Yenisel Rodríguez Perez
In Cuban elementary education there is an institution that strives to instill state and government values in students enrolled in the first through the sixth grades. This subject is known by students and teachers by the name Los Pioneros, (The Pioneers.)
The educational program for this class is divided into two cycles. The first is aimed at “Moncada students,” who are enrolled in first through the third grades. The second cycle, more sophisticated and demanding, is directed toward students in the fourth through the sixth grades: these are the “Jose Marti students.”
The evaluation of “Pioneers” is monthly and is carried through a very peculiar contest. Unlike conventional competitions, participation in it is accomplished through no more than handing in work to one’s teacher. These results will end up being permanently archived after having been recorded in the evaluative inquiries of students, teachers and school principals.
The works (mainly drawings, poetry and short essays) have to draw on the epic events of the Cuban Revolutions and its heroes now sculpted in stone and metal. Any creative initiatives by students must be related to the political anniversaries of the month.
The official Cuban ideological line has established a daily calendar of political anniversaries related to the interests of the state and the government. Every day, month and year has a repertoire of social and political rituals of remembrance.
For the “Pioneer” subject, the recollection of such anniversaries is its reason for being. The essence of the institution is to build an ethical conviction molded from educational and social ideals of epic events that serve as the background or support Cuban socialist society, with many of those sagas led by those still in power. Students must learn, internalize and practice the revolutionary values that are marked on those anniversaries.
“Pioneer” activities are conducted on a weekly basis. Of the four classes per month, one is broadcast on TV, usually on a Friday. It serves as a teaching guide for teachers as well as students.
“Pioneer” activities also include a monthly self-critical analysis by the students. In the “Pioneer Assembly,” each student will take the floor in front of all their classmates and assess their school performance. Then the assembly will comment for or against the assessments given by the student.
In these gatherings, the achievers and non-achievers of the month are identified. Taken into account in these Pioneer Assemblies are all of the school’s activities and rules of discipline, attendance, punctuality and academic performance. In addition—as could be expected—the understanding and application of the official ideology is a key topic.
There are symbolic awards for those children who cumplir (fulfill their duties). These distinctions are named “The Fourth of April” and “The Kiss of the Homeland.” In the first case, up to two students can be selected per classroom. “The Four of April” refers to the Cuban Pioneers’ Day.
“The Kiss of the Homeland” is the highest distinction awarded by the “Pioneer” institution. It is awarded to only one student in each class level and it represents the height of political commitment to the status quo. The distinction identifies the most well rounded student during that school year at the classroom level.
Important slogans blazoned by this institution include “Patriotism,” “Homeland or Death” and “State or Death”
These notions instill a sense of death for children under the age of 11 – despite the fact they’re too young to understand the idea of political self-immolation or sacrifice. Nonetheless, the children must recreate drawings and stories about how individual interests are subordinated to the interests of the state and government. The homeland is the modern king to which the schoolchildren will serve faithfully, like Musketeers, but ones who honor “study, work and the gun.” The sacred belief that “to die for the fatherland is to live” is displayed in the strokes of their watercolors and in the teddy bear metaphors.
Some students wonder whether if after dying for their country they’ll have time to play with neighborhood friends or to ask their father or mother for a loving kiss. Perhaps they’ll also be questioned for being faint of heart in the face of the never-ending immersion in the system’s obsession with death.
The “Pioneer” institution aims to teach Cuban elementary students that there exist glorious deaths, ones that you don’t exactly see in a PlayStation game.
Maybe the slower students will confuse “glorious” with “candy,” though this would make the political sacrifice required by their teachers more bearable.