Saturday, January 23, 2010

Take that, Pat

This week in A.P. history has provided some of the best discussions we've had so far. Luckily we happened to start talking about Haiti right after we'd begun reading a great text, Robert Marks's The Origins of the Modern World, and talking about inequality. So there were a lot of tie-ins. We also watched Jonathan Demme's documentary The Agronomist which gave the students a glimpse of "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier and the CIA's involvement in Haiti's political dishevelment.

Most thought-provoking line in that movie: a recently re-installed President Aristide, speaking about inequality and the problems of foreign aid, says "We must go to the big house and take all the arms." Having talked about the Haitian Revolution earlier in the week, the students were eventually able to get the slavery reference. Then we talked about the figurative meaning: What did Aristide mean by the "big house?" What is he calling for?

Ultimately we achieved my goals for the week: For the students to have some background information to connect with what they hear on the news. More specifically, to understand the importance of the Haitian Revolution and subsequent U.S. intervention, and to have some more complicated images of real Haitians other than the ones that other teacher gave them (i.e., the smiling faces of black children so happy to see an American that she apparently encountered when she visited Haiti).

Grrr. This is Angry Education.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How NOT to teach about a tragedy

In AP history I've decided to take a little detour and focus on the history of Haiti for a couple of days. We started by watching the video of the Haitian ambassador confronting Pat Robertson's claim that during the Haitian Revolution the slaves made a "pact with the devil" so that they could throw off colonial rule. Never mind the offensive implication that the only way a group of non-whites can overthrow a colonial power is by consorting with a supernatural force. The students were all with me that the suggestion that Haitians brought this terrible tragedy on themselves was an ugly lie.


Today, a student who was not here for the previous class raises her hand and says "Well, another teacher told us today that they don't practice Christianity in Haiti, they practice Voodoo and black magic, and that's why they have been cursed."

I had a pretty good idea of who this teacher was, but I just tried to recover, do some damage control, and move on.

Later on today I approached this teacher and asked her what she'd really said in class. She said, "Well, I just talked about the history of Haiti: How, a long time ago, people used to practice Voodo and black magic, but about 50 years ago, Christians, Muslims and Jews started moving there as missionaries, so now it's not practiced as much anymore."

And whether Haiti was 'cursed?' "The students were asking me about some things they had heard in church about Haiti making a deal with the devil. Now I don't agree with Pat Robertson. But I just said, 'If I had to choose between a blessing and a curse, I would choose a blessing.'"

What does that even mean??? And why is she talking about this in Spanish class?

I'm working on picking my battles and trying to save my sanity until the end of the school year. (I didn't even TELL you guys about the Christmas tree situation.) But can I really just let this kind of thing slide in a PUBLIC SCHOOL? In any school?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Money, it's a gas

Happy New Year! It's been a stressful month in School of Blogland. After taking a 5% pay cut and a major change in my job description, (public information) our revised budget with the $60,000 in cuts was not accepted by the state. We were apparently told that we need to make another $70,000 in cuts (???).

Meanwhile, we keep scraping the ice off the windshield and coming in every morning. The little victories keep me going, like my struggling student who wanted so badly to win a "burger with the works" (an idea I got from another school) he worked his butt off to write the best paragraph in the class. Gotta keep those moments like hand warmers in your pockets.

And keep reminding myself that I just have to make it to the end of this school year, and then we'll be moving back east, below the Mason-Dixon. Where my Master's degree can earn me a base salary of about 1.5 times as much as I'm making now.