Jul 9, 2008

Chronicles of old Cuban school days

Juanito is a Cuban teenager, attending a middle school at a given place in Havana. For the past seven years o so, his teacher has been a boring TV set, and another young individual that barely passes Juanito’s age.

He has been in the hands of the so called maestros emergentes for quite a few years now. His mother –one of the lucky ones with income in dollars, has been paying him private classes for a long time. Lucky Juanito, whose father lives in the US and every month, sends him the alimony in the currency that can, literally, save you life in Cuba.

The case of the student killed by one of those teachers happened close to his house in Havana. He is aware of the sexual violations and bizarre behaviors these teachers engage in their collective residences in Havana.

Yes, because they are not permanent residents of the capital. Like most police offices, they are being hauled from the provinces, to try to cover the alarming shortage of teachers in the capital. Let’s not even think about what could be happening in the schools in other provinces' classooms...

The last weeks if this school year, Juanito was told he had to keep going to school, not matter they were not perceiving any instruction. Not TV, not teenager teacher.

They were told they had to keep going to school to clean all the premises. They did clean almost everything in a couple of days. Fortunately for him, he got sick and stayed at home the rest of those days. His classmates later told him when there was nothing else to clean, the emergent teacher would dump the trash they already picked up again in the floor, so the student would have a reason to keep cleaning.

A few days ago Juanito breathed relieved when he was awarded at place to study in a IT technological institute in Havana. He was not sure he could make it.

Despite the poor education he has received in the classroom, he has gotten very good grades. But that is not what counts; he said what counts to be accepted in the institute is your political involvement, you compromise with the revolution, how many marches have you attended in each school year and, on top of that, the evaluation that the teacher in charge of the political guidance of the school gives to each student.

(What's next? Are they going to keep a record of how many times in you student's life you say 'Pioneros por el comunismo, seremos como el Ché!". Poor thing Juanito... he'll now need to come up close and personal with the Brigadas de Respuesta Cibernéticas...)

Juanito is a fictional name.

But the boy is a real kid, living in a neighborhood west of Havana and these are some of his real life experiences. Real life experiences that –although they are very familiar to me because I also live them, sometimes just get me in “What??!!”

It is inevitable to think that I was lucky enough to be in on of the best high schools in Havana. Even though we were carefully selected to enter the school (interned, of course) there I saw for the first time in my life teachers in their 40’s having sexual relations with girls between 15-17 years. There I heard for the first time of students smoking marijuana in the school and consuming pills to get doped. I saw mattresses set on fire because the student sleeping in that bed was gay… and it was one of the best schools.

When you hear the stories of MDH years in middle and high school, both interned in the countryside of Havana province, you may perfectly think you are hearing the stories of gang violence in the streets of LA. He saw gangs, he saw murder, he saw attacks with machetes and knives, and he saw bullying taken to the cruelest expression of sexually attacking the shy boys or those showing off any indication of being gay. He saw the gangs prompting depressed students to jump from a third floor. He saw student’s suicides.

And these are the experiences of two simple young Cubans raised and educated to be the hombre nuevo of a failed revolution, the hombre nuevo of a highly hypocritical regime.

And our years in the school were during the “good” years, when the direct pipe from Russia to Cuba was still up and running. We were lucky to at least have real teachers, most of them pretty damn good. The experiences of Juanito’s generation, enjoying the wonders of Cuba’s free education are scarier.

If I would have had the freedom to choose, if my parents would have had the freedom to decide about my education, if we would have had... we would have refused the so called free education chimera.

We would have chosen freedom, at any cost. Even if we would have to pay it in monthly installments.

And now, after all these years, I’ve come to wake up with the news that the Cuban government has finally come to terms to publicly recognize than more than half of their middle school teachers don’t have a diploma o are have not graduated. In Havana it's about 80%.

Really? No me digas? Coño, qué clase de noticia!

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