One could argue that education was motivated by labor productivity (industrialization and economics) and politics, but “mass socialist” education to a significant extent most immediately contributed to revolution and cultural change towards a revolutionary awareness.
The U.S. backed Batista during his term as president of Cuba. The Batista era witnessed the almost complete domination of Cuba's economy by the United States, as the number of American corporations continued to grow. During Batista's time as presiden, the cuban people experienced exploitation of their resources by the U.S. and corruption by officials in Batista's government, and there was a lack of attention placed on alphabetization and education was based on principles of domination After Fidel Castro’s upheaval of Batista’s government, tensions grew between Cuba and America as Castro began to promote a cuban revolution and a revolutionary movement with ideals that oppose those of the American Government.
At The First National Congress of Municipal Education Council in 1960, Fidel spoke saying, “for you, the teachers, are the great army of education in our country”. He declared a “cultural war” against the United State, positioning education as Cuba's major tool against its enemies. Castro believed without using education as a tool in the culture war in building nationalism and national culture after the revolution, the cuban people would not attain the socialist ideal and political independence / sovereignty. Education would allow everyone the ability to attain these things.
Castro's focus on education stems partially from Che Guevara and his utilization of Guevarism. Guevarism states that that their “ must be social change before the economic base can be revolutionized”. This negates the idea that educating the masses was for indoctrination and subduing the people/ workforce, because no lasting cultural change according to Guevarism can happen without reeducation, and education of those who hadn’t access before ( like people in rural areas ) as a precursor.
Some scholars define socialism as a political process that adapts to changes in the creative potentials within people as social individuals. This means, a change in society is labeled “socialist” not by comparison with an idealist model of what might be, but by comparison of what the current and past has been. This concept relates back to Fidel Castro's use of Guevarism and Ches belief that there must be social change before revolution, because it is also about the idea of the socialisty society or in this case cuba, being created by the changes of the people in it, and a deviance from “what has been”.
Schools became the obvious option for the site of reformulation of culture and the factors within it. This is because he needed to unify the Cuban people in support of his new socialist policies. His school systems and the education it would provide reflected values contingent with his ideology. Castro's plans for education were globally significant in the 1960’s because of his position in the cold war as an ally of the U.S. S. R or Soviet Union, an enemy of the U.S. The Cold War was a war between capitalist and communist. Castro used the school system he was creating to set Cuban standard appart in opposition to the United States government.
“The people full of revolutionary consciousness (or awareness, both terms used) as explained by Fidel in his speech on the Eighth Anniversary of the Events of the 26TH of July is a process of educating, and so Cuba's actions were necessitated by the U.S. government's aggression and a consciousness against U.S. domination in a time of revolution. The literacy campaign of 1961 was deemed the solution to many of the country’s problems, illiteracy had been the result of previous administration and was the product of under development, worsened by imperialist interventions by the U.S. Literacy was a tool that was used to plant seeds of critical reasoning and made it possible for everyone to understand the new socialist/revolutionary policies
In Castro's new schools, “clothing, shoes, food- everything- will be free”. All education is free of charge to Cuban citizens including university education. Private educational institutions are not permitted. “School attendance is compulsory from ages six to the end of Basic secondary education (normally 15) and all students, regardless of age or gender, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years, secondary education is divided into basic and pre-university education. Higher education is provided by universities, higher institutes, higher pedagogical institutes, and higher polytechnic institutes. The University of Havana was founded in 1728 and there are a number of other well established colleges and universities.
The Cuban Ministry of Higher Education also operates a scheme of Distance Education which provides regular afternoon and evening courses in rural areas for agricultural workers. Education has a strong political and ideological emphasis, and students progressing to higher education are expected to have a commitment to the goals of the Cuban government. ” (New World Encyclopedia). The prohibition of private education and other rules such as uniforms are examples of Castro’s universal education where everything was free, meaning everyone had access, everyone had a share as is a characteristic in socialist countries. This created equalization of classes where had to participate equally and contributes to the overarching communist system where, “menial and intelligent work will be done by virtually everyone” ( Fidel at National Meeting of School Monitors). This uniformity in the characteristics of all students created a stronger cultural and cohesive stance against the U.S.
During the early 1960’s the United States also saw some educational reform during the cold war. STEM programs were implemented and monetary aid was funded to disadvantaged areas, Meanwhile, Cuba education reform looked forward to “adult education, expansion of formal school system, development of skilled rural labor (in accordance with Agrarian Reform Law), and social consciousness” according to scholar Martin Carnoy.
The reform in the U.S. too, is because of the United States technological competition between the nations. Anticipation of combat was one of America’s reasons for educational reform because the technological competition was fostered or incited by the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States, and Cubas proximity to the United States in case of the use of missiles. Mutually assured destruction (resulted from the Cuban Missile Crisis), restricted neutrality in the situation as the threat of destruction and tension rose, so did nationalism in the people who were forced to either be all in or out.
Education also cubas legitimacy and cultural armament of the people by providing cuba the ability to transition from the U.S. or outside dependence and controlled capitalism to socialism. Mass education, as part of this transition, equated to mass political participation and mass mobilization (preparation and organization of resources most efficiently). Mass political participation and mass mobilization by the people and government defend the revolution because they would only be possible with education of the masses and create social change and unity.
Since the Revolutionary triumph against Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s clear vision was focused on achieving unity of all the forces (one of those forces being education) that took part in the struggle, and he managed to do it gradually, to lead the Revolution and the people in solid unity where everyone is fighting and working for the same objective: to develop the country and give its people a dignified and prosperous life. It’s a given that Imperialism’s (United States) government gets upset and opposes such movement because a successful revolution would mean it no longer has control.
Counter arguments would be of those that argue that Castro's purpose of educational reform, intention, was not to improve cultural unanimity amongst the people but to be coercive, indoctrinate the people and create a subservient population, considering the propagandistic attitude of the cold war. However, no schooling system would be built out of neutrality and teach their own citizens things that oppose the countries social and political morals/ethics. It would also not be about creating a subservient population because the spirit and values that they were educating the masses upon were all about being a revolutionist with slogans in textbooks like, “study, work, rifle” (NYTimes). Any subservience or submission to powers would go against the revolutionary consciousness Fidel wanted the people to learn.
In conclusion, the function of education during the cold war was to unite the people in a state of revolutionary consciousness and to unify the nation while defending it from U.S. aggressions/imperialism/outside control. Education brought Cuba to a degree of development even with the restrictions from the U.S. so in that way the revolution was successful. Overall, education made the U.S. and Cuba more competitive and more divided because they became more polarized ideologically while the people came together as they together transitioned into the new revolutionary Cuba.
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