Teaching Revolutions in the Ninth Grade

Oct 18, 2021

The main lesson, Revolutions, is taught to young people in the eighth grade in Waldorf schools, and then again in the ninth grade. In the eighth grade, the American and French revolutions are often the focus of the course followed by the Industrial Revolution. This introduction to the topic helps prepare the students for a closer study of what revolution is, and how changes in political, social, and economic systems are ongoing. This year the students read the revolutionary documents of the American fight for independence and learned about the struggle for democratic ideals in France and in the colony of Saint Domingue(Haiti). We also explored elements of the Digital Revolution and its dramatic impact on how we live today.

In a reference to the twin uprisings in England and France, Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities opens with:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

We have all learned how the starving French citizens overthrew the monarchy to form a republic based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and how the American colonies had thrown off the English monarchy and formed a constitutional representative government. Meanwhile, in the West Indies, the people in the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue heard the voices of revolutionary ideals from the American colonies to the north and the motherland of France, and in this land of brutal slavery and class inequality was born the great Haitian hero, Toussaint L’Ouverture, destined to lead his people to form a new nation.

Saint Domingue was the most valuable colony in the world in the eighteenth century with its production of sugar and coffee to feed the demands of the European continent at the cost of human lives stolen from the lands of Africa. The students learned about the courageous leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave who had gained his freedom and lived comfortably on the island as an overseer and landowner. When he realized that the violence of slavery was not ending, Toussaint led an army of free and slave, black, mixed and white with the words, “Conquer or Die!” and envisioned a society of free men.

At the beginning of each class the students recited the poem, “To Toussaint L’Ouverture” by the English poet, William Wordsworth, that speaks of his nobility, his betrayal by the French, and his suffering and death in a French prison. In 1804, Haiti was established as an independent country with a new constitution that declared an end to slavery and justice for all. France became a dictatorship under Napoleon, and the United States established a constitutional republic with slavery. Toussaint LOuverture had led the Haitian people in a true revolution for freedom, equality and brotherhood.

~Ms. Ellen Cimino

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