The Cuban “Pioneer”

Yenisel Rodríguez Perez

Photo: Elio Delgado

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.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

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5 thoughts on “The Cuban “Pioneer”

  • was it really that bad being under american rule -.-

  • Grady,
    i agree with you up to the word reconquer. Yes, for the record, I do wish for the Cubans not to be lectured on socialism and equality when they have to finance a nomenclatura whose privileges are built on the sweat of the Cuban wiorkers. I am not a supporter of the Cuban Communist Party or any of its leaders. Cubans deserve better. than the current regime. Yoani Sanchez with whom i frequenty disagree or Guillermo Fariñas, a former elite soldier, are not allowed to leave and re-enter Cuba as they see fit, but the daughter of the president is. Btw, do you seriously believe Mariela Catsro contributes even a single penny of her own money to her foreign trips? A year before Raul Castro became acting presidnet he and his son vsiited relatives in Galicia. How much of their own money did they have to fork out on the ticketsand accomodation? Of course the Castro’s always manintained an excellent relationship with Fraga Iribane, Franco’s fascist interior minister, who became leader of Galicia after Franco’s death. Yes, Cubans deserve better. Socialism for example.
    You think the Cstros made an understandable genuine mistake when they ignored cooperative ideas for state socialism. Of course not, a state that conttrols teh economy 100% has 100% control over its population. A cooperative socialist republic would mean devolving power.

  • Actually, i did wake up a long time ago, Hubert, but thanks for the recommendation.

    Cuba has been under attack from the United States since long before Fidel and Raul were even born. The rebel patriots against colonial Spain had their victory stolen by the US in 1898, and Cuba suffered from US colonial domination, puppet dictatorship and exploitation up to 1959. After ’59, the US has blockaded, attacked, maligned and partial occupied Cuba, threatening all the while to invade and reconquer. And yet, you and Yenisel bemoan the horrific injustice of the Cuban state inculcating a sense of patriotism and national defense in school children.

    I must conclude that what you both truly wish is the demise of the present Cuban state. Well, if this is true, you may get your wish at some point; but I, for one, will not wish for such a thing.

  • Grady,
    it is particularly wrong to instill absolute obedience and stalinist public self-criticism in front of their peers,into the minds of young impressionable children. I call it child abuse. What you need to understand, the method teaches more than the content. The method is submision to imposed authority.When that authority changes, the obedience to the rulers of the day will stay. Unlike the generation of Castro’s jolly band of gun swingers these children have never had a free choice between supporting an established order or to rebel. The civil society that enabled the overthrow of Batista that existed prior to the Castros was killed off.
    Do not forget the Castro’s were from the Cuban upper class. Fidel married the sister of Batista’s fascist Interior Minister. Nobody forced him to. When he divorced her, he abducted their son like a member of a mad Father s First group. Castro had and used choices he denies his own people.
    The absurdity of the Cuban education system is that those who refer to themselves as rebels have over a period of half a century come down like a ton of bricks on any post-1959 rebels (every adolescent needs to go through a period of rebel attitude. It is part of the growing up process. A normal childhood not allowed in Cuba!) The Castros have devalued the term rebel to a museum piece.
    Think of Fidel’s Castro’s daugther, the only one of his children with a brain to think for herself. He turned her away. A failue as a father claiming to have something to teach to a nation. On the other hand his ideologically lazy sons are known to be showing off their material posessions.
    In Cuba with that ridiculous police state article 73 of the Criminal Code threatening jail to anyone the authoritarian authorities claim to have a tendency – no proof required – of anti-social behaviour a healthy way of growing into adulthood is rather tricky.
    Of course the authoritarian education system produces a people that is sick of politics, that is sick of sloganising – probably sick of people like you and me! – and because capitalism has been shown as the bogeyman the ‘nuevo hombre’ has turned greedy and fashion-brand conscious. Castro’s legacy is the greatest obstacle to turning Cuba into a cooperative socialist republic. Cuba’s Nuevo Hombre is a capitalist at heart! What is there to defend?
    in terms of instilling values the Cuba system is an utter failure. Wake up!

  • The author apparently feels it is wrong to inculcate a sense of patriotism and defense of the homeland in Cuban children.

    The best way to defend the Cuban homeland of course is to perfect the Cuban model of socialism, and let that model shine as a guiding light to the suffering peoples of the world. Such a model would help radicalize and transform the political consciousness of the people of the United States, thereby preventing any sort of aggression or invasion.

    The author of this article chooses however not to direct his energies toward theoretical rectification of the Cuban model. Instead, he bellyaches about the inculcation of homeland defense in children. I wonder if he feels that an invasion by imperialist armed forces might best be resisted by the open arms of Cuban children.

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