Saint Elizabeth Parish, in southwest Jamaica, was a great place to grow up in the 1930s and 40s, says Mavis Aldridge.
“I had a very happy childhood. There were 10 of us growing up and I was right in the middle,” she says. “So, I had a sense of independence that I like. I was left to choose many of the activities I wanted to do. I didn’t know how valuable that was until I grew up.”
Mavis’ parents couldn’t afford to send her to high school, so she wrote a set of difficult Jamaica exams to get into teacher’s college.
“We’d have 200 students taking the exam and 12 would pass,” she says.
The exams were set in England and there were no multiple-choice questions – all of the answers were in essay form.
“The exam covered eight different subjects,” Mavis adds. “If you failed one subject, you failed the entire exam and had to wait for a year before you could take it again.”
Her strategy: Over prepare. “The last thing I wanted to do was repeat that exam!” she says.
After graduating from St. Joseph’s Teachers College at age 20, Mavis spent six years teaching in a Jamaican German community, Seaford Town, which had been settled by German laborers in the 1830s. Then she moved to the Jamaican capital of Kingston, where she handled school administrative duties and later became a high school principal in Mandeville, in the center of the island.
“Then I got to the point where I felt I needed something more. That’s when I went to the U.S.,” she says.
After an undergraduate degree in leadership in Cincinnati and a Ph.D. from Fordham, Mavis joined the New York City school system, where she spent the next 30 years. Her focus was on critical thinking.
She reminisced on how education, and critical thinking, has changed.
“Learning to read is primary – the hub from which you manage those critical thinking skills in writing,” she says.
Part of the problem, she admits, is the rise of multiple-choice tests.
“Some students can guess the answers, for others it’s not difficult to find the correct answers. But on a general level, it does not help them to think critically or analytically,” she says.
To help correct the problem, Mavis recently published her latest book, “Children Learn What Grandparents Teach.” She employs familiar metaphorical concepts common in all societies; “Pearls of Wisdom” she terms them – “the darkest hour is just before dawn,” for example – to help children in conversations with teachers and older people. They can move from one level of thinking to another, exploring the applications of the concept to their personal experience and lives.
The “Pearls” can be as simple as “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” or “Cut your coat according to your cloth,” – meaning plan your goals according to resources. The critical thinking part happens as children expand the understanding of the concept beyond their own personal knowledge.
Critical thinking, Mavis believes, involves focus, design, assessment and evaluation, among other functions.
“We get children thinking and comprehending at different levels rather than just memorizing,” she said.
Mavis says that “the darkest hour” concept applies to her own project.
“At least twice the book was on the way to the trashcan,” she says.
But in May 2018 she had knee surgery.
“I was trapped in my apartment and decided to take it up again. I just needed a new framework and I could let my mind focus,” she says.
The book was launched in March and is available on Amazon.
After being surrounded by students for more than four decades, Mavis has learned that nurture often takes precedence over nature.
“Children who come from homes where they have strong relationships with parents and relatives who encourage them, speak well and are always reading books to them” are in one group, she says. “Then there are those children who are deprived of those early conditions.”
She believes both groups started out with similar intelligence.
“The innate intelligence is there. It’s just that the growing up process is different,” she says.
Above all, Mavis is a spiritual person and has been following her personal spiritual quest for years.
“I was raised Catholic and I have a strong faith, but I’ve moved beyond whatever is Catholic,” she says. “I have a hunger to explore other religions.”
She explored Buddhism, traveled to San Diego to study reincarnation and went to the Yucatan to learn Mayan culture, where she met woman who loaned her a book.
“I stayed up all night and read the book. I was never the same again,” she says.
That book led Mavis to the Association for Research and Enlightenment – the Edgar Cayce Foundation – in Virginia Beach. “I have so much to think about and be grateful for,” she says.
After retiring from the New York school system, Mavis spent a decade living in The Villages before moving to American House in Wildwood. She has written a book of poetry and another on dreams.
“I had all of these dreams that I had written down. They were exciting, mysterious and perplexing,” she says.
The result was “The Story of Ada,” which chronicles many of her dreams and the meaning she derives from them. Both are available on Amazon.
Mavis looks forward to the future.
“There’s an energy shift that is going on all over the planet,” she believes. “So, this hate, the chaos, confusion and negativity is temporary – something is moving us in a positive direction. We need to hope and continue to live our lives to the best of our abilities, putting into practice all that is positive.”
John W Prince is a Villager and writer. For more information, visit www.GoMyStory.com.