Ethics in the Cuban Schools: Little of Confucius and Much of Puss in Boots / Dora Leonor Mesa

Men rarely recognize the shortcomings of those they love, nor are they accustomed to appreciating the virtues of those they hate.

For some years there is painful and frequent news in various journalistic media, print and digital, which questions the ethics of teaching professionals in Cuban schools. Some teachers or teachers eat their students’ snacks, others ask for gifts for birthdays, some openly show preference for particular students, teachers charge for exams …

There is ample justification to talk about ethics in school organizations in Cuba, a huge challenge for both the state and citizenry. They go together in ethical and social responsibility, although the ethics may be considered as “a method, viable assumptions and conceptual tools to decide what course of action is most appropriate”(Brown, 1992). A communication process that is efficient and ethical accepts the equality and authority of managers and members to identify problems, to think and express ideas with respect and without risks.

The high academic standards of Asian countries like China and Japan are globally recognized. Their philosophy is still based on the precepts of Confucius, philosopher, social theorist and founder of an ethical system – rather than religious – which has survived to this day.

Kung-tse (Confucius, to the West) lived in feudal China over 2,500 years ago, between 551 and 479 BC. His origins were humble, but from his youth showed a fondness for old books and, eventually, he held a high position as an officer of the state of Lu, in the province of Shang-tung. His ideas are about justice and harmonious coexistence.

Far from the mystical and religious beliefs, Confucianism is proposed as a practical philosophy as a system of thought oriented toward life and for the improvement of oneself. The aim, ultimately, is not “salvation,” but wisdom and self-knowledge. The basic principles of Confucius are decency, honesty, loyalty and filial piety.

But Perez Cavarría (Technological Institute of Monterrey, 2003) recognizes that the implementation of any program of ethics implies a strong commitment from the managers of any organization; it requires strategic planning, training and communication plan plus monitoring results. His proposal involves developing ethics along with new ways of communication and interaction with members of the organization — in the present case, the school.

Respect, trust, honesty, to name a few values, necessarily have to appear in the form of how members of an organization communicate with each other. In other words, decency is a fundamental principle of the identity of the organization. The organizational culture, ethics and communication have similarities to each other but each occupies a different place.

Another valuable recommendation of Perez Gutierrez refers to the implementation of mechanisms to protect everyone (the family of the student or teacher) who reports unethical behavior or exposes their doubts: Some emails and phone numbers to ensure anonymity, suggestion boxes, etc.

For organizations communication and the strengthening of ethical values is essential. The evaluation of professors and teachers should not only be based on academic results, but also include ethical behavior.

The Ministry of Education of Cuba, with all the difficulties involved in its meager budget and outdated school technology, also faces serious institutional conflict. In classrooms a secret battle is being waged between our Confucius as always, which has given prestige to Cuban education, and the Puss in Boots, pretending to be teaching professionals, when in fact, like the famous character in the story, they lie, simulate, and if we let them, stop trying to be cats to become minor royalty.

October 13 2011