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A Pedagogical Battle Plan to Check the Spread of Skepticism in Cuba
(Lecture in Havana, 1991)
By Bertell Ollman
When I was in Moscow for a conference last Christmas one of the people from whom I learned most about what was going on was not a Russian but an American. He was a professor from a Bible college in the South. When I met him he had just returned from a two week visit to Novosibirsk, a small Siberian city that contains a half dozen scientific institutes and a university, where he was arranging for an exchange of high school students on behalf of the Christian fundamentalist high school that is attached to his college.
One of the things that pleased and surprised him most about his visit with all these "science Ph.D.s" (his expression) is that he didn't meet any atheists. It seems that all the people who had been atheists up to a couple years ago were now agnostics and those who had been agnostics were now believing Christians. He assured me that he was as puzzled about this as I obviously was, so he asked many of his contacts there why this was so. The answer he got most often and which he finally came to accept was this: people started to believe that God existed, because Stalin had told them God did not exist. That's right. It's because Stalin and the government under him told them one thing that they decided the opposite must be true.
I couldn't help but reflect that the list of reasons people don't believe in God that I was given by my first philosophy professor many, many year ago did not include this one. Yet, it should have, because it turns out to be the most convincing: that someone in whose veracity you have serious doubts tells you one thing is enough to make you believe the exact opposite. In Russia today, and indeed throughout the whole of Eastern Europe, one sees this mechanism operating not only in regard to religion but in regard to other subjects as well, including almost anything to do with capitalism.
Given the character of Stalin in particular and Soviet socialism in general, I am inclined to think that this reaction was largely inevitable. At the same time, I am also convinced that the authoritarian, unimaginative pedagogy with which most subjects were taught in schools and universities also played a part in producing such a skeptical population. Marxism, for example, was generally taught as a kind of catechism in which Marx's rich philosophy was reduced to a series of propositions that students were asked to memorize.
In starting my talk with this story I do not mean to equate Russian conditions or pedagogy with Cuban ones. Nor am I suggesting that the Cuban population has arrived at anything like the skepticism that one finds in Russia. Instead, I only wish to stress that even a modest degree of skepticism, particularly among the young, can be a serious threat to a regime that depends on their conscious and active cooperation, that in conditions of growing economic hardship and intensified propaganda coming from the U.S. such skepticism is likely to increase, and that the kind of pedagogy used in schools and universities can have a major effect on how it develops.
With this in mind, I want to offer some pedagogical suggestions that are intended to help students at all levels in the educational process to better understand the true nature of capitalism and also, by the same means, to better understand and appreciate their own society. Given that virtually no one in Cuba today has not heard at least some of the lies and distortions emanating from Washington and Miami, it is clear that censorship can play only a limited role in these matters. Once the genie that spreads these lies and distortions is out of the bottle, you can't put it back in. You can only conquer it with a superior genie, one that speaks the truth, and help people to develop the critical ability to distinguish one from the other. So...WHAT IS TO BE DONE?...pedagogically that is. (I am not an expert in Cuban education, so some of what I will propose may already exist here. If this is the case, Cuba can start the work of reform with a running start).PEDAGOGICAL SUGGESTIONS
This list of pedagogical suggestions is not meant to be complete, and some of the ideas are obviously more important than others. But my purpose here has not been to present a finished program but to give just enough detail to trigger your imagination and, hopefully, your interest in this project. Finding ways to apply these tactics in different disciplines and for schools at all levels will also be very difficult, but with sufficient commitment I have no doubt it could be done. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing confusion about the future and the very meaning of socialism, Cuba can ill afford not to make such a commitment.
While setting up such an educational program will not solve all of Cuba's ideological problemsI am not that undialectical (or that idealist)it would be of enormous help in checking the spread of skepticism that so undermined the regimes of Eastern Europe. More specifically, it would help to produce young adults who are less vulnerable to the siren calls of capitalist media and culture, who better appreciate the system in which they live because they have examined the alternatives, who know how to use both evidence and reason in arriving at their conclusions, who can think critically and dialectically, and whoknowing the benefits of cooperative intellectual workare in a better position to apply and develop it in other life activities. Not an insignificant list for a society that hopesagainst terrible oddsto build a truly human home for human beings.
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