Garceline Champagne teaches ESL 2 and Humanities at Boston Adult Technical Academy, a school that serves students who are 19-22 years old, either recent immigrants to Boston or students with interrupted education in BPS. Almost all of her students are of color, mostly of African descent or Latinx. Students come from Vietnam, El Salvador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cape Verde, Somalia, Colombia, Guatemala, among other countries.
Related: Listen to Garceline's podcast episode
With many students coming from either Haiti or the Dominican Republic, Garceline felt it was important to teach students their shared history on the island of Hispaniola. She designed a unit around the text “The Farming of Bones,” by Edwidge Danticat, about the genocide and expulsion of Haitians by the forces of dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in 1937, the “Parsley Massacre.” The text is challenging, particularly for ESL students, so Garceline suggests excerpting the text from the beginning, middle, and end, to create a cohesive story, and also to bring in supplemental texts to support students’ understanding of key concepts. For Garceline, it was critically important that students saw this particular period in history as not an isolated event or issue, but deeply connected to systems of oppression and violence throughout the world. She says, “The students shouldn’t see things just as one moment in history - they need to be able to make connections and critically analyze the topic of injustice, oppression, identity, and how those things connect.” To that end, she starts her unit with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story,” to ensure that students understand the idea of historical narratives, especially how they are often shaped by the viewpoint and ideology of the oppressor. She has students consider the “single stories” within their own histories and cultures, and analyze them critically. Later on, students view the film “In the Time of the Butterflies” to examine how Dominican people felt about the Parsley massacre, and to discuss the idea of upstanders in history.
As a Haitian-American educator herself, Garceline was careful to ensure that all students felt capable of critically analyzing power relations in history, and she was particularly careful to make sure Dominican students were able to do the work of unpacking the historical narratives they had learned about Haitians and Trujillo. She says, “I feel like I had to do a lot of my own research in order to feel comfortable teaching it and doing it justice.” She took pains to include multiple eyewitness accounts of the time period, creating first person narrative examples to go along with the primary text.
Another critical part of her teaching is that she wants students to build community with each other and notice similarities in their shared experiences as members of oppressed groups. She says, “I like to think that after my students leave my class, they are both proud of their own identities but they don't see themselves as "I'm just Haitian and I stick with Haitian people" - and instead they see themselves connected as marginalized communities, who will lift their voices together. When I have students who come in and don't know their histories, I see my role as getting people to look at their stories and histories, looking critically at themselves, and ultimately, fight the power.” At the end of their unit, students worked together to write and perform a class play that linked the Parsley Massacre, the Rwandan genocide, and anti-immigrant violence at the U.S. southern border (pictures included).
In addition to teaching “The Farming of Bones,” Garceline also teaches a unit on “Raisin in the Sun” to her English Language Learners, where she emphasizes internalized oppression and colorism, concepts which she has personal familiarity as a Haitian educator. She says, “If we can look at these things deeply and recognize them in ourselves and in communities, we can break certain cycles of oppression. I think liberation of the self is a major factor in our collective liberation, being able to liberate your mind. I see my job as not re-educating, but exposing people to things that they may not have thought about before. My students and I need to talk about the legacy of colonization, and how it impacts us, past and present, politically, mentally, spiritually.”