “our present weakness is not too much classical study, but too little” – another opinion worthy of criticism.
Quite frankly, the view that a profession spends its time training students to measure and not to think is offensive. But it is an opinion!
What is not an opinion is that in the same article Joseph makes two very distinct observations that “in crisis conditions, one of the early casualties is intellectual clarity” and “it is in moments of crisis, however, that abstract thought is most necessary”.  
At first glance, these two statements seem highly consistent but taken separately there is little or no hope for getting out of a crisis, since intellectual clarity is a necessary condition for abstract thought. And if we lose the former early in a crisis, then there is nothing left for the latter.
The first requirement to know if one is in crisis is to be able to quantify your current state against some past state. An economic crisis is therefore not just a state of mind; it can be measured. Finding solutions to any crisis, not just economic, must start with acknowledging its existence.
The view that any crisis can be measured without reference to thought is absurd. Certainly, Joseph, the process starts with a hypothesis that there is a crisis. This hypothesis has to be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence. The evidence therefore provides the verification one way or the other.
The process does not stop at verification but rather attempts to use information from the past with the new information to allow us to move to a synthesis. It is the pursuit of the synthesis that offers the opportunity for abstract thought that is “thinking that is coherent and logical”.
Therefore Joseph’s first observation that “in crisis conditions, one of the early casualties is intellectual clarity” is a testable hypothesis that can only be verified with evidence. But even if we cannot find the evidence, the question is how can abstract thought be most necessary and achievable when intellectual clarity is the one of the early casualties of crisis? Furthermore, doesn’t intellectual clarity require thinking that is coherent and logical?
Since, some of us are trained only to measure, it is safe to conclude that we are the ones who lose intellectual clarity in times of crisis. While those who are trained in abstract thought would be the ones to bring us out of the crisis.
But, Joseph, how did you suck me in based on a newspaper editorial that reached heroic conclusions from my observations on basic education?
Of course, you are free to criticize my writings but to do so on the back of an editorial in Barbados Today is inappropriate. Furthermore, to quote the editorial and suggest “but there is a deeper dimension to this anti-UWI animus” and then exclude me after implicating me is improper.
I am indeed happy that you observed that “Clyde is not of that ilk”. Yet I have “given them fuel”. How could calling for a sounder basic education in pursuit of greater specialization be fuel for an attack on the University of the West Indies, which specializes in tertiary education?     
It is ironic that your article ended on an anti-colonial note. The examples of Chaucer and Virgil, which I drew on simply to differentiate the periods, would have been the greatest source of offence to the modern abstract thinkers.
Oh how we still yearn to define ourselves with reference to the past but yet we cast our identity in rhetoric of the present! I guess or abstract that education is expected to remain constant while everything around it changes.
• Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party spokesman on the economy. Email


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