WHAT WOULD YOU think if your second grader came home from school with a mathematics text which used hand- grenades as illustrations for addition exercises? Or if the text asked the question: "If the magazine of a gun holds eight bullets, how many bullets would it take to fill two magazines?
These are two examples from elementary textbooks produced and published by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. They are required teaching materials in all of Nicaragua's public and private -- including parochial -- schools and are part of the Sandinista government's education reform program.
Since the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution, stories of educational advances have been an essential part of the Sandinista worldwide propaganda campaign.
Anyone who followed post- Somoza Nicaragua will remember the much-hailed 1980 literacy campaign, which, according to Sandinista spokesmen, reduced illiteracy from over 50 percent in March of 1980 to 11 percent in August of that same year. (That would mean that in a country of 3 million people, more than a million individuals had to learn to read and write in six months.) The literacy campaign has been followed by a string of speaking tours by Nicaraguan educatorss in the U.S. and Europe and by special tours in Nicaragua for foreign educators.
What has not been publicized throughout this propaganda campaign are the objectives and content of education under the Sandinistas, even though this information can be found readily in government documents and pronouncements. A look at the new education in Nicaragua reveals much about the nature of the revolutionary government and it destroys any claim by sandinista officials that the regime respects intellectual freedom and pluralism.
To one degree or another, school textbooks from many countries reflect certain national, regional, or local values. Certainly American textbooks reflect such traditional values as pluralism, due process under the law and the right of free speech. There are differences of opinion about what should be taught in the schools in the U.S. and other democtratic nations. However, in such societies there are sufficient safeguards to prevent public schools from being used to promote one specific political party or ideology.
In contrast, the sandinista government has declared, using classic Marxist-Leninist terminology, that Nicaraguan education, at all levels, will be dictated by the values of the Sandinista revolution. For example, one government document entitled "Aims, Objectives and Principles of the New Education," published two years ago, says that the objective is "to form . . . the personality of a New Man who is permanently developing and capable of promoting and contributing to the transformation process that builds the new society, day after day."
Commandante Tomas Borge, in a speech addressed to Nicaraguan teachers, explained the Sandinista educational philosophy in franker terms: "The principles have to do with the need to educate the new generations . . . in the values of the Sandinista people's revolution." If that is not clear enough, the introduction to the "Philosophy Program" for teacher training says:
"Our education has as its objective the training of new generations in the scientific, political, ideological and moral principles enunciated by our national leadership, the FSLN (the Sandinista party initials), turning them into convictions and habits of daily life."
In other words, the Sandinistas are promoting not just any Marxist movement. Their leaders stress the role of the FSLN as the repository of all moral and ideological principles. Education reform then means interjecting party propaganda intol levels of the nation's education system, including private schools. (Borge emphasized the need to include private schools in the "reform' saying, " . . . the revolution will not be dissipated or deformed in the private schools.") New educational programs are in effect for each subject at each level.
Exercises for sixth grade art students read, "In these drawing lessions, you may draw figures that are appropriate for illustrating revolutionary subjects . . . " The natural science curriculum for third, fifth and sixth graders includes as an objective "to promote in students a love of work, respect for country and respect for leaders of the revolution through the study of the natural sciences and development of everyday activities."
Among the objectives of agricultural studies for primary students are statements that the program should "foster among the students such revolutionary convictions as are in harmony .. with the national leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front . . . " and should "oppose . . . the bourgeois and wsould be revolutionary concepts displayed by the imperialists and their accomplices."
Perhaps the most striking examples of Sandinista politicalization of the educational system are found in the first and second grade reading, writing and math books in mandatory use in the schools. In the first grade writing textbook, "Los Carlitos 1," children practice handnwriting by copying the phrase, "The FSLN guided and guides the struggles of the people."
The primary reading text includes several short passages about the Sandinista army and frontier guards and is laced with photos of goose- stepping troops. One page shows two happy children and reads, "Tono, Delia and Rodolfo are members of the Association of Young Sandinistas" followed by a statement that they participate in the "tasks of the revolution." Another page reads, "The 'yanquis' will always be defeated in our country." And as mentioned earlier the math text uses guns and grenades as illustrations for simple math problems.
Throughout these educational materials, as in other aspects of Nicaraguan socieity, no distinction is made between the party and the state. The text includes a page on the "symbols of the revolution," including the national flag and hymn and the FSLN flag and hymn. The following page provides the words for the FSLN hymn but not for the national hymn. The army is not the national army but the Popular Sandinista army.
In a March meeting this year in Managua, one of the authors of this article asked the Minister of Education, Fernando Cardenal, about the content of the textbooks. Cardenal had just finished assuring a small international delegation of teacher representatives that Nicaragua was still a country that respected pluralism. When this assertion was challenged citing the contents of the Ministry's textbooks, he launched into a tirade against the "enemies of revolution" and the anti-Sandinista press in the West. He then declared the interview over and left the room. So much for pluralism.