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Lise Lens: November 30, 2023

This week I consider Jesmyn Ward’s Let Us Descend, the Merriam-Webster word of the year, and a recent speech by Haiti’s UNESCO ambassador.

  • During the break I read Jesmyn’s Ward novel, Let Us Descend. If I’m being honest, I should share that her previous novels have come highly recommended, yet I never picked them up because I just didn’t have it in me to read about pain in such a vivid way. Anyhow, I checked my privilege and read the book. I leave the experience with a few thoughts. First and foremost, what a powerful and beautiful writer. The details are meticulously chosen, as is every single word. I am grateful for all the time (10 years?) it took her to bring this novel, her characters, and this era to life for me — for us the readers. What I didn’t expect was that she would elaborate in such detail about the land the slaves cultivated, and especially about sugarcane fields in the Southern US. Coincidentally, in my course on Haiti this mod, sugarcane, sugar will play a central role. 
  • I was curious about the Merriam-Webster word of the year. It’s ”authentic.” The quote that stood out to me from their comments on the release of the word was the following: “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity. What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.” And again back to my teaching this mod… I am just on day three and I cannot tell you how proud I am of our 18 students (and my two colleagues with whom I am team teaching) who now only show up as their authentic selves and make space for others to do the same, but who also seek authenticity in their understanding of what they are studying. What a privilege! And just in case you were wondering, last year’s word of the year was “gaslighting.”

  • This is my week of thinking about Haiti right and left. Haiti is mostly in the news for negative reasons. Today, I’m sharing with you a youtube clip from last week’s UNESCO meeting, where Haiti’s ambassador to UNESCO was named VP.  But what was most remarkable about this was her speech in Creole (Kreyol), because it was the first time the language was used in an official session of UNESCO. Creole, a language of unity, of freedom, and the national language of Haiti. I was also moved by her message reminding us of the symbolism of the Haitian revolution, not only for freedom for Haiti, but beyond its borders, in history and for yeras to come around the world. See for yourself (it’s short).
My students, hard at work mapping populations in Colonial Haiti, pre-independence.

The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.