Teaching Resources About Haiti — from Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools


Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

All of us have been stunned by the immensity of the devastation in Haiti as a result of the earthquake — compounded by centuries of colonialism, slavery, exploitation, racism, U.S. occupation, dictatorship, and intervention. I encourage you to use this listserv to post resources, stories, and questions about teaching the history and contemporary reality of Haiti. Toward that end, Teaching for Change has posted a collection of resources at its site. (Thanks to Deborah Menkart for assembling these, by the way.) Click on http://www.teachingforchange.org/publications/haiti.  Just posted today is a pdf of Teaching for Change’s 1994 booklet, “Teaching About Haiti.”

The best ongoing source of analysis that I’ve found has been Democracy Now!, which had several excellent shows last week. On Friday, TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, offered a brief thumbnail sketch of the history of Haiti that might be used in class. One thought would be to contrast the coverage of Democracy Now! with the coverage of, say, the ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer. ABC has featured lots of heart rending on-the-ground stories, but has raised no questions about why Haiti is so poor, why so many people from the countryside have flocked to the cities — in short, they’ve treated the catastrophe there as if history is irrelevant. Democracy Now! has also featured lots of eyewitness reports, but these have been grounded in historical context that helps make us aware that this is not purely a natural disaster.

A few other teaching resources/ideas:

— In the Rethinking Schools book, Rethinking Globalization, the first essay we include is Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s “Globalization: A View from Below” (p. 8) that describes the impact of Haiti’s incorporation into the global economy.

— One place to begin looking at Haiti with students would be with the original inhabitants of the island — the Tainos. Columbus describes them as well fed, prosperous, happy — “the best people in the world,” he writes at one point. Spanish priests remarked that they’d never seen Tainos fighting with each other — in stark contrast to life in Spain. (See materials in Rethinking Columbus.) So how does Haiti go from being prosperous and tranquil to being perhaps the poorest country in the Americas? That’s a question that students could take up. One resource that I’ve used is the comic history “Colonialism in the Americas: A Critical Look.” (See http://www.zinnedproject.org/?s=colonialism+in+the+americas.) A page of this is adapted in the “Teaching About Haiti” booklet.

Finally, in the interests of getting teaching material out, even in rough draft form, attached is a role play that Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen developed several years ago. It is focused around independence from France and the French demand for financial compensation. It’s still in draft form. There are not “instructions” included for completing the role play, but you could use any number of Rethinking Schools published role plays as a “template” for running this one. A number of teachers in the Portland area have used it successfully.

Rico Gutstein of Teachers for Social Justice in Chicago recently posted a note to this listserv urging people to support the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund at: http://www.haitiaction.net/About/HERF/1_12_10.html. Please give what you can.

Again, please post teaching ideas about Haiti, even if these are not fleshed out.


Bill Bigelow (bbpdx@aol.com)
Rethinking Schools


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