Fidel Castro. An incorrigible dreamer.

Fidel Castro - My life

From “My life”, Chapter 19:

There’s no such thing as dreamers, and you can take that from a dreamer who’s had the privilege of seeing realities that he was never even capable of dreaming.

The current economic order and those models of consumption are incompatible with the world’s limited and non-renewable essential resources and the laws that govern nature and life. They also clash with the most elementary principles of ethics, culture and moral values created by mankind.

But citizens also need material goods, don’t you think ?

Yes, of course. I don’t minimize, in the slightest, the importance of material needs – you always have to give them first priority, because in order to study, to achieve a higher quality of life, certain needs have to be satisfied – and those are physical, material needs. But quality of life lies in knowledge, in culture. Values are what constitute true quality of life, the supreme quality of life, even above food, shelter and clothing.

You are still an incorrigible dreamer.

There’s no such thing as dreamers, and you can take that from a dreamer who’s had the privilege of seeing realities that he was never even capable of dreaming.

Cuba has also put its faith in what we might call “general education”, an increase in the level of knowledge, education and culture in every citizen. A socialization of knowledge. Knowledge as a common good. Am I right ?

It took us a long time to discover the following: many people think that money is the decisive factor. Wrong. The level of knowledge, of education in the social classes is the decisive factor. Tens of thousands of people, belonging to the bourgeois class, or those who aspired to it, people with knowledge and education, left Cuba for Miami. The Revolution has graduated about 800,000 professionals and intellectuals from the less privileged sectors of society.

And what have we discovered ? We have discovered, that those people with the most knowledge and the most culture within the family go to the best schools, because you get into those schools on the basis of your academic record, and they obtain the best positions and the best jobs. And the class, or sector, that produces the leaders and managers and all the major political officials, that sector tends to perpetuate itself, while those whose families have little education also tend to perpetuate themselves – the children of the poorest of the poor, the most discriminated-against of the discriminated-against in capitalism.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about a class difference from the strictly economic point of view; I am talking about differences in the levels of education associated with poverty and marginalization versus affluence and a tradition of education. Building a new society is much harder than it might appear, because there are so many factors that stand in your way.

In our own particular Socialist society, after many years, and when there were no longer any illiterates, when everyone had at least a ninth-grade education, it so happened that the, shall we say, more privileged sector tended to perpetuate itself, and another sector, which was more marginalized, also tended to perpetuate itself.

After 1959 we changed the whole system of education. There is no illiteracy anymore, there is no child who has not gone to school, but within the school system, and at the university, which bases admission on academic record and exams, a difference has spontaneously occurred between social sectors in which one sector has clear advantages over that other one in which you find the whites, blacks and mestizos who come from the poorest sectors within the poor people from the times of capitalism. The parents’ educational level even after we’ve made the Revolution continues to have tremendous influence on the children’s later outcome. Children whose parents come from the lowest economic levels or who have the least amount of knowledge, don’t get the grades they need to get into the best schools.And that tends to perpetuate itself decade after decade, as I’ve pointed out. If you leave things the way they are, you can predict that the children of those people will never be the managers of corporations, or directors, or hold the most important positions, because today you can’t manage anything without a university education. What awaits them mainly, is prison.

And how do you propose to change that social determinism ?

To try to correct that, we are now waging a profound educational revolution – one not even conceivable in the first stage of the process. We are turning all that around. And it’s not by taking opportunities away from those who do get into the best schools – young people who are also revolutionaries. No, we are extending the possibility for higher education into the whole country, which then becomes, on one hand, an inevitable step in educational development, and on the other hand, a formidable instrument for social leveling. For several years now, we’ve been taking all those young people of seventeen to thirty years old with nine-grade education, but who for one social reason or another did not continue their studies or go to work, and we are persuading them to keep studying. We have created relevant, varied and attractive courses for them and even given them financial assistance.

We started this in September 2001, and in September 2005 over 45,000 of those students entered our universities. They are going to be among the most revolutionary of our citizens, because these programs represent a rebirth for them. Where would many of them have wound up without education ? – no job, no social support.

Where would they have wound up ?

I asked for an investigation into the situation of all prisoners between twenty and thirty years of age who’d been sent to prison for common crimes in a Socialist state, person by person. And we discovered – it’s incredible – that just 2 percent of those in prison because they’d committed common crimes were the children of professionals and intellectuals. You go to the best schools in the country and there, in contrast, the immense majority of students are the children of professionals and intellectuals, while very few of them are the children of the people in the poor barrios. Well, I gave you all that data.

Now we are improving everything we’ve done in education. Of the 16,000 students in the art-instruction schools who attended excellent institutions with excellent reputations, the social and racial mix is much more satisfactory than the historical average, and not just in dance, where one ethnic  group may have more facility for that activity, but also in music, in drama, in painting – in all areas of artistic expression. And we are very pleased with that. In the integrated courses for young people, which were designed for those who’ve left school and are unemployed, the application of this new concept of “study as work” has led to over 113,000 students being now in school. There are new schools for the medical specialties in which our country is becoming better known every day. We have created hundred of computer clubs, polytechnic academies for computer studies with tens of thousands of young people, and a prestigious university of information science that has over 8,000 students.

If we have to “rationalize” (lay off, suspend) somebody because the number of employees is cut in X activity, we pay him his salary and send him off to school, although always on voluntary basis. In our particular conditions, it costs more to produce something inefficiently, such as sugar cane, than it does to pay the worker 100 percent of his salary.

How many students are there in Cuba ?

At the current time there are over 600,000 students in our universities, in all branches of science. Citizens who are qualifiable and requalifiable (i.i. those susceptible to training and retraining because of a generally positive attitude towards education) can move from one activity to another and be able to do many things. Of those students, over 90,000 used to be youngsters who were neither at school nor at work – many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds, you might say, who are getting excellent results today in their university studies. There are currently 958 university centres. There are 169 municipal centres, which are under the Ministry of Higher Education; there are 84 university centres on former sugar cane centrales; 18 in prisons, which is something totally new, and 169 municipal university centres for public health studies, 1,352 in polyclinics, health units and blood banks, where people stud in various degree programmes related to public health. And there are almost 100,000 teachers of higher education, counting both full time and adjunct faculty. Many people who worked in the bureaucratic apparatus of sugar-cane centrales and other places are giving classes today, they are adjunct professors. Between the two categories, students and teachers – and I am not talking about the other people who work in universities – there are about 600,000 people…

November 25, 2016. Hasta siempre, Fidel.

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