The Fear That Consumes Us

Yusimi Rodriguez

Cuban Schoolgirl. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 1 – The following stories came to me as rumors, and —like the disclaimers that appear at the beginning of many novels and movies— “Any similarity to actual people or events is purely coincidental.”

A nurse with more than 20 years of experience in the profession began working in one of the centers where students from other provinces are housed in preparation for becoming General Comprehensive Teachers (PGI).

The mass recruitment of these youths to study for careers in education was one of the emergency measures adopted to face the mass exodus of teachers from the educational system.  This teacher flight, mainly at the elementary and secondary levels, has been due to the country’s economic problems since the early 1990s, the rise in the cost of living and the inadequacy of wages paid in the profession given this situation.

In her daily contact with students, the nurse detected problems with word diction and articulation among several students, cases in which their IQs were below average and where personality dysfunctions existed.

Cuban nature photo by Caridad.

She reported this situation to the school’s administration and proceeded to refer cases that she detected to the psychologist for analysis and confirmation of the diagnoses.  As a result, many students had to drop out of the program, since it would not be appropriate for them to later assume responsibilities for the teaching of younger children and teens.

However, the number of cases reported by the nurse grew to such a degree that this apparently alarmed some administrators, who directed her to cease referring cases.

What’s the logic of that position?  Wasn’t the nurse in question aiding our educational system by preventing incapable people from later giving classes and ultimately being responsible for the development of children in this country?

The person who told me this story didn’t have an answer to that question, or he didn’t want to respond.  He’s an acquaintance who I occasionally run into at the bus stop.  When I told him that I write for an Internet site that doesn’t belong to the country’s official press and I then requested he go into the details of the story, he got scared.

Cuban pig. Photo: Caridad

He was quick to tell to tell me that he is a revolutionary, a follower of Fidel and…that he doesn’t want problems.  He didn’t want to give me the nurse’s name or any more particulars of the story that I needed to lend the report greater credibility.  Finally he yeilded and gave me permission to report it, but without mentioning his name or where he lives or works.  Nothing.

The Instilling of Fear

I’ve noticed that people in Cuba become frightened when asked to speak to the non-official press about situations that they comment on stridently and without pretense while standing in lines at bus stops and hospital waiting rooms, or when playing dominos on the corner.

There are many stories that I’ve had to tell by withholding names, places, and dates.  I’ve been unable to relate the story in full because their main characters were convinced that although their names would not be divulged, “they” would put the pieces together, follow clues and then… no one knows what would happen then.

I don’t know in fact if anything would happen.  The one thing completely real is fear, which seems to have been instilled in us through hypnosis, like in Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World.”

I too am afraid, and I admit it.  You end up wondering if you’re entitled to say certain things. They’ve made us believe that talking about things that happen and how they happen is “playing into hands of the enemy.”  Often we prefer to wait for things to be announced by authorized voices, preferably from the officialdom, to then be able to repeat them or simply say: I was right.

What’s said outside the official press is as if it had not happened; these are only rumors.

The rumor mill

Cuban nature photo by Caridad.

Here’s an example of a rumor spreading throughout all municipalities: A PGI teacher threw a chair at a student who he was fed up with because of the child’s misbehavior.  However, the chair accidently hit another student, who died from the blow.

Similarly, one morning while I was in the polyclinic waiting room, a girl came in with her younger brother, a high school student who had bruise marks on his face.  According to him, he had been hit by his PGI teacher. But that’s only what he said.

The same acquaintance who told me the story about the nurse said that his nephew, who was also studying to be General Comprehensive Teacher, went to blows with a student.  His family decided that he leave the profession for his own good.

Another acquaintance commented to me that the PGI teacher who taught his son punished students who misbehaved by making them stand outside the classroom – in the cold, without a coat, on very cold days.

But like I said earlier, these are just rumors…Rumors that have come to me from various sources, each very concerned about their name not being disclosed.

I don’t know if there were better solutions for facing the crisis of teachers in the country.  It’s not about now blaming whoever had this idea to address the serious problem that’s been created. But an emergency measure is just that: an emergency measure, which when attempting to solve one problem can create others.

It could have been that in the early implementation of this remedy, the selection of future teachers was not overly rigorous due to the critical nature of the situation.  I prefer to believe that this was the case – and not that there was negligence, shortcutting, or an over eagerness to fill classrooms with whoever showed up or to improve the statistics.

Crab in Cape San Antonio, Cuba. Photo: Caridad

I’ve also heard of PGI teachers who are serious in their work, displaying great interest in preparing themselves and who have real vocations for being teachers.  This is not something that is stated only in the official press; some mothers and fathers speak highly of these young woman and men and go out of their way to praise them.  I’d even like to believe that these constitute the majority.

Need for change

But aren’t thirty, twenty or even ten percent of cases like those detected by the nurse friend of my acquaintance enough for us to be alarmed.

It is not too late to recover rigor in the selection of those who will teach future generations. Likewise, when necessary, some will have to be removed from the program, even if they’re in their fifth and last year of studies.

The nurse in my acquaintance’s story is an example of concern and also of courage; and it’s a good one to follow, whether the woman is real or fictitious.  After all, everyone has had fictitious heroes and heroines at some time (Elpidio Valdes, Maria Silvia, Batman, Cecilin… something for all likes).

But it would be better that people didn’t have to feel fear and have to hide their identity when talking about things that happen in real life.  They should be able to say things that are controversial or simply express their opinion, even though these might contradict the official line.