There were several times in my time in Haiti when I felt like the world as I had known it was turned upside down.
One of those came on Monday, when the current director of the Papaye Peasant Movement visited with us and explained his group’s take on education, specifically adult education.
This is one in a series of posts chronicling my experience of and response to a recent service trip to Haiti.
MPP calls it Popular Education, and it’s the opposite of sitting in a classroom and absorbing lessons. In many ways, it’s a reaction to the Duvalier dictatorships, which didn’t want the peasants to be educated, so there couldn’t be formal school learning.
Instead, MPP’s organizers, called “animators,” would arrive in a community and teach while the peasants worked. The lessons were not out of a book. They were shared orally, and the peasants would listen, ask questions, and return the next day to further engage the subject. Over three months, the animator would “teach” 6 major themes. At the end of that time, the student/peasants could decide to organize into a “groupment.” This is the foundation of MPP’s organization. Today, there are more than 4,500 groupments, comprised of roughly 61,000 people, spread across the country.
The six themes aren’t subjects like English or Trigonometry (and many thanks to trip participant Leslie Runnels for taking—and sharing—such excellent notes). They are:
- 1st Theme: Love, Friendship, and Friends.
- 2nd Theme: One Body. Union & Strength.
- 3rd Theme. Patience. (There is an old Creole saying: Are you patient enough to see the guts of an ant? Haiti requires patience of the ant-guts variety.)
- 4th Theme: History, including a significant amount of Haitian history (in discussing, the MPP director pointed out that the lessons expose “today’s slavery” and show today’s peasants that they aren’t really “free and independent,” despite what they are told by the government and media).
- 5th Theme: Self-Worth and Value. Among the subjects addressed: the value of people, even when not working; how to help each other and maintain solidarity; how church and other social communities matter; and how to invest and re-invest, and keep working together.
- 6th Theme: Division & Reconciliation.
The six themes and the method of instruction struck me as profoundly different from my conception of what education is. In Haiti, with MPP, education is essentially relational. It is about how we get along. In the U.S., in my experience, education is intellectual and personal. It is about what I know and what I do with it.
I thought about this against the backdrop of many data points that argue that the United States is a lonelier and more self-centered country than it has been over its history (though don’t get too carried away here, this is a matter of degree), and this vision of education that is about and for establishing the Commons is very appealing. While I wouldn’t want my kids to receive only an MPP-style education, there is much I can learn and honor in MPP’s effort to value community and right relationships as foundational to developing as people.
And once again, when I don’t view my experiences in Haiti and the U.S. as polarities, but as expressions of our shared values, I can begin to make sense of it. And that, in one sense, is the point of this kind of travel.