A Slave Rebellion

I am fascinated by a book written by C.L. R. James in 1938 called The Black Jacobins about the Toussaint Louverture uprisings and freeing of Haiti in the only successful slave rebellion in history in the 1790’s, not so long ago.
James’ research is so thorough that one can truly “grasp” the behavioral split in the slaves when they were in the presence of whites and when they weren’t.
It makes me think of our students, in a strange way. Our students aren’t whipped and cut and blown up with gunpowder packed not into their mouths and cut up and force fed to each other and starved and put in irons and made to drag blocks of wood around behind them and bit by their masters and mutilated in the worst places and buried up to the neck with cane sugar for the ants and roasted over slow fires.
Why the graphic detail Slavic? We cannot turn our faces from those events – they happened. No apologies.
But, somewhere in my mind, as I read this book, I thought of much less dramatic and evil deeds, and I wondered about mental slavery in our schools. I wonder if our kids suffer in schools. I wonder if they hate it as much as their faces sometimes indicate, faces not unlike the faces of slaves must have been in the presence of their masters.
Too far out on this one Slavic? Perhaps. Probably. But now that I have seen joy and wonder in the faces of some of my own students when they learn, I wonder if there has indeed been a kind of mental slavery in our classrooms over the past 100 years. Just wondering.
If I am even partially right on this, if I am even remotely tapping into something real, then that may explain the incredible pushback on the narrative methods that we bring to our classrooms. Is a slave rebellion possible in our schools? 
No. Slaves don’t revolt successfully, except for Toussaint’s. Those in power never give way, and admit defeat only to scheme their way back into power. That’s why I say that I don’t think narrative methods will ever work in schools.
Plus, these are just kids, and indoctrinated ones at that. For them, for their parents, conjugating verbs and learning by memorization of discrete grammar rules is the way it’s done, purely and simply. Any alternative to that is wrong.
Nobody wants what we do. The assessment instruments are geared against us, and conclusions about the validity of narrative methods, as Doug has written here, are very skewed and inaccurate. Any testing of a person’s level of actual acquistion in a language cannot really be measured with numbers – the content is not concrete enough. What is acquisition, anyway? Verb conjugations? O.K. – if you say so.
Kind of a weird blog entry, huh? Get over it. Stop reading this blog and do something constructive, something that reminds you that you are a teacher and that you are doing a good job. Go plan a lesson on participial agreement with object pronouns for tomorrow, and other things that have to do with real acquisition of a language.
Just don’t look too deeply into the kids’ faces. The kids like your classes and are learning a lot of language. And forget Haiti, too. None of that ever happened.



2 thoughts on “A Slave Rebellion”

  1. I almost finished reading, but you reminded me of the definite article lesson I have really been putting off. It’s not too late in the year is it? JK. That was beautiful Ben, as is the idea of a successful slave revolt, but the rest is indeed dark stuff. We DO need to be reminded of all of it, especially when it is happening right now.

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