Training Memory, Avoiding Thought

Erasmo Calzadilla

Cuban university students.

As a professor at the University of Havana, I frequently participate in staff meetings.  In these I usually run into well educated individuals and people who are convinced that teaching is something exquisite and grand…that it’s not restricted to transmitting information or “instilling values.”

Yet I perceive something frustrating from time to time among those magnificent profs and suddenly I feel accompanied: I’m not the only uncomfortable soul.  One of the reasons for my uneasiness is the level at which the students enter higher education – every year worse prepared than the previous one.

With such students it becomes difficult (though not impossible) to conduct a class, poorly accustomed as they are to having course content dictated to them.  Yet one must be careful in motivating a classroom like that to reflection, because what can happen is like opening a valve on a boiler ready to explode… you yourself have to be prepared to go flying.

But another reason for the uneasiness comes from a very different source, that’s to say from above. Let me explain: it seems as if the grand bosses who develop the programs and prepare the exams are in tune with these same students.

They usually structure tests that measure little more than the capacity to memorize, and their programs appear oriented to developing anything other than thought (this is a tendency I’ve noticed, and not all courses are like this).

As clear as it may be, nothing about this is coincidental.  From my point of view, there exists a close relation between the decline in the quality of education and authoritarianism.

While the grand rectors of teaching are placed in their positions from above, and not selected by their community of teachers and students (as is demanded through university reform), and while teachers and students cannot evaluate the work of their heads and professors, then the hierarchies will back down or move forward only to accommodate those who chose them. This happens with everything, and it also happens in education.

The prevalence of the rote learning method also seems to remain for a certain reason; memorization is magnificent for engendering dependent individuals who never become conscious and self-determined citizens.

Want it or not, this is what ends up gestating when the system of order and command is applied to schools.  At the same time, this result is the most suitable for the continued reproduction of the dynamic of top-down style of leadership.

But who’s the most to blame for all this? – Those who want all control for themselves, or those of us who concede it with a smile?

One thought on “Training Memory, Avoiding Thought

  • It’s called indoctrination. It looks like most of the people who can think for themselves have either left the country, are in prison, have been branded as counter-revolutionaries and live in a kind of slow hell with no escape but suicide or exile, or stoically maintain their silence in the hope that change may finally come and they can open their wings and fly again. Living in a free society where I can think and act as I choose, I find it hard to imagine what that life would be like, or how anyone could tolerate it as long as they have.

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