My School Went to the Countryside

Erasmo Calzadilla

Photo: Caridad

Since the beginning of the “revolution,” un-paid student labor was gradually turned to in tackling difficult agricultural tasks.   This is also said to have an educational purpose whereby study is linked to work.

Nevertheless, the project is alienating and generates rejection among youth toward the countryside and agriculture, just the opposite of what is supposedly sought.

Why alienating?  They are many the reasons.

For example, the fruit of the youngsters’ labor is completely controlled by the local bureaucracy.  The students can decide nothing about what comes from their hands, and they often receive only a meager helping on their daily plate of the very same product they harvested.  How do the kids solve this dilemma?  With a personal self-management system that some would call theft.

It is also alienating because the work relation between the students and the field is established through a fixed numeric quota, without their consent, and that translates itself into long furrows of boring and monotonous work.

Of course no concern or active interest in agricultural questions is born in anyone in this way; on the contrary, the youth mistreat the crops, the land and the work tools out of revenge or apathy, or to work the least amount possible.

It also goes without saying that the activities carried out in the field have no relation to the subjects they are taught in school.  Upon their return to the classroom, they have to be reintroduced to their coursework that has been reduced due to the time that their torment in the field lasted (generally a month).  This is a serious problem for their education, which is already poor.

No objective is in fact served.  The produce and instruments wind up damaged, the kids get sick (the hygienic-sanitary conditions are often sub-standard), output is low, the educational process is interrupted, etc.

Therefore, what is the objective of the “school in the country”?  For me it is an ideological commitment that some ideologues established with others.  This is the least macabre answer I can come up with.

A month after starting to work as a teacher at Mantilla Senior High, there began the mass exodus from the school to the countryside.  If I had known it before they hired me I would have turned around and left, but they were smart.

When the director officially informed me of my imminent departure, I squared off with her, willing to accept the consequences of my negative attitude.  But then she told me that my co-workers would have to shoulder an extra load due to my absence, so I gave in – though not without bitterness.

I just got back, and I’m walking around stressed out, irritated, annoyed and with a tremendous desire to throw in the towel to the Ministry of Education.  But again, there are hardly any teachers in the school and I don’t want to leave them adrift.

Later on I’ll publish a kind of diary here about my time in the “School in the Country.”

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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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One thought on “My School Went to the Countryside

  • There was a time, Erasmo, when schools to the countryside was a fresh and innovative technique for educating adolescents while using their natural energy and labor towards defraying expenses; guess that time has long since past. Still, I remember visiting a school to the countryside on the Isla de Juventud in 1970 when the teachers were only a very few years older than their students. Of course their pedagogic techniques were primitive: reading out of their teachers’ manuals, in rapid-fire verbal cadence, while all their students dutifully took notes. What was most endearing, however, was an image from the mid-afternoon break (they worked in the fields in the morning) where both teachers and students shared smokes while chatting on the patio. That scene was especially disorienting to me who, just a few years before, in order to smoke at my high school, maybe 240 miles across the pond to the north, whould have to go into the boys’ bathroom to sneak a smoke, and hope not to be caught by a teacher. Also, of course, in Cuba at that time not only the age difference between teacher and students was insignificant, but also the social distance was close, too. Also, most of the students were amongst the first generation to receive an education beyond the 4th or 6th grade. Today, of course, it is a different world, and such a scheme would only work now if it truly were voluntary–not mandatory–and if the students really had some say in what they produced, how they produced it, how they marketed it, and had a fair share in the fruits of their labor. Yet another example of how the Revolution has, by intertia, fallen into formulaic, pro forma, practices, rather than forging ahead in reinventing itself and affecting new and dynamic methods.

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