The Flower Seller (1942) by Diego Rivera
The efforts and the achievements obtained by the revolutionary government in matters of education have been, during all these years, one of the main battle horses of the Castro propaganda system. If we stick to the hard numbers, like the number of graduates in different careers, it’s true that Cuban education would go unmatched worldwide. However, the reality of the Cuban people demonstrates very negative facets that do not appear in the official version.
The Cuban school of the pre-revolutionary years was a true source of national pride- The quality of the teachers was excellent, and the Cuban teacher was paid and respected by all of society, a worthy heir of Varela Luz, Caballero, and Mendive. As a child, I heard the elders referring to their teachers with great admiration, and I don’t remember any contrary instance. Currently, it is a well known fact that the state-run press never praises those teachers. There were free public schools and some paid private schools- Also, it must be said that there were parts of the country where a kid would have to walk long distances to attend a modest rural school, but in front of those students, despite how humble, there was always a good teacher. Now, they insist that there really are classrooms with a teacher for only one student in remote areas, but I don’t know, and you have to doubt that such a case exists. But generally, in the classrooms which millions of students attend, the teachers are improvised, immature, uneducated, lacking specific knowledge, rude, and even immoral. With such professors, the educational process hardly can be worthy of its name.
How have we regressed so much? How have we lost so much quality in a field that is so fundamental for the future of the country? It’s also important to recognize that in spite of everything, there have always been teachers ready to pass on the fruits of their teaching to their pupils – but they’re the exception. In my village, there was a public primary school that was excellent, with magnificent teachers that were capable of forming kids into good citizens, and also a private academy that went up to what would now be considered the ninth grade. To continue formal studies you had to transfer to the main city, Pinar del Rio. Poor families, making a huge effort, would send their children to the School of Commerce that would graduate accountants, or to the Normal, where one would study education. But many were not able to. One of the main aspirations of poor families was to have their children study. After the revolution of 1959 the first general impression of the people was that there was a longing to improve, a notable desire to learn. If, before, a grand number of students had to conform to just finishing the sixth grade or the ninth grade at most, now young students aspired to get a bachelor degree at the university. If, before, not everyone could think of advanced studies due to the expense of living in a distant city, now anyone could obtain a free scholarship and continue their studies until graduating from the university. Undoubtedly, that was a major benefit for the Cuban family. Enthusiasm reigned throughout the country.
But along with these positive measures that mostly benefited the poor and represented a grand help for all, it did not take too long for the expropriation of all private schools. In one day and one night, all schools entered into the hands of the state. That was, in the first place, a real injustice. The private schools had produced excellent teacher; some were notable because of their high quality and their owners did not deserve by any means to lose their legitimate properties. A grand dissatisfaction was produced and the churches were screaming- for it must be said that some of the best private schools were religious. That was a declaration of war and a harsh warning for all of society that communism would not be content with possessing just the material sphere. Now, the state had all the children in its hands and was completely in charge of their education.
The defenders of Castro-communism can say that the nationalization of the private schools fixed a grave inequality. It’s true that the poorest people could not attend those private universities, but there were free schools. What should have been done was to improve the free public schools, which were already of good quality, and expand them to the most distant corners and raise them to the level of the best private schools. This process came to be known as the “nationalization of learning” but this name is deceiving because in Cuba, education was already national. This was an important strengthening of totalitarian authority, an operation of ideological dominance. The Marxists, experts in these types of justifications, would say that in all societies the dominant class is in charge of educating the children according to their own interests, but I believe in a law, like the one we always had, that allowed parents to be the ones who decided what kind of education their children would have- if they want to send them to a religious school or a secular one, a private or a public school, or to teach them themselves- let all possibilities exist under the law.
With this hit, communism robbed us of a grand right and they dressed it up as the elimination of an injustice. In the context of previous popular and beneficial measures, an expropriation was produced that directly affected the most well-off families, with the consequent confrontation between the poor and rich, supported by the government from the tribunal. Since then, education in Cuba has been free, obligatory, and includes special schools for those with different types of disadvantages. But it has also been a constant that Cuban schools have served as vehicles for the indoctrination of new generations in the most radical ideas of the regime in its own interest.
Without a doubt, for many Cuban families this process served as a warning that the time had arrived to confront the ideas of the hordes that had possessed authority or leave the country, or at least to start thinking about sending their children away via any route. The confrontation between the rich and the poor, besides painful, was deliberately provoked. Ever since we are born, in our country our opinion is formed to be in favor of the poor. Ever since Jesus Christ and up to Jose Marti, all the grand people who have added to the development of our culture have spoken with that same voice. In no moment did the Cuban people find it difficult to support the measures that would benefit the most humble, but this case consisted of the clear usurpation of one of the most important rights of the family: to decide the kind of ideas under which their children would be educated. To benefit the poor of the world, no other person’s freedoms should be suppressed. (To be continued.)
Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, prisoner of conscience, Canaleta prison, Ciego de Avila, Cuba.
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