Teaching Philosophy in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla
Erasmo Calzadilla

I have taught philosophy at the University of Havana for the last three years and I have learned a lot since that time. In Cuba all majors require one semester of Philosophy and Society, which is one of several social science subjects required, regardless of the career chosen. The explicit purpose of this course is the integral formation of professionals in a country where ideological issues are important in people’s lives.

During the years of the socialist bloc, the course was called Marxism-Leninism and the basic bibliography were manuals drafted and edited in Moscow. One rainy day when I was studying in the university I went up to the rooftop to watch the rain and I found a box of those manuals wet and unusable. It was the period during the fall of the Berlin wall and we the impetuous Cubans ran to throw out those books that had served as texts books of learning for more than 20 years.

University of Havana
University of Havana

My first serious contact with philosophy was through those manuals. They were very attractive because everything was included and truth appeared powerfully rooted in solid reasoning. Of course, what was missing was the perspective of the others, those who did not share the same point of view and were categorized as idealist or metaphysical. The result was a compact whole with solid tools offered to those who did not want to hear any other version or perspective.

However, the world changed and the socialist block no longer exists. We the Cubans prepared another text for teaching titled Lessons of Marxist Leninist Philosophy, a new manual made for Cuba. It lacked the coherence and pedagogical wisdom of the soviets while keeping the doctrinaire tone and the same choice of themes. Thus, the same but less easily understood.

They say that this (Marxism) is the synthesis of all former philosophies. Clearly, it is not reflection that this type of course seeks to promote, because rather than discussion points, students are given answers that they are expected to reproduce in seminars and final projects.

As a result, the best and most intelligent students end up wisely rejecting philosophy, others that coincide with this argument, are joyous and are reaffirmed. The others keep their disagreements silent or they express them in a juvenile fashion at the risk of being considered bad students or poorly evaluated.

The reduced space of action for those of us that do not agree with the way in which Philosophy is taught becomes clear when the program is never discussed with the professors. In fact, it comes down to us in a memo from the highest authorities of the university.

I have no idea what challenges are faced in teaching Philosophy in other countries however, if we the professors organized a network, I believe it would be more difficult for mediocrity to prevail. However, such a network is almost impossible to establish without access to the internet.

One thought on “Teaching Philosophy in Cuba

  • Do you know of any excursions or activities in Havana related to philosophy?

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