Our children don't know our history

February 03, 2017
Donald Quarrie

I was at the launch of this year's Camperdown Classic on Wednesday when Paula Bartley, the general manager of First Global Bank, during her presentation, made reference to a song that immortalised the great Jamaican Olympian Donald Quarrie, and asked if anyone remembered it.

There was a stony silence. Even people who are past students of the institution struggled to respond, even people my age.

There may have been good reason why there was no response, but the silence lasting a few seconds seemed like minutes, so I blurted "Must be a duppy or a gunman ..." in my tone-deaf monotone.

She seemed relieved. But I wasn't.

A few years ago, Quarrie told me this story about when he visited the school named after him in Harbour View in east Kingston.

He stood beside a teacher in a classroom and the children were asked if they knew who the school was named after.

One child eagerly raised his hand and said "He is dead now sir," or something to that effect.

He might as well have been because the child did not recognise the 1976 200m Olympic champion standing just a few metres away.




We laughed at Quarrie's tale, but it is sad that the students did not recognise one of our greatest sporting heroes.

We have to do a better job at this. Our primary schools, high schools and colleges need to institute mandatory courses in Jamaican history.

We lack civic pride because we know too little about our past, the foundation on which we should be building.

We need to emulate Kingston College, where first formers are taught the school's history and the luminaries who studied there.

Our children need to know about: literary great Claude McKay; cultural icons Louise Bennett-Coverley and Ranny Williams; academics like Dr Henry Lowe and Professor Anthony Chen; Madame Rose Leon, our first female member of parliament; Mary Seacole; Quarrie; Arthur Wint, who was more than just our very first gold medal winner; Marilyn Neufville; and Collie Smith.

There are many others, too, whose stories need to be told in our schools from the very first day a child steps into a classroom.

Our children need to know that we are a great people and that there are many examples of what we can achieve if we work towards achieving great things.

Too many children these days treat our history with disdain when they should be celebrating it.

It was Robert Penn Warren who said, "History cannot give us a programme for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future."

Send comments to levyl1@hotmail.com.

Other Commentary Stories