Readers, allow me to tell you a recent anecdote. Zamira, a close friend whose son started attending Kindergarten just a few months ago, was very alarmed when she received guidance from the director to teach her four year old toddler who Fidel, Raúl and the “Five Heroes” are. Appalled, Zamira flatly refused, to the amazement of the director, who did not understand how a mother could refuse to comply with what was stipulated. “You will make me look bad with the inspectors” insisted the teacher, and to convince Zamira that it was not a personal whim, the good lady (she really is) showed her the teaching agenda for three and four year olds, a worthy rival of the Surrealist Manifesto, that – indeed — makes clear that indoctrination is a goal of educators in order to instill “patriotic values” in kids who only yesterday opened their innocent eyes to the world, little people who will leave their place in line in pursuit of a toy, candy or ice cream, who do not have the faintest idea of the meaning of the word homeland, and whose main ambition is to play and romp. But Zamira would not budge an inch, “Look, ma’am, try to have the inspectors ask another child and not mine, because I want him to be a child, not a political laboratory mouse.”
This was at a Kindergarten in the capital, but it also goes on throughout the Island. All is needed is to visit any of these centers to notice the presence of wall murals of leaders of the revolution, many dead celebrities, the yacht Granma and even violent scenes of the assault on the Moncada Barracks. A recurring image is that of the Sierra Maestra guerrillas with guns raised and faces fierce with screaming expressions, subliminally encouraging violence as part of the revolutionary culture. A real crime.
The fact is neither an exception nor a novelty. The fierce indoctrination to which children are subjected in Cuba since the early years of their life is widely known, as it’s endorsed in primary school textbooks, including those textbooks with which students in first grade, only six years of age, learn to read.
Unfortunately, almost no mother is as courageous as my friend Zamira. It is common for parents to tolerate in silence the violence of the doctrine and the implementation of methods, because “What the heck, children do not know about that. Back at home we will make sure they think about other things”. And that’s when a dramatic clash of values in which the children receive twice the impact of a controversial discourse: Fidel Castro and the “Five Heroes” in the morning, in daycare or at school, and Mickey Mouse, Donald and Spiderman on video in the afternoon, upon returning home. No need to clarify which of the messages is more attractive (and appropriate) for children. In fact, in private life, all children want to be like Ben 10, like Superman or Zorro, never like Ché. No one has ever seen a child in a private costume party dressed as the legendary Argentine guerrilla fighter, as Camilo or as Fidel Castro. These “heroes” do not belong in the children’s repertoire, but are only used to meet the requirements at the official venues.
But, simultaneously, without adults trying, they are planting in very young children the hypocrisy of the double standard that the system has fostered, the false belief in something that even they don’t believe, thus supporting a process that our friend Dagoberto Valdés has defined as anthropologic damage, whose harmful effects will long survive the regime that produced it.
For my part, I think that even protesting sectors in the country have ignored for too long the relevant details of the rights of Cuban children. We have prioritized our rights to freedom, democracy, to participate fully in our own individual and collective destinies, but we have neglected the most vulnerable sector of society: children. We assume that, by giving our children our love and guaranteeing them food and material wellbeing, we are doing our part. We are thus committing the same error as our own parents: we are allowing the State to carry out the sacred mission of educating our children morally and completely instead of doing it ourselves, as we are able to and as we can freely choose to. We thus prolong in our children the saga of slavery of thought, of pretense, and of corruption of spirit of which we were victims, and which we so condemn.
Children are born with the right to be educated, but it is a flagrant violation of their rights and those of their families to plant an ideological doctrine in their minds. It is an appalling distortion of human nature and it should be denounced in the strongest terms, so that we may finally banish the collective consciousness of violence, submission, and lies that half a century of dictatorship has sown in Cubans.
April 27, 2011