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Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values

Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values
Educating the New Socialist Citizen

This in-depth look at education in Cuba’s high schools and middle schools offers new insights into the links between school and society under Castro.

January 2011
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286 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 drawings, 1 b&w photo |

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Havana's secondary schools, Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values is a remarkable ethnography, charting the government's attempts to transform a future generation of citizens. While Cuba's high literacy rate is often lauded, the little-known dropout rates among teenagers receive less scrutiny. In vivid, succinct reporting, educational anthropologist Denise Blum now shares her findings regarding this overlooked aspect of the Castro legacy.

Despite the fact that primary-school enrollment rates exceed those of the United States, the reverse is true for the crucial years between elementary school and college. After providing a history of Fidel Castro's educational revolution begun in 1953, Denise Blum delivers a close examination of the effects of the program, which was designed to produce a society motivated by benevolence rather than materialism. Exploring pioneering pedagogy, the notion of civic education, and the rural components of the program, Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values brims with surprising findings about one of the most intriguing social experiments in recent history.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. 1953-1970: Constructing Conciencia
  • Chapter 2. The Revolution in Education
  • Chapter 3. 1970-1985: Reconciling Revolutionary Fervor with the Requisites of the Modern State
  • Chapter 4. 1986-2000: Rectification and the Special Period
  • Chapter 5. Revolutionary Pedagogy in Action
  • Chapter 6. The Cuban Pioneer Student Organization: Who Will Be Like Che?
  • Chapter 7. Cuba's School to the Countryside Program
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1. Suitcases, Jump Ropes, and lo espiritual: Methodology a la cubana
  • Appendix 2. Surveys
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

A former public school teacher, Denise F. Blum is an Assistant Professor in Social Foundations at Oklahoma State University.


The radical has a passionate faith in the infinite perfectibility of human nature. He believes that by changing man's environment and by perfecting a technique of soul forming, a society can be wrought that is wholly new and unprecedented.
−Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

Preparing students to be socially responsible citizens is of concern to educators and policy makers alike. During my years teaching school in different Latin American countries and in the United States, this topic inevitably became the center of many conversations. Recognizing that the systemic structure of capitalism nurtured consumerism, egocentrism, individualism, and competition, I wondered whether children in a noncapitalist society might be more altruistic and socially responsible than those in a capitalist society. If so, what mechanisms were in place in the school system to ensure a different citizen outcome? Knowing Spanish, I set out to discover what was going on in Cuban education.

On my first visit to Cuba, in 1995, to conduct research for my master's thesis, I pursued stories and documents pertaining to the 1961 National Literacy Campaign, the Cuban government's massive attempt at expanding education to all and transforming the political culture through education (Fagen 1969). This project ultimately led to the topic of this book: How is socialist ideology, or conciencia, taught, and in what ways are young people making meaning of it?

In this introduction I briefly present my methodology (more detail can be found in the appendixes), then introduce the Cuban government's focus on using education to create a new personality, "the new socialist man." The New Man, el Hombre Nuevo, was to emerge from Fidel Castro's rendering of society as "one huge school," with education transformed into a totalizing, society-wide, mass media process (Medin 1990) for value inculcation. A description of the work-study principle follows. This principle in praxis is meant to provide Cuban children with a socialist orientation toward work and communist conciencia. Motivation and incentives played important roles in gaining the support of the Cuban young people. My work in the schools and on a country farm gave me valuable opportunities to assess the degree to which different generations had absorbed revolutionary values and so to make a preliminary assessment of the success of the educational program as transformative agenda.


My focus on secondary education is deliberate. Before going to Cuba, I had spent ten years teaching ninth graders Spanish in the United States and English as a second language in Latin America. From this experience I acquired a general understanding of ninth-grade behavior that someone outside the teaching profession might label dissident. In addition, because Cuban schooling is required only through ninth grade, that is the year when students decide whether they will pursue further education or follow a vocational path. Thus, ninth grade seemed an appropriate time for exploring students' aspirations and the extent to which they coincided with the needs of a socialist society.

Although most researchers on education in Cuba focus on the stellar achievements in elementary education and try to pinpoint the formula for success in attaining literacy, little work has been done on secondary education in Cuba. Enrollment in Cuban elementary schools (99 percent) surpasses elementary school enrollment in the United States (96 percent) (UNESCO 2008). In contrast to the high secondary school enrollment in the United States, however, which remains at a steady 96 percent, Cuba's secondary school enrollment is much lower. In 1998-1999, while I was living in Cuba, secondary school enrollment reached 65 percent, up from an all-time low of 50 percent in 1993 (UNESCO 2008). This difference caught my attention. What were the teenagers doing if they were not in school?

The adolescent schooling years are of serious concern to the Cuban government, which considers them a time to hone revolutionary teaching, to form new cadres to lead and perpetuate socialist values and norms, and to "ferment" conciencia—but fewer Cuban students are electing to stay in school. What, then, are Cuban schools' role and responsibility in increasing secondary enrollment? How does low secondary enrollment affect society, and what options are Cuban students choosing instead of further schooling? My work with Cuban students and teachers, while it did not necessarily answer enrollment statistics, did uncover some students' feelings about the educational curriculum, aspirations for their own future, and attitudes toward school in the late 1990s, during a period of economic change.

It was at a celebration of the 1961 Literacy Campaign at Cuba's National Literacy Museum while I was in Cuba collecting data for my master's thesis that I met Lizabet, a former literacy worker, or brigadista. She not only shared the story of her experience as a brigadista, she also told me how much she loved teaching civic education to ninth graders and invited me to visit her school, Granma Junior High School (a pseudonym) in Havana.

The Cuban Ministry of Education (MINED) granted me permission to conduct my research at Granma Junior High School. During the initial stages of my research, I always referred to my school site by its revolutionary name (all Cuban schools are named after heroes or martyrs of the revolution). I also referred to it by the municipality in which it was located, never by the name of the neighborhood, and perhaps this missing link was what lay behind the reaction of MINED at the end of my study. As I was concluding my research visit, MINED officials met with me to review my data and my preliminary findings. In the course of the conversation I mentioned the name of the neighborhood, at which I received looks of shock as they suddenly realized they had granted me permission to conduct research in a school located in what they termed a "marginalized neighborhood." Surprised and concerned, during my last week in Havana the officials scrambled to grant me additional permission to observe in Ciudad Libertad, an educational compound and showcase of experimental ideas in Cuban education.

I spent approximately five of my fifteen months of fieldwork observing and participating in activities at Granma Junior High School and with the families in La Flor (another pseudonym) neighborhood. I lived with a family and divided my time among consulting archival documents, conducting forty-five formal audiotaped interviews, making daily school observations, and participating in school, community, and family activities, through which I acquired hundreds of hours of taped field notes and interviews. Family members, teachers, education officials, and education researchers are equally involved in the educational process, and so I included the stories of their experiences as well. Because older people frequently commented on the differences between their generation's and their children's or grandchildren's generation's education and value inculcation, I have also used generational interviews to show the significance of historical context, socializing mechanisms, and general reception of educational policy by the Cuban population.

Receiving formal permission from the Cuban government to conduct long-term research in a Cuban school was unprecedented, according to MINED officials. Likewise, my methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation were unique by the very activity of conducting research in this "forbidden research terrain" (Fuller 1988). It took me several years to gain access to a Cuban school, and when I did, I was assigned a Cuban mentor and debriefed by MINED before leaving Cuba. I began seeking permission for a long-term engagement during the initial years of fieldwork for my master's thesis. Even with the intense monitoring of my work by government officials, teachers and students wanted their stories told, and navigated the political obstacles for me so that I would "see more" and tell the "real story." Moreover, primary informants became collaborators in data analysis and interpretation as they assisted in the transcription of my taped interviews throughout the study and met for discussion after each transcription session to give me feedback about the data and to guide me in my research strategies and interview techniques.

Although I expected heavy monitoring, what I did not expect was the intense suspicion my research methods ignited. Not a single Cuban educator and only a few Cuban anthropologists had ever heard of ethnography. I was repeatedly asked why I wanted to go back every day to the school: what was I looking for that I had not already seen? Why was I constantly taking notes? Why did I not have a survey? Why did I spend so much time collecting data? What was qualitative research? What would my final dissertation contain, and how could this research possibly be scientific?

Because of the U.S. government's longstanding antagonistic and colonizing position toward Cuba, I was often accused of being a CIA agent, and even those who accepted me considered my research practices odd. Neither perception was easy to shake or to live with. Nevertheless, applying a survey instrument seemed to ease the tension as well as to open more opportunities for dialogue. So I did a survey.

With all of the political sensitivity surrounding my presence as a U.S. researcher investigating the prodigal child of the Cuban revolution, the educational system, what I found most surprising was the remark of a MINED official during my final debriefing. He asserted, "Criticism of the Cuban education system is okay, but with all of our difficulties, please do not leave us beaten up and on the floor. As you know, we have a history of being bullied by the United States. Recognize that we have implemented methods to save our educational system. We care about our people. Try to leave it on a positive note." In that moment I realized that researchers have the power to do what they want with data; we have full rein. I had the choice of describing the glass as half empty or half full. Candidly, I responded, "For me, it was not one extreme or another. I really did see marvelous things taking place at the school, as well as critical struggles for teachers and students. All countries struggle with many of the same issues. The U.S. school system, with even more material resources, has many problems. Instilling proper values is a major struggle for the United States, too." So it is with the goal of showing both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Cuban government's efforts to create and maintain revolutionary citizens and the Cuban populace's responses to their efforts that I have written this book.

Since schools have always reflected the government-endorsed normative framework for a society, Cuban schools are an interesting site in which to study the process of human transformation. Cuban schools are both the generators and the meters of the values implicit in this evolving socialist society, offering insight into Cuba's future political system and its particular flavor, and using explicit methods to inculcate revolutionary values. Furthermore, the country's about-turn in politics and economics to accommodate a socialist ideology at the advent of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and again at a time of economic crisis in the 1990s makes its accompanying effects in schooling noteworthy.

The response of the Cuban people to their government and its institutions is crucial to cultivating and maintaining conciencia to reproduce and perpetuate socialism. Ernesto "Che" Guevara used the term conciencia when he formulated his ideas about moral incentives. For Guevara, the word meant more than is implied by the English translation of "consciousness" or "awareness." Conciencia was created through education with explicit political goals and participation in revolutionary activities; it involved a commitment to action (Guevara 1965). Fidel Castro has defined conciencia as "an attitude of struggle, dignity, principles and revolutionary morale" (Castro 1980, 59). Conciencia, during the Cuban Revolution, was at the very heart of socialist ideology. Therefore, my goal became to document the methods of its inculcation and internalization in Cubans.

Education has always reflected the political and economic structure of society. As a result, schooling will be explicitly aligned with the means of production. Insofar as Cuba before 1959 was a capitalist country, the radical change to socialism necessitated the schooling or socialization of a new personality, the new socialist man or woman. The means to inculcate this ideological orientation was the implementation of Fidel Castro's totalizing concept of the country as "one huge school," and the most salient mechanism for inculcating this new orientation was the Marxist-Leninist work-study principle, the dominating principle in schooling from kindergarten through college and even in professional life.

Creating a "New Personality"

Educating society has been the key to creating both the material abundance and the social consciousness required by the sought-after ideal communist society. Educational policy in post-1959 Cuba established transformational tasks for the schools and defined new standards of conduct that required active cooperation among schools, families, and the organized community. When questioned about the obvious reflection of Cuban revolutionary ideology in the schools, Cuban educators never deny it. Abel Prieto Morales, an official of MINED, was asked at an educational conference in Italy, "Is the school in Cuba an instrument of the state?" To which he replied, "Yes, of course. Just as it was before the triumph of the Revolution and as it is in present-day Italy" (cited in Leiner 1975, 6). What does it mean for education to be an instrument of the state? Is this beneficial or detrimental, and to whom?

In the process of cultivating revolutionary values, the Cuban leadership repeatedly pointed to the need for a "new personality training" as part of the effort of building a socialist society (Figueroa, Prieto, and Gutiérrez 1974, 3). Che Guevara was the chief promoter of pursuing these ideals in educational policy, especially in the initial phases of the revolution. He embodied the revolutionary ideals bundled in the new socialist man concept. "We are building a new society—a just and human society in which exploitation of man by man will have no part. As a part of that, our schools need to form the New Man—one who is motivated not by greed or self-interest but by the good of all," he said. In this process of total societal transformation, schools were given the responsibility of creating new socialist men and women. As Castro proclaimed, "All revolution is an extraordinary process of education. . . . Revolution and education are the same thing" (1961b, 271). In other words, the revolution could not occur without proper education, and schooling had to explicitly serve the revolution.

Like other countries, Cuba has used education along with economic and political measures to resolve basic developmental problems. In contrast to many countries, however, the Cuban government has rejected traditional development ideologies and strategies. Instead of partial, incremental reforms it has opted for a major structural transformation. More important, instead of treating the economy as a means to improve the human condition, the Cuban revolutionary government has targeted transforming human mentality and behavior as key to economic development, and revolutionary education as the primary means to this end (Barkin and Manitzas 1973; Jolly 1964; Leiner 1975). Revolutionary education, therefore, was marked by an overt ideological constancy and expansion to all ages and levels of education (Carnoy 1990). To what degree would an explicit ideological emphasis improve Cuban citizenship and the island's future?

Cuba Is "One Huge School"

With the goal of educating Cubans not only through the institution of schooling but also through every medium of society, education authorities point to the Cuban Revolution as both the prime motivating force for educational innovation and change and the source of the educational or ideological message. Transformation of the bourgeois capitalist mentality to one that served the country and the people was necessary for a socialist society to thrive. Transformation was based on reeducation to understand the former imperialist domination, the relations of production, and class structure. Not surprisingly, Samuel Bowles (1971) has claimed that every major economic and social objective of the Cuban Revolution has been manifested in some aspect of educational change. Similarly, every major dilemma in constructing a socialist economy has had a counterpart in the Cuban school system.

In transmitting the values of the new society, the Cuban government has consistently emphasized educational ideological activities such as massive campaigns and mobilizations to actively engage as many people of all ages as possible. As Richard Jolly (1964, 181) reported, based on a 1962 visit to the island, the Cuban government "has acted simultaneously on a large number of educational fronts, mobilizing economic and human resources with a massiveness seldom if ever seen." One of the most significant examples is the 1961 National Literacy Campaign, which reduced illiteracy nationwide from 23.6 percent to 3.9 percent in eight months, making Cuba the nation with the highest literacy rate at the time in Latin America (Lorenzetto and Neys 1965). In the twenty-first century, mobilizing for national participation in education-based endeavors continues.

Fagen (1969) argues that the results of the Literacy Campaign, when measured against the costs and tangible results, might have been less than what the revolutionaries claimed. However, he also notes that if the goal was mobilizing and changing Cuban political culture, the campaign was an unquestionable success. Political culture includes "patterns of action as well as states of mind," Fagen writes (16). In this way, the Literacy Campaign was

seminally important in the evolution of the institutional and political culture of the revolution. . . . [E]ven those who were most cynical about the pedagogical achievements of the campaign would probably admit that the widespread cultural and psychological barriers inhibiting adult education in Cuba were broken in 1961, even if functional literacy were not achieved for very many of the so-called new literates. (55)

The Literacy Campaign had an additional side to it, one critical to the development of the new socialist man: it connected what had previously been separated by capitalist development, bringing the urban educated sector into contact with the poor and illiterate all over the island. From 1961 on, sending young people, generally in their early to mid-teens, to the countryside for agricultural labor became a dominant theme. Its goal was to break down barriers and dissolve differences between urban and rural areas (such as differences in production, distribution, measures, and values) as an integral part of the Cuban development process (Carnoy 1989).

The campaigns and the work brigades, the mass organizations and the newly trained young people as the vanguards of the revolution, were just some of the signs of a new political culture in the 1960s. To make the transition to a new political culture, Marxist-Leninist concepts were projected in political messages in all realms of life, including educational, cultural, artistic, and social arenas. By proclaiming that he would make the island "one huge school," Castro emphasized that education occurs beyond the walls of school buildings. Furthermore, education includes all socializing mechanisms, and therefore the government must use all channels of dissemination, including schools, workplaces, media, and recreation, to inculcate new revolutionary norms. These sites and channels, as well as mass organizations and nationwide activities, reflected Castro's need to strengthen his base of popular power and to perpetuate that base by developing a revolutionary consciousness in the masses to take the place of merely transitory enthusiasm (Fagen 1969). Through the many modes of education, the state intended to transform the culture of a nation to serve immediate and long-term national goals, focusing on productivity (work) and the development of a revolutionary consciousness to respond to economic and ideological needs.

The Work-Study Principle

The work-study principle is fundamental to the process of forming the new socialist citizen. Innovations in educational programs that sought to create the new socialist man included combining work, production, and study; emphasizing the study of socially useful subjects; incorporating voluntary labor; stressing moral rewards; reinforcing emulation and cooperative study; and, in 1968, introducing military training in all but elementary schools (Castañeda 1973). In this new political culture work had new meaning, especially in relation to pedagogy. Part of my work has been to probe this relationship between political culture and pedagogy in contemporary Cuban society. I describe its evolution in the later chapters of this book.

The work-study principle combines both mental (academic study) and manual (physical labor) activities on a regular basis. The manual activities take different forms at different grade levels, from school maintenance, participation in recycling programs, attending to educación laboral (woodshop, sewing, and the like), and working in the community garden to intensive weeks of living and working in the countryside performing agricultural labor. Students undertake "socially useful work" several times a week for a few hours, and the time devoted to this work increases with each age group, but never consumes more than three hours a day. The only exception is when secondary students go for their weeks-long stint of agricultural work in the countryside. Through these work activities, which everyone from kindergarten through twelfth grade participates in, the Cuban government hopes to communicate the equal importance of all professions, eliminate class stereotypes, encourage empathy for and solidarity with the proletariat, and foster "a love for work" and a devotion to la patria.

According to Cuban officials, the hallmark citizen virtues and behaviors of the New Man include not only patriotism but also what Fagen (1969, 147) calls "the moralization of work." This type of work is a "Cuban revolutionary variant of the Protestant ethic, stripped of its overtones of salvation by means of privatization" (ibid.). Like other prescriptions for behavior, the Cuban revolutionary work ethic fuses work and societal service into an idealized vision of a clean, hard, useful life, reinforcing revolutionary values such as conciencia, egalitarianism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, internationalism, anti-imperialism, laboriousness, and loyalty to the revolution.

In the end, the most salient feature of the Cuban educational revolution is the linking of productivity and consciousness by including a strong ideological component based on collective work and moral incentives. The intention is that the value-laden curriculum and work activities will yield productive, loyal citizens by creating both the material abundance and the social consciousness required by the sought-after ideal communist society. For its ideological and economic importance, Cuban officials have regarded the work-study principle as "the cornerstone of Cuban education"; without it, Cuban communist education would cease to exist (Guerrero and Socarrás 1979). With the work-study principle so central to the operation of Cuban education, it became my primary focus. I therefore sought to evaluate the future of the system and its sustainability with the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989.

The Philosophical Underpinnings of the Work-Study Principle

The work-study principle in Cuba is rooted in the ideas of the philosophers Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, and the poet-philosopher and national hero José Martí. Lenin held that the relations of production determine the development of each generation. In a capitalist society, for example, the education of the working class is limited, and therefore the lower classes are involved in work that alienates the individual from his or her creative capacities. In the ideal Marxist-Leninist society, in contrast, socioeconomic and pedagogical conditions are created to convert work into a decisive factor in the holistic development of an individual. This highlights one of the most important conditions for communist development—the linking of study and productive, socially useful work for students. In this way the students participate directly in practical tasks of constructing socialism and, in the process, form their convictions and consciousness through collective activity.

Marx's belief in the transformative nature of labor is evident in his critique of the Gotha Program (an educational program for the German principality of Gotha). He stated, "an early combination of productive labour with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society . . . every child from age nine should become a productive worker" (cited in Tucker 1971, 300). However, Marx realized the tenacity of the old economic order and the need to address its legacies:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society not as it has developed its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. (6)

Woven into the revolutionary work concept in Cuba as developed by Marx, Lenin, and Engels are the ideas of Cuba's nineteenth-century philosopher, political theorist, and literary figure José Martí. Based on an understanding of Cuba as an underdeveloped nation, with a society that depended mainly on the country's agricultural resources, Martí postulated the need to bridge the gap that existed in education between theory and practice, work and study, and manual and intellectual labor. Quotations from Martí (1975, my translations) are often used to support the practice of physical labor as the educative task of the school: "To educate is to prepare for life" (308). "Behind every school a field" (287). "In the morning the hoe, in the afternoon the pen" (53). "Physical, mental, and moral advantages come from manual work" (285). "Man grows with the work of his hands" (285). The blending of Marxism-Leninism and Martíism allowed the Cuban leadership to virtually graft Marxism-Leninism—a relatively foreign system of ideas to the Cubans—onto Cuban nationalism (Medin 1990).

Rooted in the perceived needs of Cuba's new communist society, a combination of work and study became the backbone of a new kind of pedagogy from the time of the Literacy Campaign. Referring to building the base of the Cuban educational revolution, Fidel has said, "it is impossible to think of education in communism without this idea of the combination of work and study" (cited in García Galló 1973, 10), and "The participation of our students in productive work is a great tool of revolutionary pedagogical work and contributes to their ideological formation" (ibid. 17). Through meaningful work—work that would truly become a part of national development—students would learn what it meant to work in a Marxist tradition. Specifically, they would learn the meaning of labor and production; most important, their own potential for transforming the nature of work would in turn transform not only the natural world but also human beings themselves. Thus, the incorporation of physical labor into the Cuban curriculum is part of a transformative process, one aimed at bridging the gap between theory and praxis.

Broad participation, symbolizing acceptance and comprehension of national efforts, was viewed as the path to transformation. Economic prosperity under socialism required changes in attitudes as well as individual sacrifices of material items on behalf of the collective well-being. Rather than acceding to the ever-rising demands for consumption characteristic of capitalist countries, the Cuban government has strived to create a consumption pattern and structure of rewards based on group participation and identification with national achievements. Individual consumption of material goods has been restricted, while collective participation in social services has expanded. Making this transition from an emphasis on the individual to an emphasis on the collective requires a change of incentives and ways of motivating people.

Motivation and Incentives

Motivational changes start with the Cuban children, who must learn to be motivated more by moral incentives than by material ones to fulfill the moral and material ideals the socialist government has for its citizenry. To achieve the state's socialist vision, Castro's goal since the mid-1960s has been a "synthesis, a search for the ever-elusive balance between moral and material incentives to unglue an inefficient economy" (Black 1988, 376). Reflecting this vision, Che Guevara introduced the mechanism of moral incentives into the various volunteer work projects in the 1960s.

Cuba's society-wide economic distributive system is based on conciencia comunista. It is a form of learned behavior channeled from above by various mass and state organizations for social honors. The preference for Cuba's nonmarket methods, according to Robert Bernardo (1970, 120), "is bound up with the goal of instilling a new work ethic in which workers, including managers, are internally motivated to work for the net social good." Insofar as this goal is achieved, it forms the decentralized or voluntary aspect of the system of moral incentives.

The Cuban model of development is unique in its primary reliance on moral incentives over material ones, both for intensifying the work effort and for raising total work hours in socially needed tasks, particularly in the unpopular area of agricultural labor. Converting the workforce to address the emphasis on agriculture required a heavy investment in education to provide training that would be more directly relevant to the new productive needs of the country (Barkin and Manitzas 1973). One of the hallmarks of socialist educational methods is emulation. Emulation involves competition by group instead of by individual, as in capitalism. Those who succeed have the duty to help others gain access to the same level of success. In the process, the outstanding groups, or brigades, are rewarded with public recognition, and frequently with certificates or an honorary pin or medal. Two of the most important elements in the educational process of forming the New Man have been the emphasis on agricultural labor and the reliance on moral incentives. Therefore, it is important to ask: What is the current state of students' involvement in agricultural labor? What is the place of moral incentives today, and how effective are they?

The Importance of Youth

In the Youth Congress of 1962, the nation's youth were praised as the embodiment of the future of the revolution, as only the young could come to the revolutionary experience uncorrupted and pure enough to be formed into true communists (Fagen 1969). They were valued for their future contribution to the development effort and for their potential to bear the seeds of the new political culture.

According to psychologists, young people are more available psychologically for recruitment into new experiences. Erik Erikson (1968) describes how young people are searching for a sense of self that is relatively unambiguous, action-oriented, and ideological,

because in adolescence an ideological realignment is by necessity in process and a number of ideological possibilities are waiting to be hierarchically ordered by opportunity, leadership, and friendship. . . . At no other time as much as in adolescence does the individual need . . . oversystematized thoughts and overvalued words to give a semblance of order to his inner world.

Erikson's formulation is relevant to understanding the fusing of the system requirements of the Cuban government with the personal identity needs of Cuban youth. The mobilization programs launched by the Cuban educational system meet the implied conditions of Erikson's analysis, with adolescents submitting to rough physical conditions, a scarcity of material items, and the challenges that accompany mobilization to the countryside. Their sense of self-importance is strongly reinforced by participating in activities that not only make a visible transformation in the physical environment but are also of national importance and pride. Students' energies are channeled into prescribed patterns of behavior, such as societal service, where students are given serious responsibilities and collectivism is encouraged to stave off egoism. As Fagen (1969) suggests, the formative environment of Cuban children ameliorates many of the most profound uncertainties and difficulties that are usually characteristic of the search for identity.

Yet contemporary Cuban youth are at a juncture of judging the Cuban political system not only for its promise but also for its performance. The state realizes that it must meet two different but related demands, affective and technocratic. The young people of the 1960s became the solid base of support for building socialism—the vanguard. However, the factors that imprinted a strong socialist value system on those young people have had a somewhat different effect on their children and grandchildren.

Most recently, attempts to mold a new consciousness have consistently met economic obstacles. Events such as the fall of the Soviet bloc, the Helms-Burton Act, and the decades-long U.S. embargo have forced Castro to create a mixed economy with capitalist incentives, such as new jobs in low-skill sectors like agriculture and tourism. Dissatisfied with the career options and Cuban peso salaries that have not corresponded with a dollar-driven or euro-driven economy, many have questioned the revolutionary ideals of patriotic sacrifice, equality, and hard work (Díaz-Briquets 1993; Martín 1991).

The Cuban educational system has been one of the main institutions held responsible for "rescuing" revolutionary values (Addine Fernández 1996; Báxter Pérez 1990, 1999; Charcón Arteaga 1998; Menéndez Quintero 1994; Romero Fernández 1994; Trujillo de la Paz 1999). As Romero Fernández (1994, 149) has written, "What is certain is that with the appearance of new necessities, of new challenges to society, and to humanity, values that have structured the destiny of humanity and many societies are being reordered." More specifically, Cuban sociologist Juan Luis Martín (1999, 144) states that "the truly strategic objective of the coming years will be the development of a social consciousness with an important ethical component, one of its main features being love of work." A common saying in Cuba is, "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work." How do economic changes shape labor issues in Cuba, and how do labor issues in turn shape the role of schooling for Cuban citizenship? What values are schoolchildren holding on to in their changing context?

Political Religion, Affect, and the Performative Dimensions of Conciencia

To understand how Cuban young people are making meaning of their world, I draw on the theoretical work of Damián J. Fernández (2000), who argues that the Cuban government crafts an affective attachment to and among the citizenry to cultivate human motivation and conciencia. Fernández defines the government's "affective discourse" as its "political religion, giving meaning to the official discourse of Marxism-Leninism in a culturally authentic language" (67). It is clearly the emotional connection that crafts the story between the Cuban government and its people. As James Loewen (2007, 342) writes in Lies My Teacher Told Me, "emotion is the glue that causes history to stick."

Cuba's political religion taps into and appeals to cubanidad, or Cuban identity. The affective discourse touches the Cuban people directly, for it couches issues of national immediacy in moral language—emphasizing, for example, the importance of working in the fields to support the national economy and la patria, or crusading against economic dependence, imperialism, injustice, laziness, illiteracy, exploitation, and selfishness. It is important to note that the revolutionary values are tied to moral goals and therefore are driven by an elicit emotion—for example, instilling a love for work, devotion to la patria, self-sacrifice, solidarity, loyalty to the revolution, hope, faith, and so on. The promotion of conciencia is facilitated by a political religion that is infused with "notions of unity and harmony for high moral ends" (Fernández 2000, 69) and dependent on a charismatic leader—who has been growing weaker. Building on the emotional codes of Cuban political culture, the state generates politics with affect and passion, hoping to link the masses with the leader. Political religion complements Marxism-Leninism by viewing human nature in a spiritually optimistic way with possible emancipation. The political religion presumes a faith in the perfectibility of human nature in general and in Cuban exceptionalism in particular.

This emphasis on affect in the theoretical framework is not meant to reduce the importance of other material and nonmaterial factors in the formation of the New Man, nor is it to say that emotions play the primary role in political developments in Cuba. Instead, I suggest that while historical, international, economic, geographic, cultural, social, and political factors can help us understand the politics and peoples of a country, the analytical category of emotions and its influence on Cuban politics and policy can provide useful insights often overlooked by traditional research.

With respect to the role of affect in politics, epistemologically, emotions are interpretations of reality, if we hold to the understanding that all reality is interpreted subjectively. Emotions are products of both of heart and mind, exist both privately and publicly, and yield both irrational and rational responses. Likewise, passions are judgments about the world and are usually moral and normative. Feminists like Ruth Behar (1993, 1996), Donne Kondo (1990), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003), and Michelle Rosaldo (1984) argue that politics are personal, but Fernández understands emotions as an analytical category to be considered in the struggle for power and legitimacy. He underscores the affective: "Emotions in their social cultural setting reflect the community's outlook, its normative map. They are indicative of political culture, that is, values, norms, and affective codes that influence how people in particular groups relate to politics" (2000, 2). Notably, Fernández calls revolutions and transitions "affairs of the heart," because they are emotionally charged situations. He says that the specific role played by emotion is shaped by particular historical, social, and economic factors, making the affective attachment to the system crucial for governability and legitimacy.

Other social scientists have identified emotion as a factor in the promotion of systemic change. Human frustration, argue Ward Goodenough (1963) and Harry Mtonga (1993), causes people to discard old beliefs, replace them with new ones, and carry out rapid reconstruction. This desire for society's members to create a more satisfying culture has been termed a "revitalization movement" by anthropologist Anthony Wallace (1966). Furthermore, Rolland Paulston (1971) has observed that the new cultural system (resulting from revitalization) specifies not only new relationships but also new behaviors. The new behaviors result from a new reality, or at least a reinterpretation of existing power relations and institutions. This new worldview, or what Paulston terms a "mazeway," may necessitate changes in the social system to bring the mazeway and social reality into congruence. In attempts to replace the old mazeway of capitalist culture with one based on communism, political bonding becomes an ethical phenomenon, a crusade against imperialism, corruption, illiteracy, exploitation, and economic dependence.

Gerald Read recognizes the Cuban government's movement for societal transformation and regeneration of the masses as a form of "ideological evangelism" (1970, 142). Frei Betto similarly states, "The Cuban revolution is an evangelic creation" (1999, 5). Maintaining this same religious tone, Read says that through participation in the revolution, Cubans are free and can "prepare themselves through education for their ultimate fulfillment, or state of 'grace'" (1990, 134).

A major component of Cuba's political religion is the Manichean myth, which reinforces the totalistic character of confrontation, where enemies are stigmatized to maintain or increase their perceived polarization. The language and symbols of the Manichean myth are teleological and instrumental, charting the "right" track toward utopia for the Cuban people and promising hope for the faithful and hard-working. The language of Manicheanism is comforting, as it clearly divides the world into good and evil, with no middle ground, thus dispelling confusion in a time of transition. Its polarizing character reinforces the totalistic character of confrontation. The government's political religion draws on Manicheanism to create an axiological and emotional atmosphere conducive to the mobilization and discipline needed to confront the enemy, real or imaginary (Fernández 2000; Medin 1990). Through the polarization of values, the goal is to stigmatize the enemy (especially the United States and capitalism) and idolize the heroes and martyrs who represent the revolution. The binary choice, either revolution or treason, represents a for-us-or-against-us mentality. Any potential diversity or heterogeneity is neutralized, and the concept of self-image becomes exclusive in order to impose a monolithic identity.

The Performance Dimensions of Conciencia

These Manichean images, binary discourses, and polarization of values, with affective attachments, are part of Cuban culture. The New Man, el Hombre Nuevo, is evolving into a "Newer Man," or what Frederik (2005) terms "el Hombre Novísimo," a combination of past and future images. While discourses may remain formalized, standardized, immutable, and replicated from one context to the next, as Yurchak (2005) observes, a duality exists. The performative dimensions of speech acts (Austin 1971) must be considered to recognize and interpret this lived duality and the conciencia that is taking shape within the "velvet prison" (Haraszti 1988) of everyday life, where Cubans negotiate chambers of constraint with the creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness that mark cubanidad.

The even newer socialist man of Cuba's twenty-first century is one who has learned the values inherent in el campo: hard-working, humble, and altruistic, with an identity connected to the land and a strong patriotism. Frederick (2005) describes this even newer man as a "pura cepa" (pure stalk), grounded in the values of the countryside, yet at the same time culto (cultured) in the arts and letters, taking an interest in both national and international issues. The pura cepa reflects a person schooled in the Marxist-Leninist work-study principle, a principle that produces a person who knows how things work, has experience with agricultural labor and el campo, and values lo espiritual over lo material, even as he adapts to the ever-changing circumstances—social, political, economic, and historical—of the twenty-first century. It is precisely the work-study principle, which ties physical labor to mental or intellectual labor, that has been responsible for cultivating and inculcating an emotional attachment to la patria, its people, and ultimately the state.

Damián Fernández's work is helpful in highlighting the affective dimension of the state's attempts to achieve conciencia by appealing to Cubans through a hyperattachment to affective language, symbols, and the Manichean epic myth to evoke a pro-revolutionary emotional bond with the pueblo cubano. Yet Fernández maintains a binary framework of private and public behaviors in tension that fails to capture the paradoxical mix of alienation and association with the ideals and realities of socialist life that coexist in everyday Cuba. It is important to consider, as Yurchak (2005, 135) notes, that Cuba's socialism is "both everlasting and steadily declining, at the same time full of vigor and bleakness, as well as dedicated to high ideals and devoid of them." None of these values is a façade, as they render seemingly contradictory behaviors and attitudes that are many times simultaneous and overlapping. In fact, both Yurchak's keen understanding of this duality and Fernández's limning of affectivity inform what I call a doble conciencia (double consciousness), a play on the official schooled conciencia, that has been and is being subtly and explicitly socialized into Cuban young people.

The affective bonds between the state and its people, and between teachers and their students, are pivotal to creating and sustaining a politically stable society. This book presents a portrayal and analysis of the ongoing operation of the doble cara (double face), doble moral (dual morality), and resulting doble conciencia in Cuba's schooling that coexist and contribute to the country's political stability while changing it.

To understand this pivotal time for the Cuban state and its youth, in the first three chapters I provide a brief overview of the political and economic dynamics and their influence on educational policy since the late 1950s, in an effort to show the linkages between the goals of the Cuban government and Cuban schools' role in socialization. In this way I offer insight into changes in the role of Cuban youth with regard to society as a whole—changes shaped both by the transformations in the country's economic and social situation historically and by the age group's internal dynamics.

In Chapter 1 I introduce the construction of conciencia from 1953 to 1969. In Chapter 2 I briefly examine policy and planning from 1970 to 1985, attending to the more overt forms of Soviet influence and market changes in the political, economic, social, and educational arenas—the struggles in fomenting revolutionary consciousness as youth became more removed from the revolutionary tasks of the 1960s. Chapter 3 provides an overview of what came to be known as the "rectification of errors," which entailed a reemphasis on and revamping of the moral aspect of the economy, politics, and the educational system. Rectification started in 1986 and is still in effect today in policy.

The historical overview of Cuba's policy and planning is meant to promote greater understanding of present-day measures in its educational system and to contextualize the stories I collected on my visits in 1998, 1999, and 2000. My personal experiences in 1998 and 1999 are recounted in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 through ethnographic portrayals of the schooling process, both formal and informal. Chapter 5 introduces the reader to the research site, the La Flor neighborhood and its junior high school, Granma. This chapter provides some snapshots of the connections and disconnections between official discourse and the Cuban people regarding educational institutions such as MINED, the Pedagogical Institute, and Granma Junior High School. Chapter 6 presents an overview of the Pioneer organization, a student mass organization that actively structures school life politically, academically, and socially. I also provide vignettes of a few of the Pioneers' different programs, including interest circles, clubs, FAPI (Fuerzas de Acción Pioneril), and the Explorers. Chapter 7 is devoted to a unique program, Escuela al Campo, or "school to the countryside," which involves the temporary mobilization of urban students as a class to do farmwork in a rural area for a few weeks. The final chapter addresses the implications of my findings for Cubans today. The details of my methodology and documents showing the evolution of my survey instrument are included in the appendixes. The translations from Spanish to English are mine unless otherwise indicated, and I assume full responsibility for any errors in translation or documentation.

Using a lens of political religion combined with a recognition that structure and agency are mutually constitutive, I hope to broaden current understanding of the Cuban educational system's methods and the results of value inculcation in relation to the work-study principle. Focusing on the affective and the performative, dramaturgical aspects of the state and state-run educational system (Austin 1971; Edelman 1971, 1985; Fernández 2000; Geertz 1983, 2000; Turner 1974, 1982, 1992) complements earlier political economy approaches to the study of Cuban education (Bowles 1971; Carnoy 1989; La Belle and Ward 1990; Paulston 1971; Read 1970) and adds a new dimension to the study of Cuban educational policy making (Lutjens 1996). I have set out to shed light on the ways in which resistance to and the accommodation of educational goals regarding work are emotionally and axiologically constructed. Moreover, by focusing on the evolution of the Cuban work concept in schooling and its reception by Cubans over time, I propose implications for educators and policy makers around the world who seek more and different ways to involve schoolchildren in service learning and community development.

I hope that, by being exposed to the chronological juxtaposition of historical, economical, and political contexts with educational policy, the reader will gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the current ideological, axiological, and material struggle that the Cuban people at all levels are engaged in and seeking answers to. A second goal in writing this book is to demonstrate the commitment of the Castro government to form the proper conciencia through schooling, and the tension and complexity that often result, owing to economical, political, or affective factors. In education, order flourishes and finds its reputation.


“Blum is one of the first waves of scholars who have actually spent considerable time working inside Cuba and observing classrooms. Her ethnographic portraits are one of a kind.”
Damián Fernández, Provost and Professor of Political Science, Purchase College, SUNY


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