mercredi 31 octobre 2012

Teaching Haiti

It's the last day of October! Generally, we like to produce about two blog posts per month. And suddenly I find myself with only a few hours left to write something. I don't know where the time went! Well, I do, actually. October is always a busy month for me as it's the start of our academic year, so I've been busy prepping classes. Also, Regine and I will both be at the 24th annual Haitian Studies Association conference in New York in a couple of weeks. There are so many fantastic panels and presentations lined up, I am sure I will be frustrated by everything I'll be forced to miss. In addition to the roundtable where we'll be talking about this here blog, I'll be presenting on my experience as a teacher in Haiti. That paper is currently a work in progress. I thought I'd give you all a preview. Feel free to weigh in and help me shape my paper!

The title of my talk is A Haitian Reflects on Teaching Haitian Literature in Haiti. My co-panelists, Kate Ramsey and Alyssa Sepinwall, will be talking about their experiences teaching about Haiti in other communities.

I was a double major in college: French and English. I love books--  love reading them, love talking about them. I just couldn't decide which literary tradition to specialize in. Then I spent a semester in Paris and took a course with Jacques Chevrier on Francophone African literature. When I returned to Baltimore, I did an independant study on Haitian literature. It became obvious that that was what I wanted to spend my time on: reading and studying Haitian literature. But at that time, I honestly had no idea where I'd be researching and teaching Haitian literature. 

Now that I've been teaching at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Haiti's State University for about a decade while also participating in conferences and projects on Haitian literature elsewhere around the world, it is clear to me that context has a huge impact on what happens in the classroom, even if the content is ostensibly the same. 

So, here are a few particularities of teaching Haitian literature in Haiti that I plan to highlight in my talk. And I know some of them are pretty obvious:

  • There is no need for me to introduce or contextualize Haiti at the start of each semester. Big relief there!
  • I teach texts written in French as well as texts written in Creole. I'm not sure that'd be possible if I worked in a French department, but I'm housed in Modern Letters.
  • My students have usually heard of all of the authors I teach. They've met some of them and even had them as teachers. The books and authors are real to them in a way they might not be to other students. 

Of course, some  particularities are not positive ones:

  • The physical learning environment is pretty atrocious -- open classrooms with no doors, broken chairs and no sound insulation. In fact, the ENS is yet again involved in a campaign to get authorities to improve our working conditions.
  • I have to be creative in terms of syllabus building, since access to the library is often iffy and a lot of the books I'd like to teach are not affordable. We use a lot of photocopies.
  • Lack of diversity. We don't usually have the benefit of a wide range of perspectives in the classroom. We tend to come at the text from similar places, although my job as teacher is to help students consider other viewpoints. 

I hope these seem like good starting points for my paper. Any ideas on what I should add? What have been some of your experiences teaching or learning about Haiti?


5 commentaires:

  1. Very interesting, Nadève! Thanks for posting some of the things you're planning to talk about next week. I'll show them to my students tomorrow so they can almost feel like they'll be there with us next week. I'll see if I have time in the next few days to post some of the things I'm thinking about discussing. Looking forward to our session! Alyssa

  2. Hi again Nadève, My students found your blog post fascinating. They thought about the differences between your context and theirs. They thought it would be really meaningful if they could know more about the authors they were reading, like your students do. One said that they got to meet Patrick Bellegarde-Smith during his visit here a few weeks ago, his writings were more meaningful.

    In general, they find it particularly fascinating to learn so much about Haiti's rich history when they had few ideas (let alone positive ones) about Haiti before. They've all been struck by how little Americans know about Haiti, and they feel very empowered to be learning more not only about Haiti but also about our own country's involvement in Haiti. They feel that studying Haiti has taught them not only about Haiti's "rich and diverse culture," but more about US foreign policy and other important issues. One of the things that has most affected them is understanding the difference between stereotypical ideas about "voodoo" and what Vodou itself is like. See you next week, and thanks for posting this in advance! Alyssa

  3. Thanks for responding, Alyssa, and sharing the post with your students. I hope you're going to bring all of this up in your talk next week. I'm excited for our panel and discussion! I imagine the different perspectives and approaches will make for a lively conversation.

  4. For those of you who are curious, the session went really well. Unfortunately, Kate was unable to join us due to illness, but we had a really rich discussion after the presentations. And I was very impressed (as were others!) by Alyssa's syllabi! I might be tempted to steal them if I were a history prof :)

  5. Thank you for your interesting post. When a book is good I find that my context as a reader falls away, and I am pulled into the world created by the author. When I have not quite left my world for that of the literature, I need more research and help. I have begun to read more about Haiti to get a running start. If too much is unfamiliar, suspending disbelief takes longer. Now I am ready to read, but I have to work on my French.