Echoes in and off the classroom
Elusive belonging in primary schools on Sint Maarten
Department of Cultural Anthropology and
University of Amsterdam
Blogs Jordi Halfman
Prof. dr. Mattijs van de Port
Prof. dr. Peter Geschiere
Dr. Francio Guadeloupe
Prof. dr. Monique Volman
+31 (0)20 525 9111
In common understandings the primary school is the place where newcomers, mainly children but also migrants, learn to do as the oldcomers. Policymakers, activists and educational specialists in Sint Maarten follow this discourse as they wish to use primary education as a way to create a sense of belonging amongst future citizens. The sense of belonging they often promote since 10-10-10, is a national belonging as Sint Maartener/St Martiner. But what does that mean? Is there a consensus on this ideal Sint Maartener/St Martiner (SXMer)? And how do educators believe this can be taught?
The classrooms in which I did my research are located on the Dutch side of the bi-national island of Sint Maarten (a constituent state within the kingdom of the Netherlands) and Saint Martin (Collectivité d’Outre-mer of France). With its specific socioeconomic history and continuous reality of movement of goods, peoples and lifestyles, and its physical location within the Caribbean basin and its trans-Atlantic political geography as part of the Dutch Kingdom, Sint Maarten already poses questions to the common sense understanding of ‘the nation’.
The highly diverse make up of the island troubles the construction of a national subject. Many teachers have arrived on the island from elsewhere, bringing along with them languages, pedagogies, methods and morals that often differ from those of other teachers, policymakers, parents and pupils. Therefore two more transnational imaginations of 'we' are also adopted, one related to the Kingdom of Christ, and one related to a Pan-African unity.
But during fieldwork, I met children who were not fully nor permanently convinced by the idea of being united as part of a SXM nation, as Christians or as members of a Pan-African world. I witnessed how by employing popular culture pupils imagined and conceived of SXM in ways that defied narrow national boundaries and frontiers of race and Christianity.
Learning from the pupils forced me to join their social formation, much like a willfully vulnerable embrace. This was not always a pleasant experience as verbal, psychological, and threats of physical violence and explicit sexual innuendos feature prominently in the way students resist and remake what grown-ups (like me) seek to instill in and extract from them. What this embrace allowed me to learn is however, is that what binds Sint Maarteners can best be described as a negative unity; a unity that is constantly negated in the sublime and agonistic enjoyment of asking and playing 'who we be?'