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#1161: Corbett responds to DeGraff's response to Chamberlain

>From Bob Corbett

I found myself sympathetic to Greg's post and was surprised by some of
Michel's replies.  While the issue is terribly difficult, and clearly
an emotional one, I suspect a significant degree of Michel's attack
(and I can't think of a more polite word which would capture the response)
is quite unfair.

Chamberlain wrote:
> > 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.

Degraff replies
> 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?

Michel choose to evade the question as to whether or not Chamberlain comments
make sense of Haiti and chooses to dodge the issue by generalizing
Chamberlain's claim and points out rightly (which I'm quite sure Greg
would accept as well) that the claim doesn't apply to every nation on earth.

Austria has a popultion about the size of Haiti.  It also has a very
thriving internal economy.  Huge portions of the Austrian people are
indeed monolingual and that language is not English.  Not only does
their German get them into an quite adequate economy, but a large world
of literature, theater and so on.  they are and have been based in that 
language for centuries and it allows the growth and development of a high 

Haiti is a very different situation.  Haiti has one of the world's highest
rates of illiteracy and an economy that does not provide even survival for
masses of the people.  As it exists at this point Creole is not a very
reasonalbe avenue into such an economy.  The point I'm making has nothing
to do with do I LIKE that world situation or not, but it is the one the
Haiti poor face.  What will allow them to live in some more secure
economic future and how does language fit into that goal that so many of
the Haitian poor whom I've met would want?

Futher, I don't think there is anything in principle which would keep
Creole from producing high art.  Some contemporary writers who have begun
to write in Creole have demonstrated this.  But the written work in 
Haiti is beginning with a very slim base in history.  The French of the
past, whether it happens to have been the colonial language or not, has
a massive basis for building, libraries full.  Access to these models and
that history seems an invaluable tool for the growth of both history and

The organization I am the president of has funded many programs in Creole
literacy and I am thrilled we could participate in such programs.  But
that in no way commits my organization to a monolingual program or
ideology.  I have a strict policy that we do not INTRODUCE projects to
the rural poor with whom we work, but we open to them the invitation to
recommend projects.  In every single instance where we have funded
Creole literacy programs, (and stuck with them over periods of time I
might add) we have also heard from those communities the desire to learn
English and we have provided significant numbers of those programs as
well. (We've never had one single request for a program to teach French.)  
The reasons given by the peasants has invariably been economic:
with English there was a great hope (at least) that they might enter into
the economic world in something beyond the lowest level of subsistence.
I don't know if that hope was realistic or only psychological hope.  Even
if only the latter it would have significant value.

DeGraff makes much of Chamberlain's claim that:

> > 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?

DeGraff replies

> 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".

Again, I find DeGraff's reply to be misleading.  Chamberlain in no way
is asking that Creole literacy not be taught.  Rather, in the actual
financial crisis the Haitian people suffer now, Chamberlain asks is 
translating government documents a valuable use of very limited resources.

Chamberlain's position even SUGGESTS that an alternative use of the money
could well be basic literacy and he in no way rules out Creole for that

Michel returns to this issue concerning food, claiming 
> 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.

Again, Greg has not argued against educating children, rather, he asks,
in the world we currently live, is translating government documents a
reasonable use of very scarce resources?

Michel claims that this is a misleading dichotomy.  I'm not convinced of
this.  I know in the funding my small organization does, we are ALWAYS
flooded with 100 NEEDS for every 1 we can fund, and that is after we
scale down to needs.  If we expand to all the very very good ideas people
come to us with, but which we reject because we believe we must prioritize
needs over some other goods, the ratio would be 1,000 to 1.

Greg argued this, claiming that this was a fact of life in Haiti and for
the Haitian government but that was not the case in Norway and some other
place he cited.  

I think the point is telling.  Again, Greg's claim was not about 
Creole literacy, but about translating (and presumably publising and
distributing) government documents into Croele.  


Much of the position of Michel is about epistemology and about his
differences with Greg about political analysis of who's responsible.

I must admit that part of their disagreement doesn't interest me much.
The epistemological positions do fascinate me, but not here on the list.
If Michel wishes to turn this list into a place where only those who meet
his ideal of academic scholarship shall be allowed to speak, then I
very much hope he fails.  I've sat in on these discussions since the list
began 5 years ago and we've gotten by quite well with lots of plain talk,
where, when disagreement arises, then people are free to add all the
data they can muster.  But as a prior requirement for making claims,
well I hope that gets reserved for more esoteric venues.  I serious doubt
it would much attract the 800 some folks who read this list daily.

My own concerns with langauge are much less ideological and political
than concerns with basic needs of suffering humans, and the prospects
of economic improvement.

I strongly suspect that one of the conditions (but only one, perhaps
the most important "other" is political, but that's not our topic here)
is that many more Haitians come to literacy, and I believe with Michel
that that will have to be through Croele.  But, related to it will be the 
need to grow beyond what Haiti's economy and Creole can offer.  I 
strongly suspect a second language, either French or
English (I would have no care about which), would allow Haitians to
move beyond the limits of a Creole rooted economy.

However, I was mainly moved to get into this since I believe Greg's
position was made to appear as something other that what he wrote.

Bob Corbett