English (Editorials)

31 - Civic illiteracy and education for freedom.


 “There will be no isolated human intellect, even if it is vigorous and prolific, that would alter the slow and progressive course of the natural elements of life which improve and transform themselves in an uplifting way through man’s education and freedom; and the fair rights that are intelligently requested must surely win with no violence required; and the only efficient way of improving the existing social evils, using natural and effective means, is to make education perfect and to perfect the passionate defence of the vital rights which ennoble us and are an ingredient of a holistic category named freedom”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Tomo 5, p.111)
Now that we celebrate the 160th anniversary of José Martí’s birth, who was the Apostle of the Independence of Cuba we wish to continue creating ideas for the future, foreseeing it and contributing what we believe and think it’s necessary for “human improvement and usefulness of virtue” in this Island.
After 54 years of ideological indoctrination and a pedagogical system subordinated to only one party, one of the most negative realities existing in Cuba is the civic and political illiteracy.
Dangers for today and tomorrow.
This ethical and educative deficiency has decisive impact on the human development of Cubans and on social coexistence in the Nation. The consequences of civic illiteracy are, among others: an incoherent social behaviour: ignorance of human rights and civic duties; inability to take charge of the own life project; the frustration of not knowing what to do with freedom; the increase of violence as a method for the solution of personal, family and social conflicts; the desperate running away from the country; the blunting of the capacity to think and create ideas for the present and the future of the Homeland; the anomy that steals the will for commitment here and now; the corruption of feelings that disables oneself to love truly; the prostitution of principles in favour a materialist survival or a consumerism without ideals; the indifference before injustice and before the violation of the dignity and the own and others’ human rights; the increasing abstention of participation of citizens; the mortgage of the own personal sovereignty due to fear or ignorance; the individualism of the “save-yourself” instinct; the new authoritarianisms that take advantage of the others’ civic and political ignorance; the arrivistes and opportunists who take advantage of their compatriots when they give up their rights; and a long relationship of personal, family, ethical and social weaknesses that we have called, in a generic but real way: the anthropological damage as a result of State totalitarianism and paternalism.
What must we do about ethical, civic and political illiteracy?
By simply reading this diagnosis we could become discouraged and  our faith in the certainty that we Cubans are able to solve our own problems could be damaged. That is not our purpose or our task; on the contrary. We are only verifying the presence of this incision opened in the body of the Nation in order to be able to heal the wound, to give it oxygen, to apply a healing and not a palliative treatment and to contribute to the awareness of this social devastation by our fellow citizens; few talk about this harm; fewer study it and almost no one work in order to heal it.
We are convinced that civic and ethical illiteracy is not only a serious problem today but perhaps it will be the root cause of all the suffering of tomorrow. Without ethical, civic and political education there is no feasible Nation or modern State or comprehensive human development or pacific and mutually favourable international relations.
Two scenarios: to educate for confrontation or educating for freedom and co responsibility.
We discern two possible scenarios: an urgent action of education for freedom, responsibility and democratic commitment that respects diversity, alternation in power, political pluralism, economic initiative, social justice, participation of all parts, the defence and promotion of human rights and civic duties… or the uncontrollable violence which no one wants but we do very little to prevent; the climate of exasperation and confrontation existing among Cubans that think and act differently contribute to such violence.
Then, now that we celebrate the 160th anniversary of Martí’s birth we believe that it is a citizen duty, at least, to ask ourselves: what must we do to eradicate the civic and political illiteracy and abstention: this deep human ailment that causes such community decadence?
To make education perfect and to perfect the passionate defence of the vital rights which ennoble us.
Martí himself described this for us as he built the foundations of the Cuban nation:
“Education has been understood up to now, just as instruction; propagation of culture has been understood just as the imperfect and delayed teaching of ways of reading and writing. A more complete concept of education would maybe put rails to this steaming machine on the move which is already roaring through the jungle for it brings inside its core, the real, unnecessary and unjust pains of millions of men. So the education that is coming straight at us, surrounded by a cloud of hatred and carrying all the savage accessories of war, God save us, would turn itself into a messenger of life”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 5, p. 102).
For decades, Cuba has exhibited an education system that seems to be more like an induced instruction and propaganda of an imperfect culture than Martí’s pedagogic school who compares education to rails for carrying hatred so he would turn this education into “a messenger of life”. But the Apostle of our freedom deals, in depth, with the topic of the danger of frenzied masses:
“There is nothing more fearful than the appetite and the rage of the ignorant ones; when the aching, rude and envious large masses that yearn for the large cities overcome the fear that stops them they become an army of beasts from the woods; so it is an advice of national hygiene and elementary public precaution, to provide, promote and in all manners help to give a true, useful and applicable public education; an education that should be the sweetest work; a comforting work for the educator who grows in nature by doing this task; a work that softens and raises the character of the pupils. Every man is a sleeping beast. It is necessary to take charge of the beast. But man is an admirable beast: To take charge of himself is granted to him”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 5, p. 110).
This is an itinerary for civic education that follows Martís principles:
Here is a true program for civic and ethical education based on Martí’s principles:
-This kind of education is besides an advice of national hygiene and public precaution.
-It is the sweetest work that makes the educator grow in nature and softens and raises the character of the pupils.
-This true public education does not limit man but it teaches him how to take charge of himself.
Let’s continue with Martí’s school of civic-mindedness and ethics which is “hardly pursued by men” :
“Education softens the character more than prosperity; but we are not talking about the mere formal education, of scarce letters, digit numbers and acres of land that is received in the too-much praised schools which are truly sterile but about that one which is healthier and more fruitful and this kind of education is hardly pursued by men; this education reveals them the secrets of their passions, the elements of their evils, the forced relation of the means that will heal them from the time and traditional nature of the pains they suffer, the negative and reactionary work of rage, the safe and unbeatable work of intelligent patience”. (José Martí, Obras Completas, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 5, p.101).
For men and women, that is, all human persons, to take charge of them, it is necessary to bear in mind these other ethical elements, according to the education for freedom that Martí suggests:
-to reveal the secrets of human passions.
-to decipher the elements of their evils.
-to educate in the forced relation of the means that will heal them from the time.
-to discover the traditional nature of the pains they suffer.
-to denounce the negative and reactionary work of rage,
-to educate for the safe and unbeatable work of intelligent patience.
We want that Martí himself be the one who teaches us the long educative itinerary which is a pillar to citizens in order to overcome the dangerous civic and political illiteracy and the lack of ethics:
To define things is to save.
-“To define things is to save. To place man alone with himself;
-to leave in his ear, with the kindness of a heavenly messenger, his own thoughts;
-to disclose before his eyes, with pious hands, the melancholic crosses, the lakes of blood, the gloomy rest, the delay of liberation which is a punishment carried out by universal reason to the impatient ones who want to distort their steady and progressive development;
-to become round-shouldered on the meditation chair… to explain that the land ferments like the must in the barrel and the flour in the kneading trough –that truth, once awaken, is never asleep again- that the spirit of man, more immense than the sea, does not dry or vanish and does not stop wanting and does not give up, and when this spirit sets out to conquer a right, it erodes, slowly but steadily, the established rights of conventionality that have been strengthened by the centuries and protected by petrified souls that love luxury and are detached from the pain of the others thus having a criminal attitude;
-to explain to him that in a short time, he will be redeemed from his melancholic luck for he is one of the abandoned ones who feel tired and weak; he will be redeemed although maybe he cannot foresee his redemption because his rude work does not give him the occasion to understand it, or maybe his solitude does not allow him to see it or maybe his anger does not give him the opportunity to acknowledge it.
-to show him, like showing a tremendous dawn filled with battle bands and joyful spirits, the cohort of generous men who are anointed with the white oil of the holy wars; these men are all together pursuing the fair accomplishment of a happy and sane spiritual life that should accelerate, in the work of the Universe, the death of the beast and the triumph of the wing; and for this purpose these men show the passionate human impetus that looks divine.
-to reveal to him the presence of the workers of love whose powerful drive makes the jailers of the souls who idly enjoy undeserved wealth, disappear in diabolic turns; Oh what a reason for pride and hope to do that!
-to introduce him to the persons who analyse the social body, who discover universal laws and point out effective and true remedies -though at the beginning the effect is invisible- who reveal the complicated nature of peoples, the truth that emerge out of the simultaneous advance of their diverse elements and the need to adjust the most urgent reforms to this truth so that these reforms don’t die just like the fetus removed from the womb of a mother. Oh, what a magnificent spectacle, worthy of new Dantes and Tassos to do that!
-to reveal, in short, the unavoidable law, the triumphant reason, the safe future, the sterility of rush, the reaction that uncultured uprising conveys, the definitive triumph of the active calm –it means to be a knight of men, a worker of the future world, a singer of dawn and priest of the new Church”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La habana, 1975. Tomo 5, p.102-103).
All Cubans, women and men, and not only the educators, all of us who live here and the ones who work and love Cuba in the Diaspora should be workers of that future world and priests of that civic community we should build by weaving coexistence and educating for democracy.
To make a distinction between citizen, Fatherland, Nation and Government.
In order to carry out this program of education for freedom and responsibility, it is necessary first of all, to define four basic and different concepts which are foundation and end of every civic and political education. Martí says that to define things is to save. Let’s define these four pillars of civic-mindedness that have been confused and replaced in Cuba.
The citizen: “Men who have been deprived from their souls since they were born are requested to show a soul. Men who have been prepared only to be beasts that carry burdens are requested to be citizens. Ah! Virtues fall asleep, human nature gets disfigured, generous instincts get spoiled, the true man fades. Example and education need the oppressed ones. Freedom and intelligence is the natural atmosphere of man”. (José Martí, Obras Completas, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La habana, 1975. Tomo 7, p. 157).       
Fatherland“is something more than oppression, something more than a piece of land without freedom and without life, something more than the right to a position by force. Fatherland is community of interests, unity of traditions, unity of ends, is to merge love and hope in a very sweet and comforting way”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 7, p. 157).
Nation “is not the joint of feverish and indifferent men in a land where they have been born by chance or where they have been living for a short time with no other purpose than accumulating the greatest possible amount of money; it is the tight communion of spirits due to long roots, the connection of the people, the common pains, the fair wine of the Homeland’s glories; due to the national soul that is in the air”. (Cf. José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 10, p.157).
Thegovernment of one people is the art of channelling the people’s reality either if it is rebelliousness or worry in the shortest time to the unique condition of peace in which no right is abated. (José Martí, Obras Completas, Editorial ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 3, p. 304). The government is a popular assignment. The people give it and it should be exercised for the people’s satisfaction; the people’s will should be consulted, according to their aspirations; the people need to hear their voice; the power should never be turned against the confident ones who gave us the power because they are the only owners”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 6, p. 264).
Toward a Cordial Republic… of Sincere Democracy.
What Martí proposes as a threshold for Cuba is nothing new in time. The new thing is the “design” for this “door” that we Cubans should “draw”. Let’s go to the project conceived by Martí:
“To found a cordial and shrewd Fatherland and be prepared to save ourselves from the internal and external dangers that threaten the Homeland; to replace the economic disorder in which it is dying with a system of Public Funds that immediately opens the Country to the diverse activities of its inhabitants…” “To found the Fatherland exercising cordially and sincerely the legitimate abilities of men, a new people of sincere democracy, capable of beating, through the order of real work and the balance of social forces, the dangers of sudden freedom in a society designed for slavery.” (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 1, p. 279-280).
It’s not only about a political or economic change, it’s above all, about a change of mentality, a change in the pedagogic school and going from a manipulating education to a liberating education. It’s about a deep renovation in the social structure, looking for the prominence of civil society which is the new name of democracy. Martí says: “It’s not so much about the mere political change but the good, sane, fair and equitable social constitution, without the flattery of demagogues or the sovereignty of tycoons”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 20, p. 345).
The danger of subordination and the temptation to be politically and economically dependent on a foreign nation were already close realities to Martí; 160 years after his birth, Cuba has passed from Spain to the United States, from the Soviet Union to Venezuela. Whatever the ideological, political, economic and cultural motivations are it is a huge challenge for tomorrow to find a healthy balance between the own identity and the cultural exchange, between regional integration and the preservation of sovereignty. The dreamer of “our America” warns us like this:
“If one people which is close to another people faces the circumstance of wanting to unite its fate to the neighbour nation because of the extreme political anguish or because of economic misfortune, then this people should know what the neighbour nation thinks about it”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 20, p. 345).
Some Cubans want to travel to other countries with the purpose of obtaining the material goods that they cannot obtain here because of our own mistakes and the mistakes of the economic and political system we live in. Some prefer to go to other countries in order to live better rather than to solve the problems of their own country. Martí says to us that this is not the time to exhibit new materialisms and consumerisms but to dedicate ourselves to prepare what is to come so that every Cuban can find here what he is looking for abroad:
“Being a Cuban now is not to get all dressed up, put on the bracelets and go to parties… the Cuban now is to carry the glory of the reins, he is to adjust enthusiasm to the known reality, he is to reduce the divine dream to the possible things, he is to prepare the future together with all the good and the bad of the present, he is to prevent to make the same mistakes that deprived him of freedom, he is to place Nature over the book. He should be passionate as an apostle and shrewd as an Indian. We are made up of all kinds of blood and we must find a unique style for this compound”. (José Martí, Obras Completas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 5, p. 196).
From complaint to proposals:
The challenge of the present to the civic man is not the useless complaint or the sterile lament or the aimlessly runaway. Counting on the good and bad of the present we have to prepare the future without making the mistakes that made us less free and this must be without violence or injustice. The pacific ways with dialogue will be the only ones that will unfold the lasting victory. Not a victory of ones over the others but a victory of the good for Cuba over the evils of Cubans:
“I want the people of my land not to be… ignorant and excited masses that go wherever they are taken with noises that they don’t understand by the ones who manipulate their passions like a puppeteer handles the threads of a marionette. The man that flatters the popular passions is a vile man… the people that abdicates the use of reason and lets the country to be exploited is a vile people. I don’t need to win a battle for today but to win it to unfold in the air, the banner of the victory of tomorrow, a permanent victory with common sense that should make us tyrant free, now and later”. (José Martí, Obras Competas. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1975. Tomo 22, p. 73).
Twenty years ago, in Pinar del Río, a small space of education for freedom and ethics emerged: the Civic and Religious Education Center (1993-2007); The work continues, in a way, by the “Convivencia” project (2007-2013). Other initiatives in Cuba have contributed too to the intention of eradicating the civic illiteracy. All these projects are lights in the dark.
José Martí was a full man that edified freedom and an educator for responsibility; he was also ahead of his age and a visionary. On the anniversary of his birth we must continue his everlasting passion for a civic education and adjust this passion to today’s realities; a passion for a civic education that should place in the hands of every citizen the sovereign reins of his own life and extend this to the whole Nation.
Pinar del Río, January 28th 2013.
On the 160 Anniversary of José Martí’s Birth.