Archive for March, 2008

SOS Teachers?

Certainly there are many problems and concerns faced by Cubans today. One can say that absolutely every element of daily life is cause for concern, including those that are declared officially solved or that make up one of the showcases of the regime like the tired old story about education. At the present time, one of the biggest worries of Cuban parents is the training and education of their children, especially those in primary school.

Education in Cuba is free, compulsory and guaranteed, the official discourse preaches.  However, it is enough to barely get close to the educational curricula and the teachers’ responsibilities for the formation of children, or simply to engage in a dialog with the latter, to discover the deterioration facing the educational system on the Island. The consequences for the future promise to be of a more or less near catastrophic magnitude. I will illustrate with several anecdotes from real life, which I witnessed directly or that I know of through very close and reliable sources:

  • Case 1: Saraí is a girl who attends the second grade. Her teacher “taught” that the five-pointed single star on the Cuban flag* represents the five Cuban heroes*, “prisoners in the jails of the empire.”
  • Case 2: Last February 25, in the morning at the elementary school José Martí located in Bishop Street in Old Havana, the teacher in charge of the little pioneers (let’s call him Basic Guide) explained to the children the great significance of the date: “On a day like today,” he said, “The pioneer Felix Varela* was assassinated.”
  • Case 3: Paolo’s teacher is accustomed to asking parents and children for gifts she thinks she deserves.  Recently, she asked Paolo’s mother for a new tablecloth like those sold only in the CUC* stores. The mother was quick to fulfill the request–not without sacrifice—to avoid reprisals for the child because he is “very bad in math.”  Later the teacher complained that the tablecloth was a little short for her table… And that she also needed cooking oil and shampoo, although nothing bad would happen to Paolo if she received a gift of some hair dye.
  • Case 4: Monica, in the fourth grade, insists that her mother prepare two snacks to bring to school, “One for me and one for the teacher.” Every day the teacher designates one or two of her students to meet this new “obligation” to satisfy the gluttony of the “educator.”  Children who do not bring a snack for the teacher are paraded in front of their classmates and accused of being “stingy,” and under the direction of the teacher the rest of the students boo and repudiate them.
  • Case 5: A friend tells me that one afternoon, when he arrived earlier than usual at school to pick up his sixth grade daughter, Violeta, the classroom door was closed. Inside the children were shouting so excitedly that he pushed hard against the door and managed to open it just a bit.  Inside, the children and teachers were “enjoying” a horror film.  My friend suddenly understood why his daughter had problems sleeping at night, was afraid of the dark, and often woke up in the middle of the night screaming.  The teacher had warned them that, “they should be prepared if someone ran their tongue and told their parents” about these instructive classes in the culture of cinematography.
  • Case 6: Darius doesn’t know how to tell time though he’s already in the fourth grade.  With great effort his mother has managed to help him begin to understand the hours and half hours.  It turns out that his teacher, “doesn’t like to teach this class,” and so, “you should tell your parents to teach you.”
  • Case 7: Aileen is in third grade and when her parents sent her to bed because the movie on the TV had sex scenes in it, the child made it clear that she “knows all about it” because the teacher and her boyfriend “give each other French kisses” in the classroom, in front of the children, “so they will learn.”

I will not dwell on the subject. My intention is that readers who are aware of similar experiences or others write to me here about what you know so that we can expose together the extreme gravity of the situation with regards to the formation of values in our children. However, the worst thing is that these are not exceptional cases, but rather the norm.  No social responsibility is greater than educating children. For my part, I think that parents who are silent before this, not only are they accomplices to the same crime but are even more guilty than the teachers themselves.

Translator’s notes:

The Cuban flag still in use today was first designed in 1849.

Father Felix Varela: 1788-1853  A Catholic priest and a Cuban hero in exile, he died of natural causes.

Five Cuban heroes: Five Cuban men currently in prison in the U.S. Readers can search on the phrase to read the various perspectives of the case.

CUC stores: Cuba has two currencies, “national money” and “Cuban Convertible Pesos” (CUCs). Wages are paid in national money (moneda national) but many products are only sold in CUCs, which is the currency tourists use. The exchange rate varies but is roughly 20-25 ‘national’ pesos to one CUC, which is worth about 1.15 canadian dollars or 0.75 euros.

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