The previous articles about Studying have led me to ask myself: ‘What subject at GBSS do I think I most enjoyed then, and benefited from in later life?” With all due respect to the other subjects I did, that one for me was English. Generally, English was divided into two parts – Comprehension and Composition. Comprehension was about understanding passages or a story. Composition was about writing essays of varying length, but perhaps no less than a page. Embedded in these two components were orders to “to read and understand it”; “to write it in your own words”; and “to write it in so many words”. In my day, all students had to pass English in order to get a High School Certificate, awarded after Form V.
Within English, there was no other topic that I considered to pose a real challenge to me as a student than “Précis”. In Précis, you learned to read (analyze and asses a structure); break that structure down; and then rebuild it in your own words.
Our English Master in Form V was Mr. A. N. Forde (he was also our Games Master). Mr. Forde’s relaxed mode at Games belied his toughness in class. He excelled in pushing us with Précis. His average high mark was 6/10, but I do recall Alfred (Ricio) Brathwaite at one time being lauded for topping the class with 4/10.
I do not know if Précis is still a topic at GBSS or at other schools. What I can say is that I found it an excellent preparation both for University and for professional life. I would not be going too far to say that life after school in any field is précis-ing. Whether as a construction engineer or in fields of ideas and argument, or even in Parenting, the ability to précis ideas is necessary and beneficial.
To me, this is the root of ‘thinking’ – reading and understanding; breaking down a structure (for example, by checking the assumptions), and rebuilding that structure or idea in your own way. The aim is to produce a shorter, more precise and therefore a more efficient way. This process is often stimulating. I would think that in today’s wealth of communication devices and information, the ability to précis topics would be an even more basic necessity. In fact, that need seems evident from the current shorthand used in modern text messaging – “r u there?” Is Précis still a part of school curricula?