Distinguishing between “Error” and “Horror”

By Amrit

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 4 — My son just told me about something that happened in his ninth grade literature “tele-class” (number 118 to be exact).  It seems that a very young teacher, when referring to the author of the well-known book The Little Prince,” gave as a biographical fact that he was a bad pilot and had many problems because he would become distracted when flying airplanes (certainly he must have been sidetracked imagining the stories he would later write).

“Is that true?” my son asked me skeptically.  As for me (someone who had infected him with my admiration for this man who had written by directly drawing from the substance of his life), I felt more than confused – I felt guilty.

Without access to other sources, we looked in Wikipedia, and there we found: “Antoine de Saint Exupery was one of the pioneers of international mail flights, an aviator at a time when aviation possessed few instruments and flight was an extremely difficult and dangerous endeavor…”  On the back cover of the Cuban edition of Nocturnal Flight, a comment about the author explained: “He masterfully combined his two greatest passions: literature and aviation.”

Please, if someone reading these lines knows this subject in depth, I would appreciate if they clarified this terrible doubt for us (my son and me): Was Exupery a bad pilot or was some substitute teacher without much desire to research into the life of this great French writer playing a prank while apathetically putting in her time?

I thought of comparing my son’s impression with other kids in his same classroom, but — sincerely — I’m convinced they didn’t even take note of the comment.  What I’ve seen of them is enough to conclude that they generally have no relation to anything resembling literature.

Cuban teenagers. Photo: Elio Delgado

I couldn’t avoid it: the strange comment about Exupery kept turning in my mind…expanding into increasingly dismal reflections.  I remembered having noticed changes in my own son a while ago.

When he was seven he used to receive compliments about his judicious diction and his voluminous vocabulary.  Now however, at fourteen, he mumbles almost without articulating; he confuses several prepositions and will occasionally let a bad word slip.  And his friends speak even worse; they have almost no idea of what should be considered indicators of a minimum level of culture.

Most recently, and in my direct experience, I’m forced to confess that the absolute low point was demonstrated by my own niece, who now is no longer even a teenager (she’s 21).  When my mother (her grandmother) invited her to watch the TV presentation of the movie El Ojo del Canario, about the life of our national hero Jose Marti, she lashed back with an expression of repugnance uttering: “I’m not watching that fuckin’ shit.”

But like most Cubans, I initially couldn’t avoid laughing at her response.  And when I tell other people about this incident, to my disappointment, they also laugh at first, but then they’ll catch themselves and with equal shock say something like: “Man are we in bad shape!”

Cuban teenagers. Photo: Elio Delgado

I remember one English teacher of mine — a magnificent educator and an even better person —would hand us back our exams marked up so that we could review them.  She once joked with us saying, “Now you can see the horrors…I mean the errors.”

These days — and with all joking aside, despite how bitterly we might laugh — the difference between these words doesn’t seem to mean anything.

A pupil in my son’s classroom wrote on the blackboard: “hipokracia.”  Of course, what she really meant was “hypocrisy.” But this is irrelevant when you can find the teachers making the same spelling errors.  The majority have the poorest diction as they try to impose respect disrespectfully, even using obscene words indiscriminately.

They tell the ninth grade students that those who choose careers as fast-track teachers (PGIs) don’t have to be tested, meaning they won’t have to go through a rigorous selection process based on academic performance or the opinions of their teachers.  No – all they have to do is choose that path and their entry is guaranteed.

As for these graduates who will go on to (mis)educate other teenagers — these same student instructors who don’t know how to distinguish between “error” and “horror” — what will they have guaranteed?  But thinking about it carefully, let’s hope it was true that Exupery was a bad pilot, since that virtual teacher who instructs blindly from a tele-class is almost the sole “honorable” example they have left in the classroom.