Feb. 28, 2009 — Sen. Wayne James used history Friday night to shed light on the problems in the Virgin Island education system today.
"In order to understand education in the Virgin Islands today, we must know from whence it came," James said in a prepared statement.
Giving a presentation at Fort Fredeirik in honor of Black History Month, he began with the year of 1731 when one enslaved African from St. Thomas reported that the only thing they were learning from their masters was "cruelty."
That changed in 1732 when Moravian missionaries came to St. Thomas. The first one arrived on St. Croix in 1734. James said Moravians believed that the foundation of their religion was to read the bible. The Moravians, who often taught slaves in their homes, were followed by Lutheran missionaries. By 1773, a significant number of enslaved Africans were able to read.
According to James, it was in the late 1780s when an organized movement toward a public education system began to establish itself. School managers (teachers) were picked from the freed Africans. Four public schools were established in 1790 — three on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas.
James said that the Danes recognized with emancipation in 1848 the people would need education to function. They developed a system of compulsory education by 1853 for youngsters between six and thirteen. With freedom came salaries and in 1876 they cut back on free education making ages six to ten compulsory.
When James came to more recent history, he began to wade in controversial territory.
Before talking about the 1971 Hosier v. Evans decision, he stated that he was for public education of all children residing in the Virgin Islands, no matter where they came from. He then went on to say that it was that decision mandating that all children be given free education, even if they were not residents, that threw the public school system into turmoil. He said in 1967 there were 11,503 students in public school and the number rose to 22,300 in 1974.
"It still hasn't recovered from that shock," James said.
He said that he heard criticism of the present Commissioner of Education LaVerne Terry and believes it is unfair. James, who is chairman of the Senate's Committee on Education, Youth and Culture, said no one can be expected to clear up all the problems in the Education Department.
"How can anyone short of God fix the education system in 13 months?" James asked.
James said he is drafting legislation to make the Department of Education a separate entity to stand separate and above politics.
"His presentation was very refreshing," said Karen Hunt, of V.I. Perinatal Inc. "I was happy to hear his passion and dedication."
Almost 125 people attended the presentation including 11 students from the Child Care class at St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center.
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