HAVANA TIMES — The start of the school year is a highly important moment in Cuba. The country’s public education system stands, next to healthcare and sports, as one of the most significant achievements of the Cuban revolution, and, every year, we attest to this on the first Monday of the month of September, when kids return to the country’s schools or enroll in these institutions for the first time.
All schools in the country organize cultural activities in which children, educators and families participate.
It has become tradition for the principal of the school to deliver a speech that underscores the importance the school has as a forger of the country’s future workers, professionals and artists.
Usually, this speech has some of the political content we insist on finding in all our daily experiences in Cuba, invariably touching on the US blockade, imperialism and the revolution.
The address opens the school year officially, and the principal cannot let pass an opportunity to stress that, despite the shortages the country has suffered in the course of more than 50 years, no Cuban child has been left without schooling, teachers or textbooks.
Though such statements are boring for us parents, who have heard them countless times, we do understand and appreciate them. We begin to ask ourselves, however, why no one speaks of the rise in juvenile violence, or speak to children about their rights and parents about their duties.
The same thing happens at every start-of-the-school-year function, so it’s not something that catches me by surprise anymore. What I hadn’t expected, however, is for this old, tired story to repeat itself at an activity held by my little girl’s day care center.
In this case (it was May), the anniversary of the creation of Cuba’s day care centers was being celebrated. These are very important for women, for they afford them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of a career and of professional development without neglecting the care of their children.
It was a colorful activity in which the teachers dressed up as clowns and performed dance and song numbers.
The kids enjoyed a show by a magician who, in addition to doing tricks, told a beautiful story which kept them entertained from beginning to end. I would be lying, however, if I said they enjoyed the beginning or end of the activity itself.
The beginning was boring for the kids because, as in all official ceremonies, it involved playing Cuba’s national anthem. Though a few children managed to mouth the words of the anthem, not one of them showed any interest in singing that song, whose significance only the parents and teachers were aware of.
Playing the national anthem is perhaps justified: it is one of the symbols of our homeland and children ought to get to know it and learn to respect it from the time they are little. But closing an activity aimed at children under five with a boring speech, that’s something altogether different.
And that’s what happened: the activity ended with a speech about the commitment that Cuba and its revolution demand, a speech that included quotations from Commander in Chief Fidel Castro. The parents struggled to control their little ones who, bored by the high-sounding phrases, began to run around, scream and play.
Every little kid in Cuba knows who Fidel is, but no kid there understood what the kindergarten, the teachers, the plasticine, the colored crayons, the horse on four wheels or the black doll had to do with the homeland or the revolution. Most of them didn’t know what the revolution was or what it was good for.