August 18, 2018
Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
COMMENT | I once taught Thinking Skills, Foreign Policy, and Ethics. My approach towards teaching thinking was about increasing the capacity of the mind to explore newer perspectives, make critical judgement, and envision a scenario of a society of peace and justice, based on the principles of multiculturalism.
Maybe it is Biro Tata Negara (?)
I value such an experience and have grown with it. We need to create and nurture a culture of thinking in a world that is increasingly hostile to radical and ethical ideas.
What could be even more important now as we enter a new phase of Malaysian intellectual evolution, at a time when we hear stories of vice-chancellors are enemies of the people’s mind and are being removed?
In my teaching, the approach combines universal ethical values, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and futuristics. I think there is value in such an approach.
If we can radicalise student thinking, teach them to stand for their rights, give them choices in thinking, have them articulate great ideas in their own words, we can make them better graduates.
We can train them to become good ethical revolutioners who will remove oppressive and corrupt leaders and redesign a society that will continue to rejuvenate itself. We can teach them to continue to demand the resignation of corrupt leaders – or even have an entire cabinet resign.
We can also teach them to punish polluters, especially corporations that dump poison into our rivers or release deadly smoke into our environment. We can create socially-conscious futurists out of our children.
Futurists conjure scenarios of societies they want to have – build from the ruins of one that has crumbled out of the need for greed and economic speed.
Radical futurists create newer social order reconstructed out of the ruins of the ones ruled by leaders addicted to raw power; power employed to rape the environment and humanity these leaders are entrusted to “govern”.
But first, we must have the teachers and lecturers prepare for all these as well. We have many bright, young, academics eager to explore newer perspectives on politics, economic, and cultural aspects of our world. Can they do these in a cognitively-controlled environment? How do we help them?
Critical thinking is not about ‘criticising’
It seems that there is a deeper meaning to “critical thinking” than just “criticising” something or anything.
It is a process of the personal evolution of metacognition (beyond cognition itself); to understand one’s own thinking process and to govern it with the tools one acquires through interacting with the environment and processing information that will become meaningful through the complex neural connections made in the brain.
There has to be a good repertoire of knowledge in one’s consciousness in order to understand the “dialectical and dialogical” aspect of thinking.
Our education system must encourage this development through the love of reading – the exploration of good and great books taught by teachers who love books and have the passion to challenge students to think and think.
Thinking must be encouraged; students must live their daily lives in classrooms without fear of being punished or ridiculed for thinking critically and creatively.
Our classrooms must encourage dialogues and debates even if the subject matter is sensitive, difficult, painful, and intellectually challenging. We must have good teachers to groom students to become brave thinkers and communicators of ideas.
These professors themselves must embody the virtues of radical thinking and become beacons of hope for newer thinkers, much like what Socrates was to the Athenians in fifth century BC.
Thinkers of the Axial Age–Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
Radical thinkers must be celebrated and honoured, not imprisoned and shamed. Only a shameless government doing shameful acts would jail good, ethical, socially-conscious thinkers who speak truth to power.
If in our universities, thinking means thinking about what the state dictates and students are being punished for speaking out on issues that concern their role as future inheritors of their society, we have a got a national problem. How do we make our universities even free from the dictates of the new regime?
Higher order thinking
The essence of higher order thinking skills is the “Why” question and the “What if” and “Why not this”. These questions help our students to critique dominant paradigm and allow them to conjure newer perspectives, much like what radical social futurists would do.
What is the culture of critical thinking in our Malaysian classrooms these days? Is it enabling the culture of thinking or retarding it?
The Defender of the Trumpian Age–Where was this Italian American educated?
Critical thinking is also not about running in the streets screaming for this or that change; it is a process of intellectual embodiment and the democratisation of one’s personal understanding of the intellectual basis of change.
For too long we have seen our students doing that, yet the nature of protests could be traced to what politicians wanted or use the students to advance this or that politician’s desire for total power.
Thinking is a process subjective and individually unique in nature, first and foremost. The great American feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I cannot dance to it, it is not my revolution.” Such is a reminder of thinking as an existential act.
Today it must not be about blindly supporting the dying regime of Najibism nor the re-surfacing of Mahathirism. It has to be an act of deconstructing both and unshackling the prison-house of one’s thinking.
It is a process of constructing a “republic of virtue” in which each citizen is a philosopher-ruler in her own right. Each individual, perhaps like the notion held by the Buddhist, is “aware” of the surrounding, mastering her own environment, aware of cause and effects of beingness, to identify oppressive signs and symbols that govern her and others, to destroy structures that are shacking, to essentially be able to look at her life like a crystal ball.
Is this idea of creating world-wise radical intellectual and movers and shakers possible in our Malaysian educational system?
This is the greatest challenge of this century, for our nation especially. If we wish to remove, the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has in it the ‘Pledge of loyalty to the state’, and remove all acts that are anathema to a healthy thinking culture, we must rethink how we think.
We owe a good education system to our children – a system that will encourage children to systematically revolt against systems, especially against those which still want to divide and rule based on race and religion. Especially against yet another regime that might also use the tools of colonialism and apartheid, even against its own people, retarding the grown of a progressive generation.
We are not yet free. We might still be moving from one totalitarian system to another. Hegemony in transition, as the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci would say.
I think, therefore I exist (cogito, ergo, sum) Rene Descartes said. I’d say we think, therefore we revolt – we must work towards that.
Dr. AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.