Adios to schools in the countryside

The idea of combining study with work in high schools looked very good on paper. It had the air of an immortal future in the office where they turned it into a ministerial order. But reality, stubborn as always, had its own interpretation of the schools in the countryside. The “clay” meant to be formed in the love of the furrow, was made up of adolescents far away—for the first time—from parental control, who found housing conditions and food very different from their expectations.

I, who should have been the “new man” and who barely could have become a “good man”, was trained in one of these schools in the Havanan municipality of Alquizar. I was fourteen and left with a corneal infection, a liver deficiency and the toughness that is acquired when one has seen too much. When matriculating, I still believed the stories of work-study; at leaving, I knew that many of my fellow students had had to exchange sex for good grades or show superior performance in agricultural production. The small lettuce plants I weeded every afternoon had their counterpart in a hostel where the priorities were bullying, lack of respect for privacy and the harsh law of survival of the fittest.

It was precisely one of those afternoons, after three days without water and with the repetitive menu of rice and cabbage, that I swore to myself that my children would never go to a high school in the country. I did this with the unsentimental adolescent realism that, in those years, calms us and leaves us knowing the impossibility of fulfilling certain promises. So I accustomed myself to the idea of having to load bags of food for Teo when he was away at school, of hearing that they stole his shoes, they threatened him in the shower or that one of the bigger ones took his food. All these images, that I had lived, returned when I thought about the boarding schools.

Fortunately, the experiment seems to be ending. The lack of productivity, the spread of diseases, the damage to ethical values and the low academic standards have discredited this method of education. After years of financial losses, with the students consuming more than they manage to extract from the land, our authorities have become convinced that the best place for a young person is at the side of his parents. They have announced the coming end of the schools but without the public apologies to those of us who were guinea pigs for an experiment that failed; to those of us who left our dreams and our health in the high schools in the countryside.

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22 thoughts on “Adios to schools in the countryside

  1. Hasta cuando???????
    pal Malecon ,y que se forme.
    Lo de Cuba es un descaro….
    Dr. Greer, is an amazing Cuban American.

  2. This is truly BIG news! So many Cuban parents have lamented to me (an American who has lived in Cuba for 2 years) about the abismal sanitary conditions of the so-called “Schools in the Countryside” (esculas del campo), whispered furtively of the diseases (including STDs) contracted there by their adolescent children who were ill-supervised, and worried about the insufficient food served. The kids, for their part, were stoic in that Cuban way (not wanting their parents to worry further) but complained about the “experience.” It’s great news that these iconic annoyances are, after 50 years poco a poco, being dismantled. Does anyone have a link to the Cuban government’s announcement of the suspension of these schools?

  3. Anonimo, You are real brave, don’t even have the cojones to use your real name.
    You were well trained by the Cagalitrosos of Cuba.

  4. Well I’m Glad those training Grounds for promiscuity have being shut down, perhaps now parents can take over raising their children Morally as they are supposed to do, instead of letting a mad man contaminate their minds.

  5. I believe in freedom of the press and the right to express your opinion, however when people like Anonimo enter this blog with the sole idea of mock us all, it is unacceptable.

  6. 14
    Anónimo
    Julio 26th, 2009 at 13:38

    bunch off bullshitter………….
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Here is one of the tyranny defenders….. he has nothing to say…… only a verbal offense…….

  7. Raul Castro says Cuba must put land to better use By WILL WEISSERT (AP) – 1 hour ago
    HOLGUIN, Cuba — Raul Castro said Sunday that the global economic crisis means tougher times ahead for Cuba, but the country has no one to blame but itself for poor farm production that leads to frequent shortages of fruits, vegetables and other basics.
    In a speech marking Revolution Day, Cuba’s president said the island can’t pin all its problems on Washington’s 47-year-old trade embargo. He implored Cubans to take better advantage of a government program begun last year to turn unused state land over to private farmers.
    “The land is there, here are the Cubans,” he said, pounding the podium. “Let’s see if we get to work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our word.”
    The line did not get much of a response from a crowd not thrilled about working under the island’s scorching tropical sun, but the 78-year-old Castro called agricultural production Cuba’s top priority and a matter of national security.
    “It is not a question of yelling ‘Fatherland or death! Down with imperialism! The blockade hurts us,'” he said, referring to U.S. sanctions begun in 1962. “The land is there waiting for our efforts.”
    He made almost no other mention of the United States.
    Three years since the last time his 82-year-old brother Fidel was seen in public, the younger Castro showed signs he is getting more comfortable with national addresses, opening with a joke about how whoever designed the stage failed to provide any shade for the speaker or the crowd. He later harpooned his own Agricultural Ministry, asking how previous Cuban generations managed to ever grow even a single mango tree if all state advisers do today is say there’s no money for reforestation.
    Tens of thousands of supporters, most wearing red T-shirts or caps, filled a grassy plaza dotted with red and black “July 26” flags. Revolution Day, the top holiday for the communist government, commemorates the date in 1953 when the Castros led an attack on the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. The attack was a disaster, but Cubans consider it the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista’s ouster on New Year’s Day 1959.
    Unlike in his last two holiday speeches, Raul Castro did not address the crowd with a sculpture or banner of his brother’s face nearby.
    Instead, an eight-story tall banner on a building behind the crowd featured a picture of both Castros thrusting their arms skyward under the words “The Vigorous and Victorious Revolution Keeps Marching Forward.”
    Despite Cubans’ hopes for change after Raul formally took over as president in February 2008, economic reforms that were supposed to ease life on the island have been slow to come. Meanwhile, Cuba’s economy has been hammered by the global economic crisis, and U.S. relations have not improved much under President Barack Obama.
    Raul Castro “was working to improve things, but with all that’s happened with the economy in the world, the effect has been minimal,” said Silvia Hernandez, a retired commercial analyst for a state-run firm in Holguin, where Castro spoke.
    Castro has asked Cubans to be patient as he implements “structural changes” to a struggling economy more than 90 percent controlled by the state. He also has said he’d be willing to meet with U.S. leaders over any issue — including the country’s political prisoners and human rights record, though he did not mention that Sunday.
    Officials from Cuba and the U.S. discussed immigration this month for the first time since 2003. The Obama administration lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to the island. But Washington has said it wants to see small political or economic reforms before going further.
    “The other side doesn’t want to do anything,” said housewife Elena Fuentes, 73, referring to the Obama administration. “We’ve been like this for 50 years. That’s too long. They talk about ‘change,’ but the change we want is for things to get better with the United States.”
    In recent months, the government has ordered lights and air conditioners turned off at banks, stores and other government institutions and closed state-run businesses and factories early to conserve oil — even though Venezuela sends the island about 100,000 barrels of crude a day at favorable prices.
    Farming and land reform have bolstered production of vegetables somewhat, but government money problems have delayed imports of other food, causing shortages of basic staples such as cooking oil.
    Castro said that since state officials began doling out unused state land to private farmers and cooperatives, 82,000 applicants have received more than 1.7 million acres — nearly 40 percent of fallow state land. The program bets private interests can revive an agricultural sector crippled by decades of government mismanagement.
    He also said Sunday that government leaders will meet in coming days to assess the affect of the global crisis on Cuba’s economy, “particularly the significant reduction of income from exports.”
    Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a state-trained economist who became a dissident anti-communist and was jailed in 2003, said Castro has failed to keep his promises as president.
    “He knows times have changed, but … he hasn’t confronted the very strong inertia within the government,” said Espinosa Chepe.
    Cuba’s free health care and subsidized food and housing do little to soften the sting of further belt-tightening in a country where nearly everyone works for the state and the average wage is less than $20 per month.
    “More steps against the crisis, more adjustments, aren’t going to be easy,” said Reina Delgado, a 70-year-old retiree.
    Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  8. Was referring to the worldwide demonstration to support those who were jailed in Iran’s protests. Click the article.

  9. The obligatory nature of the pre-university schools in the country is one of the subjects that most worries parents in Cuba. It is the state that chooses the education their children will receive. The measure of having all schools in the countryside emerged in order to increase the influence of the state on the students.

    If the Government withdraws the project, it would be yet another failure of Fidel Castro.

  10. To post no. 11:

    I understand Julio and Candido’s great comments and experiences, but don’t quite put together the point you are trying to make in:

    “This is GREAT, but why not in 2003 after THE BLACK SPRING in CUBA”

  11. This is GREAT, but why not in 2003 after THE BLACK SPRING in CUBA!!

    Black Spring refers to the 2003 crackdown on Cuban dissidents.The government imprisoned 75 dissident thinkers, including 29 journalists, librarians, human rights activists and democracy activists.

    ARTICLE: Protesters Turn Out in New York to Show Solidarity with Iranian Opposition Activists
    http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-07-25-voa21.cfm

  12. An interesting observation about school days and life. While in Cuba my son(age 14 years) and I were told about this system by a government tour guide. Interesting that there were no tours to the schools. I believe that problems exist in any political system.Survival of the fitest. It begs the question as to how long the people will continue to follow this system? My belief in fostering education to everyone is a good thing. However education is about dialogue and learning and challenging all things-a typical definition of a Canadian university system.I do see a country that values an education for all(Cube) but devalues the right to chose. Peace always!!

  13. Actually the second sentence did stump me for a few minutes!

  14. Translator,

    You are doing a great job. I thought the first paragraph might have been a little tricky. I wish I could help, but I travel and only have time to write down my complaints and tirades to rid myself of frustration felt after reading Yoani’s posts.

  15. Why thank you! In fact, this was not a very hard one for me. But you would be surprised, I think, how “bad” my Spanish actually is… when I started translating this blog I had studied it for only 5 weeks (but someone had to do it, right?!). Now, Yoani has taught me Spanish! And because I am so used to the way she writes, I can usually translate her without too many problems (and I have lots of people I can email when I DO have problems!).

    But I swear, you would be surprised what I don’t know. I don’t know ordinary things. I don’t know the names of colors. I don’t know the parts of the body. I don’t know the names for different pieces of furniture. If Yoani doesn’t talk about it, I don’t know it! And often, as you all have seen, I make the most simple mistakes. Maybe in another year I’ll have really figured it out!

    But what a gift it is to be on this journey with all of you… Yoani’s faithful readers and commentors!

    Your Friendly English Translator

  16. Incidentally I have mentioned this somewhere else but I think is important to write it here.
    Remember the school principal eating special food for him and a few other that was better than the food we ate at the school. So while we ate rise chick peas and fry eggs they will be eating salad and fry chicken or pork shops and black beans and rise with some dessert!
    There we quickly learn the meaning of equality in a socialist system.

    Some are more equal than others!

    That should remind many of the little book Animal farm by Orwell.

    Now I work for an international mega corporation and the owner who is very very wealthy eats on the same place I eat and the same food I eat!

    Lesson

    Socialism was trying to create equality but in practice people in socialism try their best to live better than anyone else.

    on the other hand

    Capitalism does not try to create equality it assume we are all different as in effect we are and is extraordinary that equality surface naturally!

    What a contradiction this is very intriguing idea of the psychological consequences!
    The system that supposed in theory to be more fair by design turned out to be very unjust.

    Again you can see the difference between “in Theory versus in Practice”.

  17. I know that every one’s experience with the theoretical Marxism idea that work will forged working men! and that is the essence of workers socialistic paradise!
    So they probably figure that the earliest they could get us started as workers the better!

    That was in theory

    now lets see in practice!

    :-)

    Oh my God!

    I don’t even know where to start.

    I was very young innocent child at the tender age of 11 when I was sent to a boarding school for 15 days so we could go home Saturday and Sunday every other week for a whole school year!

    I was fortuned to be in what they used to call vocational schools in Pinar del Rio (in those they place the best students and usually had also the best teachers)
    Education wise I did get good education but I also learned there all the failings of the system they could not see upstairs!

    While reading below just keep in mind my school was the best in my province!

    *I could see teachers and school principal stealing food and items assigned to us the students.

    *I could see students stealing exams so in order to get better grades.

    *Professors sleeping with students

    *Students sleeping with other students

    *Students having abortions

    *Professors letting students copy the answers from other students

    *Professors giving students the correct answer in the tests.

    *There was one female student at my school that try to flush in the toilet her new born baby as a result of her actions she ended up killing her and she was sent to prison.

    *Students physically assaulting other students with deadly weapons. The dormitories were a jungle! The law of survival of the fittest!

    *Children of people in high places getting away with practically anything.

    *Unsupervised students or incorrectly supervised students getting killed as a result from neglect and bad judgement.
    A tractor when over one student ending his live.
    another student went swimming and he drown. One other one when in to the school pool and also drown Etc Etc.

    *Students with connections finding fake medical certificates so that they would not have to work!

    *Teachers physically abusing students!

    the list goes on and on!

    So I hope the they are reading this so they can see there is a big difference between theory and practice! :-)

    What did I learned as a lesson from all of it?

    That the system was impossible to fix.
    Is like a balloon you pinched on one side and on another side it will bulge!

    Let me ask a simple question.

    Why did it take 50 years for them to realize it was a mistake?

    So instead of forging the “new man” they were forging something very different!

    People that knew how to work and play the system.

  18. I want to congratulate the translator, as I read this article in Spanish, and it does not appear to be an easy one to translate.

  19. One more failure of the dynasty gets filed away in their giant landfill of discarded projects and ideas. The worse part is that the accumulated trash is raising such a stink, that the whole thing will catch fire one of these days.

    As Yoani points out, all done without so much as an intelligent discussion as to what lessons have been learned, how not to repeat it, and what alternatives to take as a replacement. The types of discussions we take for granted in the free world and that get published in newspapers and TV news programs routinely. In Cuba, any discussion might just get somebody in jail if they bring it up, and worse, they may be branded a traitor or counter-revolutionary.

    Given the importance of this issue, which involves children, young adults, and the future, how about if we discuss it right here? I’d start with the following:

    1) Children should stay under the supervision of their parents and/or assigned guardians until they reach maturity. It is scientifically and long established that most humans do not grow a complete brain, capable of mature and fair decisions until the mid twenties. They will generally reproduce and make an incalculable number of additional children, trample and injure each other (both physically and mentally) and grow up to prey on the rest of society unless properly supervised.

    2) Assuming the tyranny now recognizes its failures in packing children together into barracks, how about doing the following instead: allow the land to be distributed to growers and/or any city dweller interested in living off the land after proper training, with the incentive that they can sell their harvest of fruits and vegetables in free markets (to the public) and to hotels throughout the island and allow the hotels to pay the farmers in hard currency.

    3) Allow small businesses to open, and encourage them to hire young adults even their own children, for minimum wages as apprentices. Let them learn to handle money. They must be taught that money is just a tool; it is neither good nor evil – as the tyranny has suggested. These could be the future entrepreneurs in a free Cuba, once the dynasty has moved on in the not too distant future.

    4) Allow restaurants to open up and collect from their clients and pay for their supplies in hard currency, that way the farmers can also sell their produce to private restaurants.

    I assure you, if the above was done, the country would go a long way towards feeding itself. If not now, I have faith this will soon become a reality.

  20. Yoanis, how sensitive is this subject?,,,,,you can’t believe it!!!! at least,,,if my generation could talk about it!!!! I know exactly what will be said!!!!.

    My generation was the Pioneer of the schools going to the countryside, but not in the manner that your generation was “shipped out in that adventure”!!!!!.

    My generation was the founder of going to Camaguey (being Havana citizen) for 45 days, when most of us were 11-12 years old,,,,or going to cut cane for 4 months,,,,including the famous “Zafra del 70”, where the students were able to cut themself and get injure one leg , or one hand using their “machetes” to receive a “free month” and stay far from those diabolic places!!!!.

    This is something to believe it or not!!!!! but sadly is the reality about what has been happening in Cuba.

    Candido

    Every generation starting since 1959 until today has been suffering the cruelty of Catsros’brothers and their mafia gang!!!!!,,,more than 50 years!!!!

  21. Instead of discovering the joys of work and learning, students end up hating the forced labor and meaningless education. Teachers are often few and inexperienced. Under minimal supervision, students bask in their newfound freedom, often falling into a world of casual sex and petty crime. The increase in teenage pregnancies is alarming.

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