Image: Naked with Gannets by Diego Rivera (1944)
I studied until the ninth grade in my town of birth, and from then on I began my bachelors degree by traveling daily to the city of Pinar del Rio just like the generations before me did. During a day of finals in the 70’s, to my surprise, I found out that all the rural students, upon finishing the sixth grade and being only 12 years old, were obligated to take a scholarship. They no longer had the option to study in the basic secondary school in their own villages. All the urban pre-university centers were closed down, as well as those even in large cities. With their scholarships, students would study in recently-constructed schools that were located in very remote places, far from their homes. They became known as BSSIC (or in Spanish ‘ESBEC); (Basic Secondary Schools In the Countryside).
That was a very traumatic experience for Cuban families. Parents would worriedly see how their children were taken and how they would lose them at such a difficult age. They especially worried about the girls who had been controlled “in a fist” and were now going far away at such a tender age. It was a totally unnecessary experiment, for the majority of those students already had schools and were taken to new ones. In other words, the purpose was not to provide schools to those who did not have one, which would have been praiseworthy.
It wasn’t enough for the communists to educate every child, they wanted to do so at the furthest distance possible from their parents in a kind of isolation. It was not sufficient to take them for 45 days to agricultural work camps. Now, the kidnapping was permanent. The students would go hom to visit every two weeks, and the following weekend the parents would go visit them at their schools, with the resultant difficulties of finding transport to places so remote from any urban center.
This dirty trick, without any consideration for the Cuban family, had a very different portrayal in the official propaganda. They published a book dedicated to the new project, “Revolution in the Revolution,” and they also dedicated the song “The New School” by Silvio Rodriguez; it was even said that “other countries will look at us with envy.”
At first, adolescents would get excited, because such a project had some elements of adventure, for at a certain age children want to break away from the rope that ties them to their family, a link that in some moments they see as oppressive. It is a natural stage in our development, but shortly thereafter begin some difficulties; they long for home and its comforts but see that it’s impossible to return. They then began to pretend being sick so that the family could try to obtain, through any means, a medical certificate that would authorize them to abandon their scholarships and return to one of the few urban schools that remained for the purpose of educating those who were incompatible with the regime due to medical reasons.
It became the custom to lie to an official institution with the assistance of a health professional who would also become an accomplice, but everyone would wink, then share the same logic, that all this was still supreme nonsense and that the adolescent, innocent of everything, would not have to take the blame. Some would really get sick from nerves.
If the purpose of the BSSICs was economic, i.e. providing labor to the large citric and other plantations, it was also a great failure, for at no moment was there an abundance of fruit or other products in the agro-markets. Students had to study in one session and work in another. Another practice that became a habit was to falsify the production reports. If the student was expected to fulfill an agricultural norm but had little interest or did not have the enthusiasm to work, he/she would falsify the data, or the functionary in charge of the countryside, a peasant who was paid a salary, would increase the overall data. No country that has reached development through the capitalist path has ever applied this system, nor did the former socialist countries. The only scientific, pedagogical, and ideological support for this mega-experiment was a phrase from Jose Marti that was taken out of context, in which he states that the student should “use books in the morning and hoes in the afternoon.”
Anybody could say it would be good for children, especially those from the city, to know about working in the country as part of their life experience, and if that awakens such a vocation in them, then perfect. But in order to become closer to the working world, it is not necessary to destroy a national system that was functioning, based on a system of rural and urban schools and which was part of the habit of many generations.
Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, Cuban political prisoner, Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.
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