Erasmo Calzadilla

Cuban teens. Photo: Caridad

At the end of last year, when I left my job as a math teacher at Mantilla High School, I told the students they could count on me for any problem they might have with the subject.

I thought maybe some of them might even take me up on that, but… not one of them did. Only my neighbor Leandro showed up, two days before a re-test and only for a “review.”

I put that in quotation marks because someone reviews a subject when they know something about it. However this fifteen-year-old, who’s now in the 11th grade, is lost in the science of numbers.

It’s not just that the content of high school is too much for him, even the material from the fourth grade is over this student’s head. He doesn’t know his multiplication tables (it takes him more than five minutes to figure out the product of 7 x 7).

I’m not going to even mention multiplying or adding fractions. He consistently confuses signs, while tasks like raising binomials to squares, finding common denominators or applying the distributive principle are way too complex for him.

Leandrito isn’t that slow; it’s just that his generation has suffered a disastrous educational history. They’ve had to endure problems with mathematics ever since primary school, when they spent several years without math teachers. Eventually the administration assigned some teaching assistant to go over this subject with them, but even with the best of intentions the sole outcome of this woman’s effort was to confuse them that much more. In junior high these problems worsened and by senior high the situation had become tragic.

Some have turned to private teachers, but Leandrito’s family doesn’t have that kind of money for such luxuries. What’s more, neither he nor his parents have ever shown much of an interest in school. They don’t respect it. They don’t see it as having much value.

Leandrito works in the mornings on a loading dock for a private farmers market, and when he gets home from classes he attends to some piglets he has in a pen. He himself has told me that the money he’s saving is to “pa’ echarse una percha” (buy clothes for going out to parties). It’s easy to see that there’s no place for studying for someone with such a “lifestyle”.

How he made it to 11th grade

The math test “leaked out” like in the preceding year. Its price was 10 CUC, about two-thirds of the monthly minimum wage. To buy the exam, the most logical way would have been for the group to come to an agreement and pay for it as a whole, each one making a small contribution. But no. Each kid wanted to take care of themself independently.

However, pressured by necessity, Leandro did in fact organize, and between him and two other students they were able to pull together the necessary cash. They planned to later re-sell the exam to another class and recover their investment.

But bam! The administration was tipped off, and at the last moment they changed the test. The result? Sixty students passed out of the nearly 300 in the 11th grade. Needless to say Leandrito was pissed off and went to find the person who sold him the test. He was able to get his money back but others (especially those in the 10th grade, who also had their own story) were not.

No alternative except studying

He showed up at my house two days before the re-test and we began to hit the books. Leandro’s no dummy. By focusing himself he was able to get a handle on a few notions…but no way. There was just too much content and not enough time.

To my surprise, there was no stress in the atmosphere. During his free minutes he began to play marbles as if he had no other cares. I know it’s good to change activity, but he hasn’t even glanced at the study guides we made together! To me, he wants them to make a crib sheet paper. He knows what he’s doing.

In a commentary I’ll share the end of this story with everyone.


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

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