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Reading for wisdom: PM’s advice

PM Freundel Stuart engages Foundation sixth former.

The importance of reading and understanding to a sound education was stressed yesterday by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as he addressed students of the Foundation School.

“Let me provide all the students here today with a key to the door of success: your education can help you to understand the world better only if you are prepared to spend time reading and thinking. I still contend that one of the most impactful sentences I was ever asked to translate in a Latin class was one that said: ‘If thou wilt become wiser, read many books’. I not only translated the sentence correctly, but I took and internalised the advice it gave me.

“Every time you learn a new word or grasp a new idea the world becomes a simpler place. As the English lawyer and essayist Francis Bacon said: ‘Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man’. Or as the Irish essayist and dramatist Richard Steele put it: ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’.

“It is projected that Barbados will spend in the realm of just over $500 million on education in 2013-2014. This is a massive investment. Those who benefit from that investment should feel obliged to justify it by way of their performance.

“Performance does not relate only to the heights of academic excellence, but to the small things that are part of everyday life. Would this substantial national investment in students not be questioned if, for example, after exposure to seven years of secondary education, in your speech can be found relative pronouns like ‘which’ , ‘who’ , and ‘whom’ wandering around as if having no fixed place of abode; if you are still baffled by the distinction between ‘they’, ‘there’ and ‘their’; if your sentences behave as though they have had a black-out and cannot remember whence they came or where they are going; or if there is always lying in wait the letter “s” ready to attack from a dark hiding place any verb that passes by? Alas, still too many of our certificated and degreed professionals have not got over these second and third form challenges.

“I draw attention to this ‘virus’, as I call it, because I get the sense sometimes that for too many of us education is thought to confer rights but no responsibilities. Rights it does confer for sure, but let us not lose sight of the responsibilities that access to quality education imposes on us.

“A thin line separates sloppy speech and writing from sloppy dress, sloppy work, sloppy parenthood and sloppy moral and ethical habits. A solemn responsibility devolves on our shoulders, therefore, to be examples of high standards both in the things we say and in the things we do.

“Even as I say this, St. Augustine of Hippo wisely reminds us, as long ago as the 4th Century A.D., that whilst we must pay due attention to the rules of grammar and pronunciation, it should never be forgotten that there are other eternal rules which relate to the everlasting and to our salvation. To those rules we should also pay appropriate attention.

“It remains an unshaken truth that willing obedience to rules is, paradoxically, an essential pathway to freedom. Those rules that are written down are important for the maintenance of peace, the maintenance of order, and the maintenance of good government.

“Usually, such rules can be enforced. More important, though, are those rules which are not written down, which cannot be enforced, but without which men and women cannot live comfortably together. I speak of kindness, of compassion, of unselfishness and those myriad other rules which depend on man’s free choice; which depend on his sense of values, and which depend, of course, on the strength of his character.” (RRM)

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