Editorial: Hail Hendy: We Can Keep Henderson Simon Alive

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When Hendy’s son, Patrice, died about a quarter of a century ago, I was not in Antigua. I read in the Outlet newspaper, where his godfather, the late Leonard Tim Hector, lamented that his generation had failed that of his godson’s.

That came back to me during a short telephone conversation which I had with Hendy just late last year.  Have we continued to fail?

A couple of months ago, while shopping in one of our leading supermarkets, I came upon some packages, very tastefully designed, and printed on them was Agar Flakes. Sea vegetable from Japan. Suitable for vegans. They contained 1.8 ounce of flakes, for $35.

I took one up out of curiosity, and it was indeed light like a feather – for $35. In Barbuda, and in Antigua, we call Agar sea moss. That’s the sea vegetable from Japan at $35 for 1.8 ounce. Do the math: 18 into 350, rounded to the closest whole number, gives $20 per ounce.

So if the ONDCP intercepted a shipment of 100 pounds of agar from Barbuda, what should be its estimated supermarket value in Antigua? Hendy would tell you, immediately, 16 ounces by 100 x 2, add 0, and you get $32,000 from 100 pounds of sea moss. Are we still failing?

Then, more recently, I was across by the Public Works Department. There were two pleasant young ladies as security officers, and a gentleman who obviously was a salesman or a peddler.  When he left, one of the young ladies showed me a small box, sophistically labeled, and said to me that what was in it was good for cleansing one’s system; getting rid of toxins.

It was charcoal powder.

I explained to her that if she had digested some poisonous substance within the last half-hour, then swallowing some charcoal powder could be helpful. It would absorb some of the poison before it got into her blood stream. It’s an emergency measure that would have to be followed by urgent health care intervention. Outside of that half hour period, the ingestion of charcoal at any time makes absolutely no sense.

 “Well, I’m sure it can do some good,” she said. So I said: “You’ve already bought it, so it had better.” I turned away, then I turned back to her and said: “You know that place down there by the market where they sell charcoal?”  She said: “Yes”. So I said to her: “That black stuff you see on the ground down there, is charcoal powder. She was speechless.

That is the result of teaching science and math in a vacuum, along with a bunch of other sterile subjects in an environment that doesn’t offer practical orientation.

Secondary school is supposed to fuel the curiosity of our young people. It is supposed to form the foundation on which they build their imagination. They should leave there with higher aspirations to be productive and enterprising citizens, enjoying a life of social contribution and personal satisfaction. Not simply looking for a job, to earn enough money to make someone else’s country an economic powerhouse by importing their sea moss and their charcoal powder.

Secondary school is no longer necessary for providing information, but rather for providing the formation of the quintessential citizen. So that all these schools as we know them today, rooted in an old elitist system of education, are now frankly archaic and irrelevant.

In Finland and Norway, they have eliminated subjects in secondary school. Students engage in projects, during the course of which they learn the relevant subject matter and the practical application.

The various interests, talents and career inclinations are identified and nurtured. It is a true preparation and investment in the lives of the young and of the nations.

If we were to have a total of ten thousand subjects passed in any single year, what value would that add to our national economy, so that we could finance our social services? What value would it have if it couldn’t place in our supermarkets, a hundred pounds of sea moss or a crocus bag of charcoal powder?

What would be the return on our multimillion-dollar investment, considering that the young people with the most subjects leave and don’t return, because they see no hope in doing so?  Especially these days when we seek to give them opportunity by delivering them in Jacobi and Montefiore.

But Hendy Simon could tell you that lack of preparation can act like zero in life’s equation. That is, you may multiply the greatest opportunity by lack of adequate preparation and get zero.

On the day after the referendum on the CCJ, and I had done commentary on television, my phone was ringing a lot. I couldn’t manage to take all of the calls. But I picked up the phone for a particular one, and said: “Hi Hendy.” I could imagine seeing him at the other end as he said: “Knightie boy, you make me proud I was an ACLM member.”

Now Hendy was a founding member of the Afro Caribbean Movement. I met him there in 1971, shortly before it became the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement, ACLM, as a result of a merger with Youth Forces for Liberation, an organization based in Point, but with members from various working class communities.

He was a regular right into the mid-seventies, at the weekly Thursday night meetings, at that institution, where we studied and discussed all matters of local and international significance and engaged in practical activities. He remained forever available to lend his technical expertise and his mathematical knowledge in all ACLM projects, agricultural, educational, etc.

So when Hendy called, it was, of course, to offer a compliment. But what I heard more clearly was an acknowledgement that the years spent in the ACLM were significant in our formation, and certainly influenced his non-partisan dedication and very generous approach in making available his skills as an engineer and as a teacher of mathematics to the very end.

Hopefully, one day, there will be the Hendy Simon Project in our secondary schools; one of those promoting the practical application of math and science. We must stop failing.

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