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#1137: DeGraff gives facts re Chamberlain's ideological fantasies (fwd)

From: Michel DeGraff <degraff@MIT.EDU>

There is so much that's factually inaccurate and ideologically perverse in
Chamberlain's message.  Here I'll try to focus on the factual bases (or
lack thereof) of Chamberlain's `expertise', and I'll just point out the
high feats of what one could call the arrogance of ignorance.

> Of course I don't believe it's "inferior."  I was simply noting the
> observable fact (which Bellegarde-Smith expanded on) that whether we like
> it or not, Haitians in Haiti live in a world where some languages are
> dominant for all the reasons we know.

This is not just true of "Haitians in Haiti".  All of us in this world (in
Haiti, Japan or wherever) live in a world where English is "dominant for
all the reasons we know of" and where many aspire to fluency in English ---
again "for all the reasons we know of".  

Should each and every country in the world promote English as its PRIMARY
language of education?

> Because material resources in Haiti are very thin on the ground,
> difficult choices must be made.  Should, for example, enormous amounts of
> money and time be spent systematically translating all official documents
> into Creole (as the current 1987 constitution requires), or should the
> people for whom this is being done be taught to read _anything_ first?

This is a misleading dichotomy, unless Chamberlain has some new pedagogical
technique that teachers (in Haiti and elsewhere) can benefit from.  How can
one be taught to "read _anything_ first" (specially reading and writing) in
a language that one does NOT know?  Until Chamberlain shares his
revolutionary teaching techniques with us, the UNESCO principle still
stands in Haiti as it does everywhere else:

  "Every human being has the right to be educated in his/her mother tongue".

> And again, I insist, it's the likes of us relatively privileged who are
> trying to tell them how to run their lives and getting the priorities
> upside down.  And some of this arises in some cases with people who have
> left Haiti and who may feel guilt and nostalgia about that and about
> their privileged class position, so they insist on the pro-Creole
> position as if to personally compensate.

This is where Chamberlain's ideological fantasies show up most blatantly.
Our Haiti `expert' now tries to delineate some epistemological and ideological
divides between various groups of Haitians.  There certainly exist divides
among Haitians, but the ones painted by Chamberlain came to me as a surprise.

First, re: "privilege class" and attitudes toward Haitian Creole.  As it
turns out, history is here to tell us that the most privileged in Haiti
have, in general, NOT cared much about Haitian Creole, from 1804 on.  If
they did, we wouldn't be having this discussion now. A WELL DOCUMENTED
case-study in the matter is Patrick Bellegarde-Smith's book on Dantes
Bellegarde --- _In The Shadows of Power_.  Bellegarde-Smith clearly
illustrates the historical neglect manifested by the "privileged class"
toward Haitian Creole, and toward much that's authentically Haitian.
(Price-Mars's _Ainsi Parla L'Oncle_ is a recommended companion reading, for
those who care to do actual research, instead of giving way too easily to
the complacence of Internet punditry.)

Now, among those who have studied literacy in Haiti and who have
demonstrated the crucial role of Haitian Creole in education, we find a
score of well-trained Haitian researchers and of intelligent and patriotic
grassroots leaders, ALL BASED IN HAITI.  The most prominent names that come
to mind are Yves Dejean and Paul Dejean.  Paul Dejean was at some point
secretary of state for literacy and Yves Dejean was director of the Creole
Language Bureau.  Together the Dejean brothers must have a total of some
100 years or so of educational experience IN Haiti, WITH Haitians and with
MONOLINGUAL CREOLOPHONES.  It's not clear to me which categories
Chamberlain would fit these scholars in.  In any case, it seems to me that
Chamberlain is claiming `expertise' above and beyond such scholars.  If so,
I'll assume that Chamberlain is familiar with processes of `discovery' and
`fact finding'. If this assumption is correct, I'd welcome more robust
facts and documentation to accompany Chamberlain's momentous claims.

For now, I am left wondering how Chamberlain derives his conclusions
regarding how Haitian "priorities" are decided upon.  On my part, I try to
approach Haiti (in part) as a scientist.  That is, I try to collect FACTS
as accurately as I can, and use these facts in conjunction with whatever
results are relevant and available from linguistics and education research.
I just don't see any other way to proceed, unless one abandons rational
inquiry.  That much assumed, it seems to me that the pro-Creole position is
dictated by BASIC FACTS about Haiti's linguistic profile and by BASIC
PRINCIPLES of pedagogy.  I repeat: If Chamberlain has any new pedagogical
techniques which he can back up with solid results, I'd be glad to hear,
and learn from, them.  In particular, I'd like to hear about SUCCESSFUL and
NATION-WIDE projects where children are first taught to read and write
"_anything_ first" in a foreign language that they do not know.  And I (and
I am sure many readers of this list) would be interested to hear how such
methods can be implemented in Haiti.  And please, please, do help us by
bringing FACTS and DOCUMENTATION into account.

> So why spend all that effort translating official documents into Creole
> when the money and effort should go _first_ to more important things,
> like food and teachers and schools and good health.  "Creole first" looks
> very much like an upper-class fantasy (and there are similar examples in
> other countries, not just to do with language).  The Creole translation
> option tends to be chosen of course because it's easy, whereas sorting
> out the food etc. problems are very difficult.

Again, misleading dichotomy!  There is no a priori reason why the two
issues (native-language instruction and food) should be posed as
complementary options. Why must it be one or the other?  Haitian kids (like
kids all over) need to eat and they need to be educated.  Haitian kids
should not have to `mortgage' the use of their native language in order to
be fed, and neither should they have to go hungry if allowed to use their
native language to learn how to read adn write.  

Also note that no one would discuss details of cutlery when discussing
hunger problems.  Discussing what (other) languages (besides Haitian
Creole) must be used in literacy projects in Haiti is somewhat like having
`experts' on world hunger wondering whether children must be fed with
silver cutlery or gold cutlery.  In Haiti, food and education problems
should both be solved (primarily) via locally-available means and expertise
--- in the case of education, this means Haitian Creole.

> "Creole first" looks very much like an upper-class fantasy.

This is the jewel of Chamberlain's ideological crown.  Or, is "Creole first
[as] upper-class fantasy" what Haitian Creole looks like in Paris.  Talking
about nostalgia, this must the nostalgia for Saint-Domingue...  Now, a
couple more facts:

First a thought experiment: Please, Dear Reader, bring yourself to Haiti's
reality, and imagine going around asking Haiti's 6 million MONOLINGUAL
Creolophones whether the ONLY language they speak --- their "Creole first"
(and CREOLE ONLY) --- looks like an "upper-class fantasy".  You could also
go around asking the `beautiful people' of Haiti's upper class whether they
fantasize about Haitian Creole as the primary language in education...

Does Chamberlain realize that "Creole first" or (statistically more
relevant) CREOLE ONLY are anything but fantasies in Haiti?  Does
Chamberlain have any idea what it feels like to be physically and/or
socio-economically punished for speaking one's native (and only) language?
And here I am NOT talking about "fantasy" or "nostalgia".

As it turns out, the core people who preach "Creole first" for their
everyday needs (including their literacy campaigns) are the leaders of
grassroots movements and monolingual speakers themselves.  I won't tire to
recommend Yves Dejean's little book "Alphabetisation: Mythes et Realites".

There is also a recent book, by Louis Auguste Joint, which was published in
1996 by L'Harmattan, thus available in PARIS for Chamberlain's benefit!
The book is called _Education Populaire en Haiti: Rapport des `Ti Kominote
Legliz' et des Organisations Populaires_.  Chamberlain could at least
consult this book to sharpen his `expertise' on Haiti and to start getting a
more accurate picture of Haiti's reality.  Louis Auguste Joint provides a
reality check against Chamberlain's imagined "upper-class fantasy".  In his
book, Joint painstakingly documents (with FACTS, not subjective
observations) a range of grassroots efforts toward Haiti's development via
"education populaire".  No upper-class there, nor fantasy.  What we do find
is "Creole first" throughout.  

"Creole first" is of course totally expected among grassroots activists,
sans nostalgia and sans fantasy.  Could any reasonable AND unbiased
observer imagine "EDUCATION POPULAIRE" in any language but Haitian
Creole???  `Education populaire' in French first?  Well, perhaps only in
the Saint-Domingue that seems to have survived in the "upper-class fantasy"
of certain `intellectuals' in Paris...

MIT Linguistics & Philosophy, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02139-4307
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