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The 1st Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)
Lesson Plan Competition
"Teaching Genocide: Caribbean Dictatorships
Compared to the Holocaust"
New York, NY
Too often, within language arts and social studies based classrooms, teachers are not provided
with the opportunity to explore events that are of relevance to themselves and the greater
world. While the Holocaust is a significant moment in the world, and one that exemplifies the
loss of humanity and core humanistic values, it is not the sole instance of its genre. Teachers
too often ignore the genocides of Rwanda, Darfur, Serbia, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
just a few of the many. This lesson, a precursor to my students reading the Holocaust based
graphic novel, Maus: My Father Bleed History, will connect to my students as it explores the
genocide that existed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. My school services a population of
which eighty percent of the students are Dominican, and the remaining twenty percent
includes students of Haitian and African-American descent. Contextualizing genocide, so as to
remove the distance students feel between themselves and the concept, allows students a
greater appreciation for humanity.
The rationale for listing the objectives in the form of questions serves to ultimately and
eventually verify whether or not students comprehend the information. Students were able
to return to the essential questions and answer them based upon their understanding of the
1. What is the definition of genocide?
2. How do we decipher the different factors that contributed to the Haitian-Dominican war
3. In what ways is the genocide of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans similar to the
genocide of the Jewish citizenry, during Hitler's reign of terror?
4. Who is Trujillo?
5. Who is Papa Doc?
6. Why is it necessary for us as a new generation to reflect on the past?
New York State Standards:
Students will listen, speak, read, and write for information and understanding. As listeners and
readers, students will collect data, facts, and ideas; discover relationships, concepts, and
generalizations; and use knowledge generated from oral, written, and electronically produced
texts. As speakers and writers, they will use oral and written language that follows the accepted
conventions of the English language to acquire, interpret, apply, and transmit information.
Students will read and listen to oral, written, and electronically produced texts and
performances from American and world literature; relate texts and performances to their own
lives; and develop an understanding of the diverse social, historical, and cultural dimensions the
texts and performances represent. As speakers and writers, students will use oral and written
language that follows the accepted conventions of the English language for self-expression and
Students will listen, speak, read, and write for critical analysis and evaluation. As listeners and
readers, students will analyze experiences, ideas, information, and issues presented by others
using a variety of established criteria. As speakers and writers, they will use oral and written
language that follows the accepted conventions of the English language to present, from a
variety of perspectives, their opinions and judgments on experiences, ideas, information and
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major
ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad
sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the
necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the United States and
other nations; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional
democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of
Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have experienced brutality at the hands of their
respective dictators. More specifically, and in context of the document from DLOC, during
October 1937, General Trujillo slaughtered thousands of Haitians that lived on the Dominican
side of the island. Simultaneously, Papa Doc, the brutal dictator whose family reigned over Haiti
for close to forty years, imposed harsh conditions on the already third world country. Dissidents
and opposing party members were murdered, family members disappeared in the middle of
the night and were not heard of again, and Haiti's citizenry lived in fear of the dictator's next
General Trujillo can be described in similar terms. Trujillo craved political and economic power,
throwing his country into turmoil as he depleted the nation's financial and cultural worth. Upon
accessing the presidency, he required the citizenry to donate a percentage of their wealth to his
national treasury. In addition, Trujillo sought to acquire the feminine capital of his country,
often soliciting unmarried daughters from significant socio-political families. One such example
can be seen with the death of the Mirabal sisters. Minerva Mirabal was a strong opponent of
the Trujillo regime and decided to become a lawyer in order to combat its growing sovereignty.
Although Minerva attained her degree, she was unable to become a lawyer practitioner due to
her initial rebuttal of Trujillo's romantic advances. This refuting of his advances solicited
Trujillo's scrutiny on Minerva and her sisters Patria and Antonia's political activities. The three
Mirabal sisters were assassinated on November 25th, 1960, after constant campaigning for the
removal of Trujillo from office. Ultimately, Trujillo himself was assassinated several months
During the month of March to April, students are taught the various elements of the Second
World War, with an extra emphasis on Hitler and the Holocaust. Unfortunately, minimal
attention has been paid to the other regions of the world and the conflicts experienced during
that time. Chronologically speaking, Trujillo ordered the slaughter of Haitian citizens around the
same year that Hitler began his pogrom against the Jews. Yet, the latter of the two is the sole
focus of History and Language Arts classrooms. The impression given to students is that their
culture is irrelevant comparatively speaking, which is why it is not discussed.
Regardless of the country, the theme remains the same. A ruthless dictator chooses to
marginalize the importance of human beings in order to serve selfish and race centered agenda.
As my students are of both Haitian and Dominican descent, introducing a lesson that reflects
them is bound to spur student interest and opinion. I intend on using the historical context of
this lesson to provide students with a more global view of literature and the concept of
My students often complain of not learning about contemporary events, simply focusing on the
basic American history curriculum. By no means do I marginalize the importance of American
history, yet students must become global learners who comprehend the variables that
contribute to world and social conflicts. Too often, history and language arts teachers choose to
teach the material in black and white checkable separations. History and literature, from the
world outside of America must be taught to create well rounded students.
This lesson will utilize a newspaper article that contains a letter from General Trujillo to the
President of Haiti. With this letter, Trujillo hopes to mend the relationship between Haitians
and Dominicans, several months after the massacre. The massacre, instigated as a result of
Trujillo's fear of Haitians, resulted in the loss of approximately eight thousand to fifteen
thousand lives. Due to the extent of the massacre, the exact amount is unknown.
By providing students with an original document, they can tangibly ascertain and evaluate the
emotions they may have in regards to the genocide of a people.
In addition to this primary document, students will read an excerpt from Edwidge Danticat's
Kirk? Krak! to supplement their understanding.
Assessments are as follows:
1. Group Discussions (Classroom participation grade of 15 points. Students must
participate at least 3 times to earn the full amount)
2. Completion of Reading and Writing Journal Prompts (Each prompt is worth
approximately 10 points. Students must complete a full, one paragraph long entry for
3. Note-Taking and Classroom Participation (These assignments culminate in the final
grade of 50 points, which contributes to their overall quarterly grade.)
Due to the schedule of classes, this lesson may encompass two academic days. Each section
should range anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending upon students' comprehension of
the subject matter. More time can be allotted where necessary.
o Teacher will ask the students to answer the following question in their writing
journals: What do you know about the history of Haiti and the Dominican
Republic? What are some stories your parents may have told you? If you are not
of Dominican or Haitian descent, what are some facts you may recall about the
o Before the teacher asks students to turn to their neighbors and share, students
will be asked the following question: What is the Holocaust? What do you know
about the Holocaust?
o After students have shared their responses to both questions, the teacher will
ask students to think about the following: What are some things the Holocaust
and the island of Hispaniola have in common?
o The teacher will then introduce the word genocide to students.
o Responses to the definition will be solicited from the students and placed on
chart paper, marking their thinking processes.
o Students will then take notes using the Cornell note taking process on the
following topics: Haitian History, Dominican History, Rafael Trujillo, Papa Doc
Francois Duvalier and the Parsley Massacre.
o Teacher will then ask the students to refer back to the original question: What
are some things the Holocaust and the island of Hispaniola have in common?
o Students will think pair share their responses to the question.
o Teacher will then introduce the newspaper article from DLOC to students.
Teacher will ask a student to read the letter from Trujillo to the class in native
Spanish. Teacher will also solicit a Haitian student to read the French response.
o The teacher will then read the English translation of both pieces. The articles
were translated by close friends who can both read and write Spanish and
o Students will be asked to discuss the following in small groups, writing their
responses on chart paper to be presented to the class. Depending upon their
number, students will have a different question.
1. What are your reactions to the letter from Trujillo to the president of
2. What would be your reactions to the Massacre if you were living in the
Dominican Republic during this time?
3. What would be your reactions to the Massacre if you were living in
Haiti at the time?
4. How do you believe this massacre impacted the relationship between
Haitians and Dominicans?
o Students will then share their responses with the class, allowing for interjections
and other conversational opinions.
* Independent Practice:
o Students will then read "1937" from Krik? Krak!.
o Teacher will moderate the reading, fluctuating between silent reading, teacher
modeling and student volunteers.
o Students will complete a response in their reading journals to one of the
What are your reactions to the death of Josephine's mother?
What emotions did you experience at the death of a loved one? How did
that death define you? Or change your life?
What are your reactions to the genocide of the Haitian people?
* Classroom Practice
o Write a literary response (letter, poem, etc.) to one of the following
Any of the themes discussed today
The Haitians affected by the genocide
Any topic of your choosing related to our class today.
Measured Impact of the Lesson Plan
Initially, I began the lesson by not assuming an authoritative position. Considering that I
have not explicitly studied the history of Hispaniola, I preferred to have my students do much of
the direct speaking when describing the reign of Trujillo and Papa Doc. I served as a moderator
for the majority of the mini-group discussions and was quite thrilled with the increased amount
of interest. If students made comments that did not cross-check with actual historical
references or documentation, I re-directed in true moderator form and asked students to
reconsider their ideologies. There were instances throughout the conversation when students
began to exchange heated words and expressions. One student in particular, who is of Haitian
descent, called one of his Dominican classmates a "plantano." Thankfully I did not need to
intervene in this exchange as a fellow Haitian student remarked, "we eat plantains just like the
Dominicans. We come from the same place. So if they're a plantano, then we are plantano's
Students were excited when asked to read the artifacts and in their native language at
that. It was difficult to choose students as so many of my Dominican students, especially my
male Dominican students were competing to read the piece. To provide a much more equitable
experience, I divided the paragraphs among the volunteers and allowed them to read in their
native tongue. Before presenting the students with the translation of the pieces, I asked the
students to present their own translations of the text. Startlingly, they were quite close to the
translations provided. The artifacts, I found, also supplemented the Cornell notes mini-lesson
on various historical figures further boosting the mini-discussions as mentioned above.
As a final and culminating activity, students were asked to create a literary response to
one of many options. I was initially hesitant when assigning the work, even though the
classroom lesson was a success, as I was uncertain as to whether or not we covered enough of
the material in class. However, my students once again surprised me by being creative and
interpersonal with their responses. They truly understood the concept of genocide and were
passionate about the injustice of their ancestors experiencing such atrocities. I was hesitant at
times to continue with the lesson as I did not want to alienate students who were not of either
Dominican or Haitian descent. However, as I contextualized the grand idea, students were able
to relate to the notion of being prejudiced against simply because of an ethnic characteristic.
Retrospectively, I felt as though the lesson was quite successful. Due to time and unit
constraints, I was unable to full expand upon the material as I would have hoped, being forced
to omit instances that called for discussion and limiting student responses in the interest of
time. Yet, overall the students enjoyed the lesson and were quite thrilled with the effort.
Students were also equally moved by Edwidge Danticat's "1937," envisioning their own families
at the crux of the story. I certainly hope that if other educators chose to use my lesson, they will
find the same levels of success as I did.
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