"Education for Peasants" by Edner Brutus

An excerpt from Brutus’s Instruction publique en Haïti (1948). Brutus was a Haitian diplomat and historian. Below, he recalls how President Michel Oreste cared deeply about the peasants. But his plan to help them backfired.

[On 4 August 1913, President Michel Oreste announced an accord] which incorporated an idea proposed by [Elie] Dubois that "priests in the countryside should oversee [education] wherever they reside." It authorized priests in rural areas to create presbyteral primary schools. In addition to their salary, the state awarded priests "one gourde for every student who attended and fifty gourdes for every new school, to cover the initial costs and purchase supplies."

The state wasted its time and money. Priests lived comfortably in the big cities and towns. They hired poor illiterate peasants to [watch over their schools in the countryside], while they pocketed the money to add to their own personal savings. Schools sprouted like weeds in the thickets.

In his statement on the situation in May 1914, the Minister [of Education and Agriculture,] Gaston Dalencour, reported that "the schools that have opened since the accord in August 1913 have not lived up to the purpose that was intended. When it comes to classical education, most teachers whom the priest have hired to oversee their schools lack the necessary skills to accomplish this delicate task."

And that was not all.

On 4 November 1913 the Minister of Education and Agriculture wrote, "For the most part the priests in our clergy are not knowledgeable in agriculture in ways that would help them to teach rural peasants.

[Our policymakers] overlooked that most priests were born to peasants. And in most cases they were no more trained in the science of agriculture than mere gardeners. When we had them consult with our agronomists—of which we have less than five—we discovered their inexperience on this subject and their inability to [satisfy the terms] of the accord. [Not to mention] that our priests would never remove their cassocks to teach the lowly young peasant the best ways to sow peas and rice, prune a coffee plant, and prevent soil erosion.