The age of bad manners
Its six oclock on Sunday afternoon. A bus from route 20 in Havana City arrives at its first stop, where several people wait in line to get on. A group of teenagers who are returning from the beach, between 12 and 15 years of age, get on the bus by the exit door. They dont pay, they just yell, push each other and voice obscenities.
The bus starts its route. The faces of the passengers show that they are worried and upset. They look at each other. Someone makes a comment in a low voice, but nobody does anything. Meanwhile, the teenagers continue with their irritating noise. They have gathered around the back door. They beat on it like it is a drum and make it difficult for other passengers to get off. The passengers who protest receives a shower of insults in return.
Another day in the morning, on Ayestaran Avenue in Havana, a woman is rushing to her job. In front of her is a group of students from a tech school who are walking to school.
The conversation of the teenagers goes from fashion to the movie they saw last Saturday night. They make fun of each other, sometimes insulting one another, while play rude games and laughing out loud.
When the woman finally arrives to her workplace, she comments to her colleagues: Â«In three blocks Ive heard more obscenities than in my whole life. Â»
They know what they are doing
The debate is in every corner of the country, even political and academia circles. Cuban society increasingly questions how far the loss of essential educational values, norms of coexistence and respect towards fellow human beings has gone. Something manuals used to call "good manners."
A group dynamics exercise conducted by Juventud Rebelde newspaper, in which 40 teenagers participated, showed that they recognize good manners. Teenagers from the neighborhoods of Cerro, Plaza and La Habana del Este between the ages of 14 and 16 identified their families as the main agents of their behavior, with great emphasis on the maternal figure.
The interviewees pointed out that they frequently demonstrate attitudes they know are expected by the society. Most of them say that they address grown-ups with Â«pleaseÂ», and that they say thank you and greet people when they enter a place. The young males said they give up their seats on buses to pregnant women.
Among the negative attitudes, they recognize that sometimes they play their music too loud, use obscenities and talk to their friends in an inappropriate tone. In addition, they admitted to talking inside movies theaters, walking on the grass and using silverware inappropriately. The boys stood out as the worst in these situations.
Most of them denied writing or putting their feet on walls, cutting in line, not paying for the bus, altering their school uniforms and littering.
What came to the attention most from this group dynamics exercise is that although participants personally claimed to respect basic good manners, when they were asked to assess their friends, inadequate attitudes came to light. This seems to be bringing us closer to reality, since it defines the behaviors that distinguish youth as a group.
Finally, they recognized their rejection of many acts that they recognize as practicing themselves, such as using obscenities, talking loudly and walking on the grass.
Stones that brought these mudsstrong
Have these kids been taught the respect and devotion Jose Marti deserves? Cuba didnt get this way overnight. A number of factors have marked families and institutions that interact with it, especially the school, caused by a breakdown in social discipline and the undermining of basic social values.
At the University of Havanas School of Sociology, Juventud Rebelde staff talked with Professors Clotilde Proveller and Geraldine Ezquerra. Both recognize the economic crisis started in the 1990s, also known as the "Special Period," as being what triggered the degradation of those values.
Â«An economic crisis, Geraldine says, always generates a social crisis. This process occurs very fast and to change it back takes a great amount of time. At that stage, there is a tendency towards individualism and a superimposition of the "ME" over collective actions, because what comes first is the need to meet material needs. In the 1990s, this degradation of values was evident, and it acted in a negative way on good manners.
Â«The direction that the country is moving in to promote culture and to reform education, have the objectives of changing this reality. But we are not going to reach those objectives in five or ten years; this is a process that is much longer. Â»
"Is the Special Period the only cause of this new situation?
"Its the main reason. There is a generation that is in the middle. Todays teenagers were born in the Special Period and took their first steps in those years.
Â«Although the state policies are aimed at changing this situation, the family was damaged by the economic crisis, and it is not easy to take that mark off the individual. On one hand, there is the school, making its best effort, and on the other hand, there is the family, that goes even slower. Â»
For Professor Carolina, anti-social behavior is an issue that requires study. Â«We must recover the value of science for the society. If we had conducted profound research on these problems and employed those results to design strategies to improve social policies, we probably could have found a remedy earlier. Â»
"Why have we reached this situation?
"I think that there are multiple causes. They have to do with the role of social institutions - such as family, school, media, grassroots organizations... elements related with the function of society.
Â«The family has a central role in the education of values. Initial socialization occurs at home. It is proven that the values learned there can be tempered or modified, but they are established there, remain and have enormous force.
Â«If the family does not fulfill its function properly, thats a bad start, because the child will then get to school with distorted values or without having developed key values.
Â«But parents do not have all the responsibility. Kids spend a lot of time outside the home. The day care centers are another institution for socialization, outside the home, whose function is to complement what is done in the home. If these dont perform properly, we are creating the conditions for those values not to be established.
Â«The child tends to imitate, to accumulate attitudes unconsciously. If at the day care center, the caretaker, instead of playing childrens songs, plays a regeton song with the lyrics: "That mulata tricked me down, but Im more street-wise than she is. When I get her, Im gonna show her, blah, blah, blah", those are the phrases the child is going to add to their vocabulary.
Â«This is a serious problem. The home plays a vital role in the learning process, in the assimilation of norms, of patterns of behavior and that, at a very early age, is acquired by imitation. Theres no point in having educational discourse if it does not come along with educational practice. We do nothing by saying: "You cant steal because that is immoral" and then the kid sees that everything in the house is the result of theft.
Â«The school-family link is essential. It is spoken about in parenting schools, or meetings with them youth, but most of the time these are just formalities, especially in the case of boarding schools. Â»
"Are intensively trained student teachers prepared to be good examples?
"Everybody knows that we have to appeal to the intensively trained student teachers because we have a crisis. We have to keep the classrooms working; but they are also at an age where they can be educated. If they have not completed their formation of values, then we have to give them a booster and a complement.
Â«What is proposed is a tutor every four or five Generalist Teachers. However; there are schools where there is one for every ten, and even senior intensively trained student teachers filling in as tutors.
Â«The teacher has always had pedagogical authority. I remember when my daughter was a child, there were no intensively trained student teachers, but there were teachers who were no role models. She would play in her bedroom and she slammed the door of the closet and yelled. When I called her attention, she would say, Â«Mom, these kids are driving me crazy.Â» She was imitating her teacher. Â»
"What is the responsibility of the media?
"They are socialization institutions and their function is to promote values. If we make a study of the media, especially television, which is the one with the greatest impact, we will realize that many of these values are not promoted.
Â«The spots Para la vida (for life), on the rights of children and family, are really good but they only last a minute. The value of TV is in repetition, the type of message that creates an opinion and strengthens a value.
Â«On the other hand, we have to prepare youth to be critical receivers. If they are subjected to a bombing of negative influences without a counterbalance, they wont be able to establish a medium, or to reflect about them. The presence of criticism in the media cant be an option; it has to be there, so people can have the tools. Â»
"How is this Â«epidemicÂ» of a lack of manners perceived in university classrooms?
"We have noticed at the university that the new students are coming with increasingly less preparation or interest. They are the mirror of an epoch. They were born during the Special Period, and that is what they have lived in - in a society in the middle of a crisis.
Â«They also have fewer good manners. The other day, during a final exam, a girl took off her shoes and lifted her feet in her chair. I asked her, Â«Where do you think you are?Â»
Â«These are problems that have piled up because at the time we didnt pay them the attention they deserve. Its the same at home. If you dont do general cleaning every now and then, when you finally decide to do it you dont know how to get rid of so much trash. Â»
"And how would we do that general clearing now?
"The attention must come not only from the family, or the school or the media, but from all of them, united. We have to restore values. We have to restore the family and community networks. We havent developed the role of social networks, which is essential in the community. Everything must work as a system.
Â«Well work this out eventually. We will come out of this crisis and well work on what we have to work on.Â»
It starts in the craddle
In a conversation with a group of elemental and secondary school teachers, all of them agreed that the formation of values should not be within the framework of classes only.
Â«That work has to be present since we wake up in the morning. The best way to do it is through example. One has to treat students politely, so they respond in the same way, Â» expressed Rafael Berrayarze, a teacher in Havana with 33 years of experience.
Â«The monthly meetings with the families of the students are now called Parenting School. There we analyze the learning problems and also talk about how to educate at home, because sometimes the work done at school is destroyed at home. Â»
Naida Abreu is a young computer science teacher in the same school. She says that sometimes kids know how to behave, but they dont do it to imitate their friends.
Â«In their games, they yell and say obscenities. If they have no one to guide them they do it. Thats why we have to watch them and when they make a mistake, we have to tell them.
Â«All children do not have the same upbringing. It depends very much on the parents. When I see a child with a bad habit, I helped them to change it. Â»
Mercedes Gonzalez, with more than 30 years of experience in education, says that teachers should help youth form values inside and outside the school. Â«We are members of a community and we have to be role models. My attitude, they way I behave, is what forms the values in my students.
Â«We have gotten used to vulgarity. We have lost what we were taught by grown-ups about self-respect. Frequently, we adults do not serve as examples; and it not only happens in the school, it also happens in the neighborhood.
Â«We demand our young teachers, of whom Im really proud, to uphold some values we grown-ups sometimes dont possess.
Â«Another problem is how teachers dress. The female teachers are young women and they like to dress in style. But we insist than a short skirts and tops showing their stomachs are not the proper clothing for standing in front of a classroom. Everything has its place and its time. Â»
At Camilo Cienfuegos High School, in the Cerro neighborhood, head teacher Deborah Perez says one of the main aspects she measures when visiting a classroom is how the teacher works on good manners.
Â«I check to see if they demand students to have a good posture, to stand up, to ask for permission. It has always been my concept that its difficult to begin to teach good manners to 12-year-old kids; but we have to improve them. I teach them a little bit more; I make them understand why it should be that way. Values are inculcated since children are born; but the values are formed by the family at home. Â»
To Keyla Estevez, vice president of the Jose Marti Pioneers Organization, there has been a lack of integration between the agents involved with the education of teenagers. A lot of opportunities have been lost before the transformations in secondary education arrived. The teacher and the family took care of the education of teenagers in part, but not fully.
Â«The other thing has to do with the characteristics of the youths age. Teenagers try to both isolate themselves from grown-ups and insert themselves into their world. What is most important for teenagers is their group of friends and to do the things the others do, so they wont be criticized. This brings with it misbehavior. They know what is good and how to behave, but they dont do it.
Â«Today we are looking for ways to rescue good manners, but we have fallen short of it. There is a lack of demand from those who are closest to them: teachers, the family, the school - nobody should remain indifferent to this.
Â«The school organization has great weight. We have to discuss and debate with teenagers, but things should not be imposed. Â«WEÂ» have to let them talk and explain things for themselves, so they will reflect on how they will feel better. Â»
"There is a tendency to value the material aspect more...
"We must recognize the weight of this issue in society. The well-groomed, intelligent kid is no longer the leader and the one who imposes themselves is that who has more, dresses the best and listens to more music. We are not indifferent to that phenomenon and it is now happening in the schools.
Â«Children must be recognized for their values not because they have more clothes or because they give the best present on Teachers Day. Children may come from a very poor but caring family.
Â«A very simple example is the snack provided by the school. The kid who eats the snack is called poor and that their mother has nothing to give them. Those are the things they talk about among themselves.
Â«We all must face this. It is necessary to discuss this with the active participation of teenagers, though high school students know what you want to hear, and they can even defend bad manners with solid arguments. This is a problem for everybody. Â»
Source: By Margarita Barrios and Dora Pérez, Juventud Rebelde