As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri

April 21, 2018

As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri

by Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT | Do you fear flying? You shouldn’t. You have a greater chance of being flattened by a lori balak (timber lorry), or be run over by a bus Some people claim that the most dangerous part of flying is the journey to the airport; negotiating bumpy roads and dicey corners. Others claim that one should not fear flying, but crashing.

On some airlines, some people are afraid of sitting beside a passenger who removes his clothes to watch porn. Or be comforted inappropriately, by a steward. Or having to eat a miserable looking nasi lemak, with limp cucumber garnish.

These are rational fears, aren’t they? Do you recall when you were a child and your mother tried to get you back inside the house, at senja (dusk), to have dinner, a wash and then, to bed. Remember her clarion call? “Cepat masuk, takut hantu datang” (quickly come inside, before the ghosts appear).

These fears worked. Now, some of you also use the same ruse to make your children come into the house at dusk, because the trick is effective.

My relatives in the kampung, who lived in houses on stilts, used to have big earthenware urns filled with water, at the bottom of the stairs. Anyone who returned home late at night, used a cebok (water scoop) to wash one’s feet. Children who refused to follow orders were told that it was necessary, so that the hantu would not follow them into the house.

Naturally, parents used to say this so that children would not bring muddy feet into the house, but the “takut hantu” ploy worked. Human primitive instincts prevail, and for the past 61 years the same tactic has been used in politics.

Tried and tested methods are used

The bogeyman is not the unseen hantu but the very active and visible Democratic Action Party (DAP). UMNO-Baru strategists are not very creative. They use tried and tested methods, like the “Takut hantu” trick to scare Malay voters into thinking that the DAP will annihilate the Malay race and destroy Islam.

UMNO-Baru leaders use the tactics used by the best cults. They have an authoritarian leader who demands absolute commitment from his followers. They go through many rituals, just like religious worshippers. They don’t call it brainwashing. It is called party policies (dasar parti).

Cult followers are isolated from mainstream society. This tactic is also used by UMNO-Baru and PAS leaders. Malays are, in reality, isolated from other communities through religious indoctrination and education. Even our schools practise segregation. Malay students attend agama classes, but non-Malays have moral civic classes. The cult of UMNO-Baru does not want integration.

The Malay child’s indoctrination is reinforced at home and in society by JAKIM (Islamic Development Department Malaysia) and the various state religious authorities. The behaviour and dress of Malays girls are strictly controlled. Yoga or dancing the poca-poca are prohibited. Enlightening books are banned. Muftis will issue fatwas to mop up Malays who refuse to toe the line.

Then they wonder why many Malays, especially the women, find new-found mental, vocal and physical liberation when they go overseas to study. Perhaps, not in the Middle East, but certainly in the West.

The UMNO-Baru leaders, who claim that DAP is the enemy, are indirectly saying that they, and UMNO-Baru, have failed. After 61 years, UMNO-Baru’s language is still couched in talks of tribalism and tribal politics, despite Malaysians having moved beyond this.

Malays hold key positions in government, the GLCs and also very senior positions in educational establishments, the Armed Forces, the Police and diplomatic missions. Most scholarship holders are Malays. What has the Malay to be scared of? Maybe, their own shadows.

The population is composed of 69 percent Malays/bumiputeras, and 23 percent Chinese. The DAP and the Christians constitute only a small percentage of the populace.

One makcik from Kelantan said, “The conservative Malay states have serious problems with their youth who indulge in drugs, middle aged men who are involved in incestuous relationships or marry young brides, and then leave many single mothers with their children in the lurch.

“The East Coast states have the largest number of viewers of online pornography. More married middle-aged women are infected with HIV-AIDS, not because they are promiscuous, but because they have unprotected sex with their husbands, who are infected.”

The leaders who have abused the rakyat’s trust, and stolen taxpayer’s money, are Malay: The National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal. The Arab prince’s RM2.6 billion “donation”. The Mindef (Ministry of Defence) land allegation. The sale of Felda land. The Mara scandal. The Felda, KWSP, KWAP, Petronas, Proton, MAS and Tabung Haji fund scandals.

Using the DAP to scare the Malays is a “takut hantu” tactic. The real ‘hantu‘ can be found among the Malay leadership.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


Making Academia Matter Again

April 19, 2018

Making Academia Matter Again


Academics can no longer afford to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own privileges. If they are to defend the freedom of their enterprise, they must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of their research – and how research actually occurs – is well understood.

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CAMBRIDGE – Academic freedom is a precious commodity, critical to ensure that discovery of the truth is not encumbered by political or ideological forces. But this does not mean that intellectuals should hide in academic bunkers that, by protecting us from criticism by “non-experts,” allow ego to flourish and enable a focus on questions that are not actually relevant to anyone else. We experts should have to explain ourselves.

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The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

This means, first and foremost, that researchers should be communicating their results in a way that supports accountability and confirms that public funds and education benefits are being used in ways that are in taxpayers’ interests. The duty to communicate findings also ensures that the public is educated, not only about the topic itself, but also about the way research actually works.

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Scholarly books and journals often give the impression that the truth is revealed through a neat, orderly, and logical process. But research is far from being a pristine landscape; in fact, it resembles a battlefield, littered with miscalculations, failed experiments, and discarded assumptions. The path to truth is often convoluted, and those who travel along it often must navigate fierce competition and professional intrigue.

Some argue that it is better to hide this reality from the public, in order to maintain credibility. For example, in 2014, physicists collaborating on a project known as BICEP2 thought that they had detected gravitational waves from the beginning of the universe. It was later realized that the signal they had detected could be entirely attributed to interstellar dust.

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H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, University of Cambodia (UC) Founder, Board and Trustee Chairman, And President seeks to create a Research  Culture at UC,Phnom Penh.

Some of my colleagues worried that this revelation would undermine faith in other scientific predictions, such as those involving climate change. But would hiding the truth from the public really do more for scientific and academic credibility than cultivating a culture of transparency? Probably not. In fact, being honest about the realities of research might enhance trust and create more space for innovation, with an informed public accepting that risk is the unavoidable and worthwhile cost of groundbreaking and broadly beneficial discoveries.

Another way to ensure that academia continues to innovate in useful and relevant ways is to blur the traditional boundaries among disciplines – the frontiers where invention so often happens. To that end, universities should update their organizational structure, moving away from clearly delineated departments in order to create a kind of continuum across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Students should be encouraged to take courses in multiple disciplines, so that they can weave those lessons and experiences into new patterns of knowledge.

To make this process sustainable, universities should ensure that the courses and curricula they offer help students to develop the skills that a fast-changing labor market demands. This means not just creating new curricula today, but also updating them every few years, in order to account for new trends and discoveries in areas ranging from artificial intelligence and Big Data to alternative energy sources and genome editing.

Professors, for their part, should approach their job as mentors of future leaders in science, technology, the arts, and humanities, rather than attempting to mold students in their own intellectual image. Of course, the latter approach can be useful if the goal is to advance the popularity of one’s own research program and to ensure that one’s own ideas and perspective endure. But that is not the fundamental mission of academia.

The louder the consensus in the echo chambers of academia become, the greater the ego boost for those who inhabit those chambers. But history shows that progress is sometimes advocated by a soft voice in the background, like that of Albert Einstein during his early career. Truth and consensus are not always the same. Diversity of opinion – which implies diversity of gender, ethnicity, and background – is vital to support creativity, discovery, and progress.

That is why it is so important for prizes and professional associations to be used not to reinforce mainstream perspectives, but rather to encourage independent thought and reward innovation. This does not mean that all opinions should be considered equal, but rather that alternative views should be debated and vetted on merit alone.

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We in academia cannot continue to pat ourselves on the back, celebrating our own privileges and failing to look at the world in new and relevant ways. If we are to defend the freedom of our enterprise, we must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of our work is well understood – including by us.

Missing our Cak Nur (Dr. Nurcholish Madjid)

Merindui Cak Nur Kita (Missing our Dr. Nurcholish Madjid)

oleh M. Bakri Musa
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 Cak Nur (Dr. Nurcholish Madjid)

Pada bulan Mei 1998, didalam suasana rusuhan menentang dia merebak, President Suharto masih lagi sibuk dengan cerot belotnya untuk terus berkuasa. Terdesak, dia cuba memikat dan menggabungkan pemimpin pembankang. Ramai yang terpikat dengan rasuah yang mewah, pangkat tertinggi, serta pujian tak terhingga. Ramai, tetapi bukan semuanya. Antara pengecualian yang ketara, seroang berjiwa jujur serta berani ialah ulama kelulusan Universiti Chicago, Nurcholish Madjid.

Cak Nur, nama panggilan nya yang lebih terkenal, menegur Suharto dengan terus terang tanpa putar belit atau kiasan lembut bahawa rakyat sudah jemu dan mahukan Suharto mengundur. Keesokan harinya ia meletakan jawatan setelah memerintah Indonesia dengan kejam selama 32 tahun. Dengan itu, Indonesia dilindungi kegelisahan dan huru hara.

Image result for Bakri MusaPenulis  dan Penganalis Terkenal Dr. M. Bakri Musa


Hari ini Malaysia yang memerlukan Cak Nur nya sendiri. Yakni seorang yang disegani untuk memberi amaran didepan muka Njib Razak bahawa rakyat sudah bosan serta benci dengan rasuahnya yang terlaluan, peragai pemimpinnya yang kurang sopan, dan penyelewangan amanah yang tidak pernah di alami dinegara kita. Sudah sampai masanya untuk Najib berundur. Rakyat sudah tidak tahan lagi menanggung kelakuannya yang mengaget bangsa dan memecah belah rakyat. Peragai beliau membahagikan dan melagakan masyarakat Melayu tidak boleh di tahan dan di ampuni lagi. Samping itu dia telah membebani rakyat dengan hutang berat yang mesti ditanggungi sebeberapa keturunan.

Najib mesti mengundur walaupun jika ia menang di pilihan raya yang akan datang ini. Pilihanraya serta alat alat demokrasi yang lain hanya sah dan bermakna jika tidak dicemari. Dengan campuran rasuah dan “poltik wang” demokrasi bermakna peraturan rusuhan.Peraturan tetapi tetap rusuhan. Malah di demokrasi yang matang seperti Amerika pilihanraya boleh di tipu melalui “gerrymandering” dan gangguan dari luar negri. Apalagi Malayasia, di mana politik wang dianggap biasa dan duit disebarkan kepada pengundi dengan secara langsung dan terbuka; di mana pengundi hantu serta penipuan undi pos antara ahli-ahli polis dan angkatan tentera dilakukan dengan terus terang.

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Di negeri China mereka sedar dan berterus terang dari asal bahawa Pengerusi Xi akan mendapat undi sebulat suara untuk menjadi pemimpin seumur hidup. Mereka tidak berpura-pura atau mengakui diri mereka bebas atau demokratik. Begitu juga dengan Iraq semasa Saddam Hussein. Di Malaysia, pilihan raya hanyalah satu tipu daya kejam yang dilakukan terhadap rakyat, memghampakan mereka dengan harapan kosong serta palsu.

Penerbitan The Economist meramalkan Najib akan mencuri pilihan raya akan datang. Kenyataan itu tidak benar sebab itu memaklumkan bahawa Najib boleh mempisahkan benar dari yang salah, halal dari haram. Najib tanpa maruah. Jabatan Keadilan AS serta penguatkuasa undang-undang dari lima negara mendakwa dia mencuri beribu juta wang dari syarikat kerajaan 1MDB. Tetapi pada Najib dan kucunya dalam UMNO, dia tidak mencuri dana 1MDB hanya menerima derma dari tanah suci. Kemenangannya dalam pilihan raya adalah borkat dari Illahi!

Pakar saikoloji mempunyai istilah tertentu bagi mereka yang berpandangan songsang atau jauh berbeza daripada yang lain.

Pandangan Najib yang songsang dan kelakuan nya yang selekeh itu dilindungi oleh budaya Melayu. Dalam masyarakat kita yang masih feudal, semua yang dilakukan oleh pemimpin adalah betul dan halal, tak mungkin salah atau haram. Kalau dia telanjang, kepada si Nazri, Zahid, dan Ku Nan serta kucu kucu UMNO, Najib dihiasi songket sutera yang telus dan di buat dari benang serangga yang jarang ditemui! Kepada mereka, Najib dia tak “mencuri” pilihan raya atau dana 1MDB. Yang pertama ialahkehendak Allah, menurut ulama-ulama yang di tanggung oleh pemerintah, sementara yang kedua, “sumbangan” atau rezki dari tanah Nabi!

Tiada Cak Nur Malaysia

Pertemuan Suharto dan Cak Nur yang dirujukan itu bersejarah serta unik. Bersejarah kerana ia mengubah masa depan Indonesia jauh dari pemerintah diktator; unik kerana pertemuan saperti begitu jarang berlaku dalam budaya Asia. Masyarakat Asia enggan berdepanan dengan pemimpin mereka dan memberikan kata dua dengan terus terang, tanpa sindiran dan tidak kira sama ada sopan atau sebaliknya. Namun Cak Nur dengan suara nya yang lembut tapi tegas berani memberi amaran kepada Suharto yang sentiasa tersenyum itu bahawa rakyat mahukan dia undur. Hanya untok menghormati kesopanan dan budi budaya, Cak Nur tidak mejolongkan telunjuknya kepada Suharto!

Cak Nur mencerminkan sifat tulen kaum ulama. Sepanjang sejarah Islam ulama berkhidmat sebagai benteng menentang kelebihan dan kezaliman pemerintah. Renungkan hadis ini: Syurga dipenuhi dengan raja yang merapati ulama; Neraka dibanjiri oleh ulama yang selalu ke istana (terjemahan lebih kurang). Ulama tulen sedar bahawa deritaan yang mereka alami di tangan sultan yang derhaka tidak seberat nya bila di bandingkan dengan hukuman di akhirat nanti.

Ulama Melayu terpesona dengan geleran diraja mereka, termasuk pakaian resmi yang hebat dan dihiasi penuh dengan penutup botol. Kepada para ulama, Najib tidak mencuri wang dari 1MDB tetapi menerima rezeki, hadiah dari Illahi!

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Intelektual Awam Pak Kassim Ahmad dan Penulis

Masyarakat Melayu sudah tentu nya diborkati dengan ramai Cak Nur kita. Allah yang Pemurah serta Adil tidak akn mengabaikan bangsa kita. Tetapi kita tidak menghargai borkat Nya. Sebaliknya budaya kita memperlekehkan hadiah dari Tuhan. Di budaya lain, si Rafizi Ramli mereka dihargai. Pelbagai pihak akan merebut dan memujuk ia untuk memimpin mereka. Makhlok saperti Rafizi di anggap sebagai bintang terang di langkasi yang gelap. Di Malaysia sebaliknya, Rafizi di penjarakan . . . kerana mendedahkan rasuah! Almarhum Kassim Ahmad begitu juga. Kerana keberaniannya dia diburu oleh mahkamah syriah hingga hujong umor nya. Lihat lah Azmi Sharum, seorang pakar undang undang di Universiti Malaya. Jangan harapkan dia dianugerahkan menjadi ahli Majlis Profesor Negara.

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Saya terharu dengan seniman kita yang berani menentang ketidakadilan. Di antara mereka ialah penyanyi “blues” Mohammad Ito dan kartunis Zunar. Sementara itu, Lat, yang dulu saya minati, kini dia berdiam diam sahaja, dibungkam dengan gelaran Datuk yang murah, manakala Zunar menerima kehormatan dan pujian antarabangsa kerana berani mengejek Najib dan isterinya. Zunar membuktikan bahawa pena itu adalah senjata yang lebih kuat. Malah Sheila Majid dan Siti Nurhaliza pun sudah bosan dengan Najib. Kuasa bintang mereka melebihi daya tarikan Najib dan RTM pemerintahnya.

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Kartunis Zunar–Berani Kerana Benar

Bekas Perdana Menteri Mahathir pun sudah tidak tahan lagi dengan peragai Najib. Saya berdoa supaya Mahathir berjaya menghapuskan Najib. Semua rakyat Malaysia patut menyokong dia. Benar, Mahathir bertangung jawab atas kenaikkan Najib. Mahathir terhutang budi kepada ayah Najib. Oleh sebab itu Mahathir buta kepada sisi gelap Razak yang diwariskan keanak sulongnya.

Saya kecewa dengan peragai ulama dan sultan Melayu. Mereka berlumba lumba mengejar dedak dari Najib. Mufti Persekutuan tidak sabar menegur penyanyi Neelofa kerana melancarkan tudung bergaya barunya di kelab malam. Tetapi Tuan Mufti tidak bersangka pun untok menegur Najib bila ia mencuri wang 1MDB. Mufti Bakri bukan bahan Cak Nur; jauh sekali!

Sementara itu Raja Melayu senang juga disenyapkan dengan kontrak mahal dan istana mahligai baru. Dedak lebih berkesan daripada pindaan perlembagaan tahun 1980-an untuk mengalih gelagak sultan. Namun orang Melayu masih percaya dengan khayalan bahawa sultan adalah “pelindung” kita. Ia, “perlindungan” kondom Cina yang murah; kecuali sultan kita mahal.

Tanda Qiamat

Orang Islam percaya antara tanda qiamat ialah apabila masyarakat tidak lagi mengutamakan kebenaran, sebaliknya si penipu dan pendusta di muliakan; apabila pemimpin pecah amanah dan menjadi pengkhianat dan penyamun; dan apabila mereka berlumba mendirikan pencakar langit.

Saya tidak percaya bahawa bangsa Melayu berhampiran dengan qiamat kita. Mungkin Najib dan UMNO mendekati qiamat mereka. Sejarah mengingatkan bahawa pemimpin yang korup akan mengalami hujung nyawa yang tidak senang dan mungkin mengerikan. Saksikan Gaddafi dan Ceausescu. Apabila qiamat Najib dan UMNO sampai, kita akan terperanjat serta tidak percaya bagaimana dan betapa mudahnya negara kita telah ditipu dengan terus terang oleh pemimpin yang begitu remeh dan tidak berkobolehan.

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Najib Razak–“Wang Itu Raja”

Kejayaan Najib dengan kesimpulannya “wang itu raja” seumpama kejayaan kupu kupu lepas hujan. Cepat terbang tinggi dan lagi cebat kebumi. Punca ringgit bukan tak terbatas. Kedua, ringgit kita sudah menghampiri matawang Zambia dalam harga. Apabila qiamat menimpa Najib dan UMNO, mereka dan juga kita akan cepat mengetahui mengapa perkataan “amok” itu berasal bahasa Melayu.

Pada saya, Malaysia tidak memerlukan Cak Nurnya. Najib tidak layak dihormati a la Suharto.

BOOK REVIEW: In Defense of a Liberal Education

April 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: In Defense of a Liberal Education

In Defense of Liberal Education
Fareed Zakaria
New York: W.W. Norton, 2015
208 pp., $16.00 hc

by Marvin Lansverk, PhD
Professor of English Literature
Montana State University Bozeman

“I understand that we need a certain number of philosophers, and I understand that it’s important to have a certain number of people who study history. But we’re not currently creating a lot of jobs in those areas. So we have to look at what curriculums we really need…. People who are getting degrees in philosophy and history, God bless them, it’s wonderful that they’re critical thinkers. But now they’re going back to a college of technology to get a life skill to get a job.” —Brian Schweitzer, Governor of Montana, 2005-2013 (Hechinger Report, 27 June 2012)—Marvin Lansverk

Perhaps I should start with a bias warning: I went to a liberal arts university. I teach English literature. I like the liberal arts, whether as a major or part of a broad-based undergraduate education. And I’m dismayed by the recent rhetorical turn in the media, along with legislative and policy initiatives, away from the liberal arts—as if they are suddenly passé or something to be feared your kid will become interested in, like drugs, especially when such expressions are accompanied by statements implying that the liberal arts don’t lead to employable skills. As an antidote, I like to read defenses of liberal education, whether John Henry Newman’s nineteenth century classic The Idea of a University, or articles from current CEOs explaining why they actually prefer to hire liberal arts majors, or statistics that show that the salaries of liberal arts majors stack up favorably against other majors, or books like this latest one by Fareed Zakaria, someone with a real job—if being a public intellectual, editor of Foreign Affairs and of Newsweek and Time, a TV host and commentator, a Washington Post columnist, a college professor, and an influential writer count as having a real job. Thus even before I picked it up, I expected I would like Zakaria’s recent In Defense of a Liberal Education, and I do: but not just because it validates my own views. Actually I disagree with a number of his views and am bothered by some of his analysis, which seems overly glib. But what I especially like about Zakaria’s modest book is that it isn’t simply another jeremiad about the ills of American higher education, nor an uninformed call for radical changes which too often tend to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, nor an ideological rant with more ideology than information. Instead, it’s a welcome call for balance, written with balance: balancing data, personal stories, social policy, and an understanding of the history of liberal education in America and the multiple purposes of higher education, all accomplished in the context of Zakaria’s deep knowledge of the present social and political global landscape.

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The book started as a commencement address defending liberal education to the 2014 graduating class of Sarah Lawrence College—certainly preaching to the choir. Ten months later, the well-received address was expanded into this book, the best audience for which now might be said to be the skeptics, or cold-cruel-world realists who wonder if our students still have time for Chaucer when our global competitiveness is at stake. To them, Zakaria says yes, the liberal arts matter, using his own life story as an important perspective on the material, making the book partly a personal memoir, partly a history of higher education, and partly a call for more informed and data-driven education policies, especially by our leaders who should know better, whether President Obama’s “I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” or the governors from Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin with their recent attempts to de-fund the liberal arts at their state universities, with Rick Scott of Florida’s: “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

Zakaria’s response is this book. It is actually a collection of six essays (the six chapters of the book) with a fairly broad focus. But what ties the chapters together is Zakaria’s personal story and his ongoing ethical authority on the subject: as someone who draws daily on his liberal education and the life skills it imparted.

Chapter One, “Coming to America,” tells Zakaria’s personal story, of being raised in India in its education system focused on memorization, content, and tests (steering children, boys especially, almost exclusively into science and business), then almost on a lark finding himself applying to and getting into Yale in the 1980s (when liberal arts institutions in the U.S. were barely on the radar of Indians). Zakaria then tells how at Yale he discovered the power of a liberal education and through it also discovered his future path in international politics and economics, majoring in history (subsequently earning a PhD in Government from Harvard). What makes the story powerful and contemporary is that it’s a version of the classic “American” story, in its Global 2.0 incarnation, of an individual making good through hard work, determination, and exposure to the American system of higher education. And the story itself is a necessary reminder to policymakers now, appropriately worried about American global competitiveness and statistics showing us falling behind in the educational attainment of our population. And the moral of the story is that our education system, with all its problems, is still the envy of the world. And still producing remarkable results.


Chapter Two, “A Brief History of Liberal Education,” though brief, covers a two thousand year history, starting with the Greeks, dashing through the establishment of medieval universities, with a glance at Britain, to an examination of the American system, with a focus on Harvard’s curricular innovations, the rise of electives, and the emergence of our standard liberal arts curricula—with a core curriculum, a major, and a healthy dose of exploration and free choice. Zakaria’s theme throughout is that societies have always struggled with balancing competing needs in their education systems, that curricula in this country have always been undergoing changes, that they aren’t frozen in the medieval past (which some critics continue to claim). Nevertheless, Zakaria recognizes that improvements still need to be made: especially in increasing the scientific literacy of all students. Zakaria again offers a personal example of change, of Yale’s recent joint venture (where Zakaria had become a trustee) with the National University of Singapore to establish a new liberal arts institution in Asia, Yale-NUS College, which opened its doors Fall 2013. Recognizing Singapore’s own need to develop more of the kinds of creativity and critical thinking and entrepreneurship characteristic of American higher education—and even more of the self discovery—it has made a recent bet on more liberal education, not less.

The value of this Chapter 2 actually lies in its brevity. It isn’t that the history Zakaria tells here is new, and it is developed in far less detail than in the sources that Zakaria draws upon (carefully citing the sources in this first book since his own citation scandal in 2012 that we have seen affect other public intellectuals similarly writing at speed with research staffs, and therefore sometimes not as careful about citations as the standards of academic research require). But overviews have their role as well. And many current skeptics or other busy people paying only occasional attention to higher education debates aren’t going to take the time to read the comprehensive histories of the liberal arts (such as Wesleyan’s president, Michael Roth’s 2014 erudite Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, which Zakaria also cites). So there is value in quickly retelling the story, reminding us of how we got here, and reminding us what the liberal in liberal education means, which seems especially important for those made queasy by having any association with a term that also serves as a political label as well (Zakaria’s own political views have been variously characterized as centrist, moderate, liberal, and/or conservative). In this case, Zakaria reminds readers that the liberal in liberal education has its roots in a two thousand year history of liberation and freedom—and not in 21st century American politics.

Chapter Three, “Learning to Think,” finally gets down to the business of defending liberal education. And the lead-in is the question: but what about jobs? Thus, the arguments Zakaria makes become both philosophical and practical at the same time, matching the balance that characterizes the book. His specific arguments why liberal education must continue to be valued aren’t new, but the examples and topical asides are. In brief, what liberal education imparts, and what it did for him personally, is three things: 1) it teaches you to write, 2) to think, and 3) to learn. This bald summary isn’t that interesting but the balance of examples, anecdotes, quotes from CEOs and data that Zakaria compiles makes for compelling reading. And one of the more interesting threads Zakaria pulls on is the paradox of international test scores—such as the, the Program for International Assessment (PISA), on which the U.S. and other nations with educational systems more like ours tend to do poorly on, revealing an increasing lack of preparation and competence in a variety of subjects by our students, yet whose results don’t track with actual global competitiveness and success. While a highly complex issue, one lesson—relevant in an age of increasing testing regimes—is that not everything that matters can be measured. Quoting Singapore’s former minister of education comparing our system to theirs, Zakaria reports Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s comparative comments: “Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are areas where Singapore must learn from America.”

Chapter 4, “The Natural Aristocracy,” is an eclectic chapter continuing Zakaria’s theme of meritocracy and capitalism as effective and necessary backdrops for our education system (he takes the term natural aristocracy from Thomas Jefferson, indicating a meritocratic system based on talent rather than birth, wealth, and privilege). And he starts with a meditation on the founding fathers and especially on Ben Franklin as the poster child for the American system. Interestingly, this is also the chapter where Zakaria addresses some of the problems bedeviling higher education, including costs that continue to outpace inflation and the continued cost shifting from public sources to individuals, leading to increased individual debt. Zakaria doesn’t have a single solution to offer, but—experienced in the power of mass media to reach all parts of the globe as he is—he, like many others, is fascinated by the promises of technology and distance delivery of courses, especially MOOCs (still new enough to require an identification of the acronym: Massive Open Online Courses). Still in their infancy, they already are expanding access to information, to great teachers, and to American liberal education. One thing Zakaria finds interesting about MOOCs is that students worldwide aren’t just seeking out engineering and technical courses in this online environment; they are also interested in the liberal arts.

Chapters 5 and 6, “Knowledge and Power,” and “In Defense of Today’s Youth,” turn to even broader subjects, though are each short chapters. Chapter 5 addresses the power of knowledge to change the world, and Chapter 6 is Zakaria’s attempt to address the value of a liberal education in developing the individual life of the mind and ourselves as human beings. Though worthy subjects, both read a bit more like newspaper columns than book chapters at this point—and it’s not surprising that the most frequently referenced source in these latter chapters is New York Times columnist David Brooks, whom Zakaria sees himself in dialogue with here.

Ultimately, it is dialogue that Zakaria wants to promote with this book—informed dialogue. And his method of provoking it is to provide a “zoomed out” Google Earth view of American higher education, which—to keep the map metaphor going a bit—functions as a kind of Mercator projection with the importance of liberal education at the center. And as such, it is successful, bearing the strengths and weaknesses of such an intent. It makes effective use of Zakaria’s compelling success story, making his story emblematic of our times; it provides a good overview of issues in higher education; it provides a useful survey of many recent good books on the same subject (from Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (2012), to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2010), and Excellent Sheep (2014)—all previously reviewed in Montana Professor, the latter in this issue); it’s written in a breezy, quick-reading journalistic prose, and it provides much concrete data to counter the recent public narrative that we’ve outgrown or can no longer afford our childish preoccupation with liberal education. As for its weaknesses, like an unfocused essay, perhaps, the book tries to do too much, thereby having to cover territory too quickly, occasionally relying on too many generalizations in the meantime. As such, it’s not always possible to tell what the generalizations mean (e.g., “Bill Gates was one of the first larger-than-life private figures in contemporary America”). Also, like many books on higher education, there’s a tendency to focus on and continue our culture’s obsession with our so called “elite” or “best schools” when much of the information is actually relevant to the whole education infrastructure—including the Montana University System. And sometimes Zakaria wraps up a survey of complex issues with a simple question as a conclusion, such as “Is this so bad?” That method, however, is a good indication of the purpose of the book. Its focus is on common sense, from someone with an uncommon biography, who is criticizing what is becoming too common: taking for granted the importance of a liberal education in this country that not only can we afford, but that we can’t afford to do without.

[The Montana Professor 25.2, Spring 2015 <>%5D

The Malaysian DJ Blogger is blocked in Malaysia

March 21, 2018

The Malaysian DJ Blogger is Blocked in Malaysia


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I have received a few phone calls and messages on my Facebook to say that they can no longer have access to my blog. Even ASTRO which has a surrogate blog (Google: Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger – Astro) has stopped posting since March 16, 2018.

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This is regrettable since my blog is intended to stimulate discussion and free exchange of views not only on Malaysian issues but also on current developments throughout the world. I hope my friends outside Malaysia are still able to do so.

Keeping on reading because I intend to post articles of high quality and share my views with you. Being moral equivalent is not option for me. Like Noam Chomsky, Bilahari Kausikan, Kishore Mahbubani, Fareed Zakaria, Tom Friedman, and academics like Joseph Stiglitz, Jomo Kwame Sundaram,  Terence Gomez,  Paul Krugman, Robert Reich,  Philosopher A.C Grayling, Jeffery Sachs, Laura Tyson, Steven Pinker, Nick Kristof,  who I admire and respect, I will speak the truth to power. Thanks for your support and insightful comments.–Din Merican

Tech and Higher Education

February 21, 2018

Tech and Higher Education

Universities pride themselves on producing creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, yet higher-education teaching techniques continue to evolve at a glacial pace. Given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

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CAMBRIDGE – In the early 1990s, at the dawn of the Internet era, an explosion in academic productivity seemed to be around the corner. But the corner never appeared. Instead, teaching techniques at colleges and universities, which pride themselves on spewing out creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, have continued to evolve at a glacial pace.

Sure, PowerPoint presentations have displaced chalkboards, enrollments in “massive open online courses” often exceed 100,000 (though the number of engaged students tends to be much smaller), and “flipped classrooms” replace homework with watching taped lectures, while class time is spent discussing homework exercises. But, given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

One can understand why change is slow to take root at the primary and secondary school level, where the social and political obstacles are massive. But colleges and universities have far more capacity to experiment; indeed, in many ways, that is their raison d’être.

For example, what sense does it make for each college in the United States to offer its own highly idiosyncratic lectures on core topics like freshman calculus, economics, and US history, often with classes of 500 students or more? Sometimes these giant classes are great, but anyone who has gone to college can tell you that is not the norm.

At least for large-scale introductory courses, why not let students everywhere watch highly produced recordings by the world’s best professors and lecturers, much as we do with music, sports, and entertainment? This does not mean a one-size-fits-all scenario: there could be a competitive market, as there already is for textbooks, with perhaps a dozen people dominating much of the market.

And videos could be used in modules, so a school could choose to use, say, one package to teach the first part of a course, and a completely different package to teach the second part. Professors could still mix in live lectures on their favorite topics, but as a treat, not as a boring routine.

A shift to recorded lectures is only one example. The potential for developing specialized software and apps to advance higher education is endless. There is already some experimentation with using software to help understand individual students’ challenges and deficiencies in ways that guide teachers on how to give the most constructive feedback. But so far, such initiatives are very limited.

Perhaps change in tertiary education is so glacial because the learning is deeply interpersonal, making human teachers essential. But wouldn’t it make more sense for the bulk of faculty teaching time to be devoted to helping students engage in active learning through discussion and exercises, rather than to sometimes hundredth-best lecture performances?3

Yes, outside of traditional brick-and-mortar universities, there has been some remarkable innovation. The Khan Academy has produced a treasure trove of lectures on a variety of topics, and it is particularly strong in teaching basic mathematics. Although the main target audience is advanced high school students, there is a lot of material that college students (or anyone) would find useful.

Moreover, there are some great websites, including Crash Course and Ted-Ed, that contain short general education videos on a huge variety of subjects, from philosophy to biology to history. But while a small number of innovative professors are using such methods to reinvent their courses, the tremendous resistance they face from other faculty holds down the size of the market and makes it hard to justify the investments needed to produce more rapid change.

Let’s face it, college faculty are no keener to see technology cut into their jobs than any other group. And, unlike most factory workers, university faculty members have enormous power over the administration. Any university president that tries to run roughshod over them will usually lose her job long before any faculty member does.

Of course, change will eventually come, and when it does, the potential effect on economic growth and social welfare will be enormous. It is difficult to suggest an exact monetary figure, because, like many things in the modern tech world, money spent on education does not capture the full social impact. But even the most conservative estimates suggest the vast potential. In the US, tertiary education accounts for over 2.5% of GDP (roughly $500 billion), and yet much of this is spent quite inefficiently. The real cost, though, is not the squandered tax money, but the fact that today’s youth could be learning so much more than they do.

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Universities and colleges are pivotal to the future of our societies. But, given impressive and ongoing advances in technology and artificial intelligence, it is hard to see how they can continue playing this role without reinventing themselves over the next two decades. Education innovation will disrupt academic employment, but the benefits to jobs everywhere else could be enormous. If there were more disruption within the ivory tower, economies just might become more resilient to disruption outside it.