Monday, June 20, 2011

From Military Bases Into Schools

One June 6, our third day in Cuba, we visited the Domingo Murillo elementary school in the Ciudad Libertad school complex. Ciudad Libertad is the largest school complex in Cuba and holds every level of school meaning that one could enter as pre-schooler (or the Cuban equivalent) and leave with a graduate degree. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, military bases in Cuba were converted into schools. This conversion reflects one of the main tenets of the Cuban revolution, which was to provide free, universal education for all Cubans. In Cuba, free education includes not only primary school, high school, university, and graduate school, but also special education, technical school, college for adults who want it and enrollment in a music conservatory.

In Cuba, just like in the U.S., the school year goes from September until June; however, unlike the U.S., the school day in Cuba begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:20 p.m. with break from 12:30-2:30 for “active resting time.” For the younger students, this provides time to take nap; however, for older students, this provides time to be active as they choose. Students in Cuba also have very similar courses as those in the U.S. Besides Spanish (our equivalent of English), students take math, science, history, geography (under the class title of “The World In Which We Live In”), library, physical education, art, computer, dance, and even English.

Learning about the Cuban education system I was extremely impressed. Education has always seemed extremely important to me and Cuba has achieved something amazing by giving every person in Cuba, no matter where they are born or how much money they make, the opportunity to go in far as school as they would like. My only lingering questions about the Cuban education system are about content. What is being taught in Cuban textbooks? On the blackboard in every classroom, there was written the date and the number of years since the triumph of the Cuban revolution. How is Che Guevarra portrayed in Cuban history? Fidel Castro? If these men were included in U.S. textbooks, I am sure they would be portrayed differently than they are in Cuban textbooks. What does that say about education and textbooks in general? Surely, Howard Zinn has shown us that history may be written by the winners, but that there are many other voices from each moment in history. Does the Cuban education system ignore these voices? What about the U.S. education system? What voices are left out from the textbooks that future generations will never hear?

Linda McSorley

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