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Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values

Educating the New Socialist Citizen

By Denise F. Blum

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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pp. 1-20

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. ...

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Chapter One. 1953-1970: Constructing Concienca

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pp. 21-40

Affection and passion played central roles in the advent and consolidation of the Cuban Revolution, as well as in its leadership and the strategies pursued. A foundation of sentiment was laid to promote a new conceptual world and a socialist-humanist mind-set. An important role was played by affect, which, along with historical, political, and economic factors, strengthened and loosened the bonds of politics and social mores in the early years of Cuban revolutionary planning and development. ...

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Chapter Two. The Revolution in Education

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pp. 41-71

The revolutionary government’s strategies to construct communist conciencia through political and economic restructuring had their counterpart in education. From the beginning of the revolution, Fidel Castro focused considerable attention on the matter of widespread illiteracy and on education in general. For the revolutionary government, the Literacy Campaign was understood as a fundamental act of social justice. At the same time, the campaign and subsequent education programs became vehicles for integration into and participation in the revolution, reinforcing Castro’s immediate power base, the Rebel Army, and his broader power base, the peasantry. ...

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Chapter Three. 1970–1985: Reconciling Revolutionary Fervor with the Requisites of the Modern State

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pp. 72-92

The institutionalization of the 1970s was intended to unify revolutionary feelings and give them an organized form (Fern

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Chapter Four. 1986–2000: Rectification and the Special Period

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pp. 93-123

While the Cuban state tried to appeal to the youth with measures to rejuvenate the Young Communists (UJC) in the early 1980s, the timing collided with the Rectification Campaign. The Rectification Campaign was an austerity program, initiated in 1986, that gave ideology an expanded role in daily life and economic management. This program undid many of the economic reforms of earlier years. As Cuban socialism tried to respond to the concerns of the young people, few economic and political opportunities were available. ...

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Chapter Five. Revolutionary Pedagogy in Action

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pp. 124-150

In the initial stages of the revolution, Fidel Castro declared that the island of Cuba would become “one huge school” (1961, 271). He used these words to emphasize the importance of educating the population through every possible medium and activity, not just through formalized schooling. Every aspect of society had to be dedicated to reinforcing the history, values, and principles of the revolution. The initial sights one is confronted with when arriving in Cuba, such as billboards and sides of buildings painted with revolutionary slogans, reflect the Cuban government’s intent to cultivate, or at least to represent, a socialist ideological message of conciencia. ...

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Chapter Six. The Cuban Pioneer Student Organization: Who Will Be Like Che?

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pp. 151-177

The Pioneer organization is one of the primary means at the Cuban state’s disposal to modify and regulate student behavior, having a major impact on the day-to-day running of the schools in Cuba. As a mass organization for grades one through nine, the Pioneer organization is overtly used by the Cuban government to socialize schoolchildren to be responsible citizens. In addition, the organization illustrates, according to Theodore MacDonald (1985, 176), “the degree to which doctrinaire shifts in ideological line can be mediated through the school system.” ...

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Chapter Seven. Cuba’s School to the Countryside Program

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pp. 178-204

Cuba’s school to the countryside program (Escuela al Campo, EAC) mobilizes thousands of urban junior high school students each year to the countryside for approximately one month of agricultural labor, politicization, and socialization. The EAC context not only separates the children from their parents, it also places them in unknown territory and requires them to make sense of it and to carry on. Notwithstanding, the EAC was purposely created as a space in which to secure revolutionary values at a time in life - adolescence - when students are “searching for their individual identity as a person” (Ministerio de Educación [MINED] 1992, 1). ...

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pp. 205-218

Using the Cuban context, I set out to see whether schooling in a communist country might produce a more altruistic, socially responsible citizen than in a capitalist country, and if so, which mechanisms in the educational system influenced this outcome. How Cuban people made sense of their everyday lives was critical to understanding schooling outcomes. At the heart of Cuban citizenship formation has been the model of the New Man and its evolution since its inception in the early 1960s. ...

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Appendix One. Suitcases, Jump Ropes, and lo espiritual: Methodology a la cubana

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pp. 219-237

Revolutionary Cuba1 has been termed a “politically-inspired forbidden research terrain,” 2 one that has dissuaded many social scientists from pursuing research on the island (Fuller 1988, 100). In traveling back and forth to Cuba, suitcase packing and jumping rope become useful metaphors to discuss methodology in this forbidden research terrain. The more I learned from the Cubans, the more I deliberated over which items I would pack - or leave out - to meet the forty-four-pound weight limit for the trip. The suitcase contents changed dramatically after my first visit to Cuba, and what I brought back from Cuba each time evolved too. ...

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Appendix Two. Surveys

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pp. 238-244

My Cuban mentor encouraged me to create a survey on my own, which she would then check. My first drafts were found unacceptable, because my mentor felt I should specifically ask three simple questions (no fill-in-the-blanks or sentence completion format). In addition, I was told that if I asked more than three questions, the survey would be too time-consuming. In this appendix are my first drafts and then my final, accepted version. ...


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pp. 245-250


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pp. 251-274


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pp. 278-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780292784833
E-ISBN-10: 029278483x
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292722606
Print-ISBN-10: 0292722605

Page Count: 286
Illustrations: 5 drawings, 1 b&w photo
Publication Year: 2011