Me, the Teacher

Materials for painting.

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – Ever since Nadia began pre-school, I became a “tyrant mother”. I’m not kidding, that’s what some people call me. I admit that I added hours of study at home for her, new worksheets and of course, days off. I know that studying can’t be everything, that she also needs to enjoy her childhood.

Before the pandemic, I needed to be my daughter’s teacher. It’s not that I’m complaining about the education system here with all of its pros and cons. The thing is though, that I see the flaws better because I’m critical and nonconformist.

I understand that it must be hard for a person to enter a classroom every day and face children who have their heads full of dreams. But the hardest thing for teachers in Cuba is leaving their problems outside of the classroom. How can they teach a Science lesson when they still haven’t discovered the formula to put food on their children’s plates?

I just needed to take a look at Nadia’s notebooks to understand the shortcomings. The blank spaces I needed to fill, while her teachers go out and hunt for chicken, rice, cooking oil.

When the pandemic came, every parent was forced to take on the role of teacher. It’s been a great feat for many and they’ve found it hard, while others console themselves with the idea that schools will be kinder and their children will pass the grade with all of the shortcomings that have been piling up.

It hasn’t been so hard for me as I’ve had experience backed up on my hard drive. Of course, my parents have helped me on this educational quest! I had to revise things I’d forgotten, seek out more updated information, learn and explain like a proper professional.

I enjoyed the process, I showed her the way, I taught her how to think. Although this has warranted a telling off or two from my parents.

Nadia and her paints.

I admit I share their fears. I don’t know if my daughter is ready to go to school. She won’t be able to speak her mind there, she will have to learn to lie if she wants to get good grades, swallow her own opinions in a more and more dystopian reality.

I can’t teach her double standards. How do I explain to her that lying is the right thing to do if you want to survive? This is my failure or victory as a teacher. According to some people, I’ve raised a “little monster” in these almost two years of lockdown, who doesn’t repeat doctrines like a parrot, who can create.

But I have peace of mind knowing that today, she knows all of her fifth-grade subjects off by heart. That she has the skill to tell really good stories, and that every day she masters the mysteries of color a little better, as she manages to make hues that I’ve never seen before, in spite of my years of studying and practice.

I don’t know if I’ve been a good teacher, I just know that I’ve given her the keys to her own path. But I’ll follow her steps closely. I’m not going to let anyone dim her light, or stop her from recognizing that anonymous point between black and white.

Read more by Fabiana del Valle here on Havana Times.

Fabiana del Valle

I was a girl who dreamed of colors and letters capable of achieving the most widely read novels or those poems that conquer rebellious hearts. Today around forty, with my firm feet on this island, I let the brush and the words echo my voice. The one that I carry tight, prisoner of circumstances and my fears.

2 thoughts on “Me, the Teacher

  • One can but concur with the views so admirably described by Stephen. A couple of facts to add to his comments.

    1) The Communist Party of Cuba has a Department of Revolutionary Orientation which maintains a file on “revolutionary integration” for each Cuban child.

    2) The ‘Code for Children, Youth and Family’ states that a parent who teaches their child ideas contrary to communism can be sentenced to three years in prison.

    So Fabiana has to be very careful in explaining matters to her own daughter Nadia, within their home.

    Cuban school books are a study in themselves, for they are included in the curriculum from Primaria through to Pre-pedagogy. A simple book for five year olds introducing the alphabet has a photograph of a smiling Che Guevara representing C. For L the word lluvia (rain) with a picture of the motor yacht Granma braving a storm. For the letter F, there is Celia Sanchez Manduley who was known as la Flor (and was one of Fidel’s mistresses). For G there is a full page drawing of a Guerilla wearing a July 26 armband – and so on to the final page a “thought of Fidel” which reads:
    “The child who does not study is not a good revolutionary.

    For older students, a textbook Geografia De Cuba Toma 2 claims to have fourteen contributing authors, four holding Doctorates and ten with Masters degrees. It breaks down the socio-economic evolution of Cuba into eight periods, but there is no mention of the Spanish American War and the end of four centuries of Spanish Colonial rule. But the neocolonial period includes a cartoon of Uncle Sam leading by chain and collar a barefooted Cuban woman bearing a bundle of sugarcane on her back and the collar with the engraved word ‘Platt’. The revolutionary period has a photograph of Fidel Castro signing the Agrarian Reform in 1959.
    The key word in Cuban education is respect. Respect for authority is imbued throughout the years of education, it forms an essential part of the indoctrination process, with the ultimate authority being the President.

    That is the challenge that faces Fabiana in her endeavor to educate Nadia with reality.

  • Fabiana del Valle outlines her educational frustrations very well in her quest to teach her daughter the “truth”. How difficult it must be for insightful Cuban parents to see their children indoctrinated with views that only work to the disadvantage of perceptive, motivated, eager children.

    The major aim of any educational system is to teach students whatever their age to think for themselves and to not be afraid to express their thoughts and feelings to authority figures, those being in the educational setting: teachers.

    But in Cuba, as Fabiana states: “She won’t be able to speak her mind there, she will have to learn to lie if she wants to get good grades, swallow her own opinions in a more and more dystopian reality.” In Cuba, according to the author, elementary students learn at a very early age the educational setting where freedom of expression should be applauded and encouraged is unacceptable. Imagine: it is better to “lie” than tell the truth! Fabiana writes: “How do I explain to her that lying is the right thing to do if you want to survive?” Sad.

    In the Cuban educational setting beginning at a very early age, students are fed questionable educational material and are rewarded to totally accept this material if they want to receive educational rewards, like good grades. In a totalitarian system this is how indoctrination begins with the young and maintained throughout the educational system so that in the long run compliant and obedient citizens are produced.

    Cognitive dissonance eventually catches up to these students as they progress through the education system and they invariably witness through their available technologies, like cell phones and the like, that the make believe world taught by their educational system – the inability to fully express their thoughts – is a complete farce – not to be believed but must be accepted and tolerated.

    Those students with some locum of education, probably taught by their parents like Fabiana, are caught between a rock and a hard place. Do I speak up and express my views, express my opinions? To do so will bring scorn and derision from teachers, parents, authority figures and put the student in a fail trajectory. Do I say nothing and simply accept what is being taught to which I know is complete rubbish? Again, to do so will make me appear as “successful”, yet psychologically it makes the student sick and helpless.

    No student anywhere should be put in this conundrum. Yet, here we are in 2021 in Cuba, a totalitarian state, and this is exactly what is taking place. Some students have had had enough. Their psychological painful circumstances have invoked in them a struggle for some form of change. What some young Cubans want is what most students take for granted and that is, a form of free expression and not to be castigated in a negative light for expressing their inherent views.

    These young Cubans do not want bloodshed on the streets; these students do not want violence in neighborhoods; these young people want respect and the freedom to fully express their sentiments in schools, in government, in places of decisions for the betterment of all Cubans. If given the chance, they can lead the way to a better more prosperous civilized Cuba.

    Anything wrong with that? November 15th aftermath will tell us if a better future is possible, or the future reverts back to the same old, same old for who knows how many more excruciating years. Let’s hope for the former than the latter.

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