College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 04-06 news > Cuban literacy scholars to visit Penn State

Cuban literacy scholars to visit Penn State

Felipe Pérez Cruz, Cuban literacy campaign expert and professor of history, and Luisa Campos, professor of history and director of the National Literacy Museum in Havana, Cuba, will visit the University Park campus on April 27 and 28 and speak with faculty and students about Cuba's historic literacy campaign.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Education will host two Cuban scholars on April 27 and 28 when they visit the University Park campus to discuss Cuba’s historic literacy campaign.

Felipe Pérez Cruz, Cuban literacy campaign expert and professor of history, and Luisa Campos, professor of history and director of the National Literacy Museum in Havana, Cuba, will speak to faculty and students to highlight what is viewed as one of the most successful education campaigns in history. Prior to visiting the University Park campus, the scholars spoke with faculty and students at Penn State Erie, a visit coordinated by Jessica Piney, lecturer in Spanish.

“The 1961 National Literacy Campaign was arguably one of the most notable events — not to mention one of the most successful literacy campaigns — in the history of education. This is an extraordinary opportunity for Penn State students, faculty, and staff to learn about these historic events and their long-term ripple effects in Cuban society and beyond, and to benefit from academic exchange with Cuban scholars.”

— Esther Prins, associate professor of adult education

Launched in 1961, Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign sought to address the literacy rate of Cuban nationals, where as little as 60 percent of the population were literate, particularly in rural areas. In its first year, the campaign successfully taught more than 700,000 Cuban natives to read and write by commissioning 250,000 teacher volunteers, 100,000 of whom were under 18 and more than half of whom were women. The volunteers, most of whom derived from urban areas, lived with rural families for one year. In exchange for room and board, they helped families by working in the fields, doing agricultural labor. In this way, the volunteers taught the adults to read and write, while also learning from them.

“The 1961 National Literacy Campaign was arguably one of the most notable events — not to mention one of the most successful literacy campaigns — in the history of education,” said Esther Prins, associate professor of adult education and coordinator of the events. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for Penn State students, faculty, and staff to learn about these historic events and their long-term ripple effects in Cuban society and beyond, and to benefit from academic exchange with Cuban scholars.”

Pérez Cruz will speak about “The National Literacy Campaign (1961): The revolution of Cuban culture and education” at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, in 114 Keller. Following the public lecture, he will serve as a guest instructor for ADTED 510: Social and Historical Issues in Adult Education, where he will address the “historical and social foundations of Cuba’s adult education and literacy programs.”

At 3:30 p.m. Thursday, April 28, a special screening of Maestra with Campos and filmmaker Catherine Murphy will take place in Foster Auditorium. A 33-minute documentary that tells the story of the literacy campaign from the volunteers who lived it, Maestra includes personal stories from the young female volunteers whose lives were changed by traveling the island to teach adults to read and write. A Q&A with both Campos, who was personally part of the 1961 campaign, and Murphy, will immediately follow the film, and a post-screening reception will take place at 5 p.m. in the Mann Assembly Room in 103 Paterno Library.

“This is an unprecedented time in the history of U.S.-Cuba relations,” Prins said. “With the thawing of diplomatic relations, there are increased opportunities for Cubans to visit the United States and share their knowledge with us.”

It is important that Penn State takes advantage of those opportunities, she said, adding that a number of faculty and students in Penn State courses have already visited Cuba in the past. Unfortunately, it is not as easy for Cubans to visit the United States.

Prins experienced that difficulty first-hand when coordinating these events. After travelling to Cuba with nine other Penn State faculty in June 2015, she met Pérez Cruz and Campos while she was learning more about the historic campaign. Shortly afterward, she began planning their trip to Penn State. In November, she wrote a formal letter to the U.S. and Cuban authorities to initiate the visa process to allow the scholars to visit.

“The visa process was a nightmare,” she said. “The process was taking so long that I sought help from the University’s Government Relations and Rep. Glenn Thompson’s offices to advocate for their visas.” By the time Pérez Cruz and Campos’ visas were approved, they had less than 24 hours to reserve their flights, she said.

But the hard work and tireless effort were worth it.

“Being a faculty member in Penn State’s Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Program, it’s only natural for me to want to host scholars who can help our students and the broader Penn State community learn about one of the most famous adult education initiatives in world history,” Prins said.

Individuals interested in attending the ADTED 510 course with Pérez Cruz should contact Esther Prins at esp150@psu.edu since space is limited. Additional questions regarding these events also may be sent to Prins.

These events are co-sponsored by the following University units and departments: Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Program; Comparative and International Education Program; Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Department of Education Policy Studies; Department of Film-Video and Media Studies; Department of Geography; Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy and Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy; Department of Learning and Performance Systems; Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese; Department of Telecommunications; Global Programs; Institute for the Arts and Humanities; Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity; and Penn State University Libraries.

By Jessica Buterbaugh (April 2016)