'Excrement'? The opposite of increment My column
Kaieteur News
August 8, 2004

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I never fail to be amazed at the level to which we have sunk as far as our academic achievements and our scholastic ability are concerned. But there is the saying that each new generation brings something to improve on the past. I only hope that whatever the past two generations have brought would see us out of whatever problems we have found ourselves.

And this is not because I am knocking the generation. Far from it. At this stage of my development I would like to sit back and watch the younger people take over from where I have left off and run with the ball. I would like to go to press conferences and hear young people asking the searching questions.

Of course there are a few who seem to be more than a notch above the others. I have seen some young reporters who have backed up some of the people hosting the press conferences with serious questions that simply do not allow the host to escape with mundane answers, except if the host is Dr. Roger Luncheon.

However, for the greater part, I have noticed that the young people around me seem lost. They appear to be unaware of what is going on around them and therefore cannot participate in the simplest of discussions. And when they do, clever people weave rings around them.

I remember the case of the two men who were charged with the murder of the Kitty orphanage resident. There was an eyewitness to the killing, a young fellow who, it was later reported, was forced to participate in the beating of the now dead lad.

I assigned a reporter to track down this youth, to find the people who might have been responsible in spiriting away this youth and above all, to get to the bottom of the story.

The reporter did all she could, right down to finding out that the youth was spirited off to the Essequibo Coast. It was now left to find this lad and to interview him. But there was some measure of officialdom.

A senior government official was said to have been responsible for moving this youth out of the system, ostensibly for his own safety. The thing to do was to have won the confidence of this official and to get the inside details. The child could not do this because these days, it is difficult for young people to actually win the confidence of their elders.

As a young man, I was taught that the best place to do such a thing was in the social circle. There is nothing better than liquor to soften the harshest of emotions but many young people seem to loathe the very thought of spending some of their spare moments with older people. To them, it is a waste of time and a rather boring exercise.

In the workplace, it is a different story. This is because they know that they have no choice. Yet I hasten to state that their vocabulary and their ability to appreciate some of the finer things of life would be enhanced. The older people have "been there, done that" and are now sitting and looking back on some of the nonsense they did. They are also in a position to see the pitfalls ahead of the younger ones and often, they warn some of them but the warning falls on deaf ears.

On Friday night, I happened to be at Plaisance where the people decided to honour one of their own, Eddy Grant. Eddy Grant is perhaps the greatest thing to come out of Guyana. He is a household name in most countries because of his music. I once saw the host of Jeopardy asking a question in which the answer was Eddy Grant.

Grant's vocabulary, his ability to articulate and the depth of his knowledge struck me. Here is a man, a musician whose life is much more than music. He is a businessman, a performer and if the truth be known, a politician au fait with world affairs.

He had a message for the two leading politicians in this land and he delivered this message without antagonizing anyone. He was factual and frank. The British High Commissioner was there and while he might not have agreed with some of the things Eddy Grant said, he could not have helped but respect the views.

I began to think about this crop of musicians and concluded that they are a far cry from the rounded person Eddy Grant is. They, I am sure, would not be able to assess the political situation in this country and the impact of globalisation on Guyana. In fact, 'globalisation' would mean absolutely nothing to them.

It is not that the present crop of musicians is incapable of serious thought. It is just that their education level was never allowed to develop to the point where they could be many things to many people, where they could see the greater picture and use experiences to compose songs rather than trying to sing songs penned by others.

Perhaps we have to blame our present education system. It is one-track. Books and more books. There is no scope for related experiences. If the children do go on a field trip the teachers are never the ones to make these very children see all that is around them, to make them dream of things past and things to come. Horizons are not broadened.

The result is that we have young people who cannot think on their feet. The other day I happened to ask the staff at Prime News to explain 'attrition.' Most had never heard of the word. It took a mad rush to the dictionary to have this new word added to their vocabulary.

And this came about because one reporter was contemplating doing something on the zoo. She said that she had noticed a decline in the number of animals at the zoo. Of course she could not explain the decline so I introduced the word "attrition".

This girl is a first year law student at the University of Guyana. She is devoutly religious so she would not even try to read anything that smacks of worldly deeds. That might be one thing but I was forced to ask her about her readings through school and at the University. The answer was preciously little.

And while we were on the issue of the vocabulary of the staff, I happened to ask each of them whether they could tell me about the meaning of the word "increment". It was not surprising that most had some idea of what that word meant. So I floated the word, 'excrement'.

Lo and behold, this first-year law student told me that excrement was the opposite of increment. One senior colleague simply held her head in her hands and bowed it. None of the others could laugh because they did not know better.

It was back to the dictionary. Then the one-time beauty contestant on the staff, with an infectious laugh, saw what excrement was and sent the entire office into peals of laughter. I laughed because of the laugh that emanated from this young woman but I was angered by the obvious ignorance of the people whose job it is to impart knowledge to the wider community.

Then my warped mind took over. Indeed, excrement could be the opposite of increment in our society given the wages and salaries we pay and the volume of the increases we offer at the end of the year.

It is good that Eddy Grant went to school in Guyana at a time long past, when there was so much more learning; when child abuse did not exist and when reading was the greatest pastime.