For a True ‘Battle of Ideas’

Erasmo Calzadilla

Cuban University Students and Professors.  Photo: Caridad
Cuban University Students and Professors. Photo: Caridad

Who should control the content of philosophy classes? Sparks fly when this question is raised in Cuba.

In this hot corner of the world, this leads us directly to the question of how and under what standards the issue of education is conceived; or better yet, what is the function of education and who is it for?

Let’s begin at the lowest rung -the students- and then move up.

Are students able to decide what, how and with whom they wish to learn?  The answer I assure you is no.  Not even at the university level is it easy to find an optional course.

Students are never able to become independent of the tutelage of their professors, who evaluate them according to their own prejudices – as one would expect from a thoroughly vertical and paternalistic system.

Given this, it is now known that poor students are the best at satisfying their evaluators, otherwise they’re history.

So then, are teachers the ones who decide the content of classes?

That question is more difficult, because the answer varies with the place and the subject.  A little more freedom is enjoyed by teachers in technical areas, but the situation becomes worse as we approach the terrain of thought, culture and ideology.

I don’t dare generalize, but this is true -at least in higher education across the country- for courses that relate to philosophy, economics and politics (mandatory courses that end up totaling more than 200 class hours).

It’s clearly not the student, and not even the teacher, that has any opportunity to deviate from what is established directly by the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

It is not only an ideological line, but a complete program, with topics and sub-topics copied from the now-extinct USSR and practically invariable for more than 40 years.

But luckily, or unfortunately, politics and philosophy are the terrain of freedom, and it’s completely impossible to teach without freedom.

Particularly in philosophy, if we’re speaking about real philosophy, all “truths” must at least be seen as arguable.  For there to be a fair and exacting battle of ideas, none can be introduced as having more authority than others.

That’s why I say that it is not philosophy that “emanates” from the Central Committee of the PCC, but a collection of old recipes that serve nothing but to engender apathy, double standards and subservience.

Are those the values they want to inspire among students?

One thought on “For a True ‘Battle of Ideas’

  • Those are precisely the values they want to inspire. The relevant question is: “Why?”

    When Engels and Marx came into the socialist movement in the mid-1800s, their objective was to take over a vibrant, dynamic socialist movement emanating from a labor movement based mainly on worker-owned cooperatives.

    Cooperation was a direct attack on the old system, and the capitalists and big bankers were aware that their system was being threatened. What they needed was someone to go into the movement and deflect it away from cooperatives. Enter the capitalist Engels and his bourgeois intellectual “friend” Marx.

    To deflect socialism it into “state-ist” communism, they had to convert the movement into a religious-like cult of personality, with Marx as the new Jesus Christ-like figure.

    It took several decades, but socialism was taken over. Result: 100% state ownership, bureaucracy, and political absolutism.

    Such a system needs those very putrid values of which you speak.

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