Back to School in Cuba and Back to the Mask

Restart of the primary school year in Granma province, in November. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Panama, 31 December 2021 — Ana Laura’s mother was summoned by the teacher to hear complaints about her daughter’s behavior. The 14-year-old teenager has returned to her classroom in Havana after more than a year without classes and now she feels that she does not fit in the desk, does not pay attention to the content and does not want to take notes. “More than half of her grade is in the same place,” laments the teacher. Returning to school is a global challenge, but the situation worsens in Cuba, where excesses of ideological indoctrination contribute to students’ rejection of school.

At the beginning of the confinement, the island’s educational authorities believed that it would be enough to teach the subject at a distance, place a teacher in front of the camera or send assignments through instant messaging. But the months without morning assemblies inflamed with political slogans took their toll on the influence that the Cuban regime had on children and young people. For a long time, these students did not have to attend a place where the blackboard alternates with photos of party leaders, nor did they have to attend “revolutionary reaffirmation” events in which students are frequently involved.

No wonder the historic protests that occurred on July 11 took place when schools had been closed for almost a year. As if the spell had vanished after missing the daily repeating of the words that elicited that state of submissive acceptance, the youths awakened civically. Among the more than 1,000 political prisoners of that day, a good share are under 20 years of age, many barely over 16, considered the age of majority in Cuba.

For those who did not end up behind bars for demonstrating in the streets, going back to school gives them a bitter taste. There are classmates missing from the classrooms and everywhere they hear the stories of summary trials and courts where sentences of more than ten years are asked for exercising the right to protest. But also, those who are returning to the education system are not the same as those who stopped going to classes in the spring of 2020 when the numbers of those infected by covid-19 began to increase. They have changed a lot.

Putting these children and adolescents back into the mold of indoctrination is as impossible as putting the tiny glass slipper on one of Cinderella’s sisters. They no longer fit in the ideological prison of a school, although the confinement of “stay at home” has made them miss exams, sigh at a notebook and even idealize classes full of mathematical formulas or compound sentences. They are fed up with the cult of personality, the slogans of fiery rhetoric and the double standards that all this provokes.

When Ana Laura’s teacher laments that she is not interested in the subjects, she believes that it is the rebellion of age or the lack of teaching practice. But it goes further: in this last year the teenager learned to live without that iron mask and now she no longer wants to put it on again.


Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.


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