A Final Exam in Spanish Literature

Erasmo Calzadilla

School children in El Escambray celebrating May Day.

HAVANA TIMES, May 6 — I just got back after a week in Cienfuegos Province. We rented a cabin at a “Campismo Popular” camping facility and while there hiked in the Sierra del Escambray Mountains. We brought back a lot of stories that we’ll be sharing. In fact, Irina has already posted one, and here’s another:

In the last-minute running around before leaving, we couldn’t find a simple plastic bag to put our dirty, sand-covered sandals in. Checking under the mattresses we found a few pages with writing on them and used these too to wrap up the sandals.

It was when upon our return to Havana, when unpacking, that we discovered the content of the pages. They were high-school-level Spanish literature final exams (though I couldn’t say what grade), but they were dated from the previous school year.

The test.

The most important question on the exam was: “Interpret the following excerpts from the song ‘The Era Is Giving Birth to a Heart,’ by the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.”

The words were are as follows:

“The era is giving birth to a heart
It can’t stand it anymore, it’s dying from pain
And we must run to its side
Because the future is falling down”

Below I’ve transcribed the full responses of the three students who got the highest the grades:

The first:  “This means that our society is creating new ideas concerning the development of our revolution and that new talent is being born, just as was predicted by Marti and many others who fought so that we could have what we have today. It’s saying that this was achieved with much love and that it unites all of our energies and our ideas.”

Children in El Escambray celebrating May Day.

The second: “In this paragraph, Silvio makes us understand the need to fight in defense of our homeland. We have to struggle day after day against what’s poorly done, guided by the dreams of Marti and the ideas of Fidel – all in pursuit of the future.”

And thirdly: “Through this passage, Silvio is trying to tell us that something good and new is being born, and that we must fight to sustain it, because the future depends on this. He’s referring to the tireless struggle that we must wage in our country. In this way we will be able to protect the gains of the revolution, defending the many dreams of Fidel and other heroes.”

These responses serve to demonstrate what effects a system like “ours” has on education and on those who are being educated.

One thought on “A Final Exam in Spanish Literature

  • I’ve had many students who have written similar “boilerplate.” Fortunately, I’ve had the time to work with them and, through the Socratic method, to explore and expand their ideas–many of which they didn’t even know they had (i.e. like the boy slave in the Meno dialogue)! Unfortunately, in the case with most public education, whether in Cuba or here in the States, there is not such luxury, and only a few students have the curiosity, or the motivation, to conduct their own search for that which lies within.

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