Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poetry: A Schoolroom in Haiti


A Schoolroom in Haiti

In Haiti, Port-au-Prince, a man walked up and down the school hallways

carrying a bull whip.

Oh, he never uses it, the school administrator said. Its purpose is only to

instill good discipline in the students.

They were from fourteen to seventeen years old,

Boys in white shirts and white short pants. They stood up

And wouldn’t sit down till the Minister of Education

Beckoned them to do so.

They concentrated very hard on the ideas they were being given for writing


After the officials left, they started writing their poems in Creole.

After four or five days they were asking to come forward and sing to the

rest of the class these Creole poems. They did so.

This experiment was never repeated. The government became even more


One poem begins “B is for black, Bettina, a negress whom I dote on.”

The assignment was a poem about the colors of the vowels or the

consonants in the manner of Rimbaud.

What has happened to those poems? What has become of those students?

I have the poems in New York. In Haiti I had asked to teach ten-year-olds

but I had been told

They won’t be able to write well enough. The reason was the didn’t know


Not well enough to be able to write poetry. Their native language was


The language they spoke at home, but at the LycĂ©e Toussaint L’Ouverture

And every other school, the instruction was in French.

They were stuck behind the French language. It loomed over them a wall

Blocked out everything:

Blocked mathematics, blocked science, blocked history, blocked literature

While Creole stayed back with them, cooking up poetry

But that was all. For the most part, except for a few rich boys

Who could afford to study French in the afternoons

They were left fatally behind.


NYC Educator said...

That's intentional. The lack of access to language makes for a permanent and reliable underclass. I've watched Haitian kids almost come to blows over taunts that one didn't know French.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Happy March to you, too.

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