Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic


January 8, 2016

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic

Evan Thomas, the best-selling biographer of Robert F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the author of a half-dozen other books, has seen those books reviewed over the years by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. But with the recent publication of his latest work, “Being Nixon: A Man Divided,” he experienced for the first time a new phenomenon: the Bill Gates bump.

Bill Gates in May 2014. In his Gates Notes blog, he has reviewed books, including: “Thing Explainer,” by Randall Munroe and “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Just before Christmas, Mr. Thomas learned that his book had been favorably reviewed by Mr. Gates on his blog, Gates Notes.

“I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms,” Mr. Gates wrote. “A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too often portrayed as little more than a crook and a warmonger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in ‘Being Nixon,’ by author and journalist Evan Thomas.” The review was illustrated by a photograph of the book on a desk adorned with objects from the Nixon era, like a rotary phone.

Bill Gates on Books and Blogging

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has emerged as a force in the publishing industry, thanks to the book reviews he posts on his blog, Gates Notes. Mr. Gates, who says he reads about 50 books a year, discussed his love of reading, how he makes his selections and what book Warren Buffett recommended. Below are excerpts from a recent email interview.

What role does reading play in your life?

It is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid. These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.

For example, this year I enjoyed Richard Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality,” which explains various scientific ideas and is aimed at teenagers. Although I already understood all the concepts, Dawkins helped me think about the topics in new ways. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.

What made you decide to start the books blog and write reviews?

I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.

It also helps to have a platform for talking about the work I’m doing, both through the foundation and separate from it, because I find people are curious about it.

How do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from family/friends/media?

It’s a mix of things. Melinda and I will sometimes exchange books we like. I also get recommendations from friends. After I finish something great, I will often try to find other books by that author or similar ones on the same subject.

Earlier this year Melinda and I saw the musical “Hamilton,” which inspired me to read Ron Chernow’s biography.

What was the process of selecting the books for the best-of-the-year list? Any tough choices?

I didn’t set out to do this intentionally, but when I looked back at the books I read this year, I realized that a lot of them touch on the theme “how things work.”Some, like Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer,” are written exactly for that reason. He uses diagrams paired with the most common 1,000 words in the English language to explain complicated ideas.

Other books on my list offer insights into human beings, our values, our strengths and flaws.

Is there one book that was an unexpected choice for you that you unexpectedly loved?

One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.

One book that was especially fun to highlight was “Business Adventures,” by John Brooks. This is the first book Warren Buffett recommended to me after we met in 1991, and it is still the best business book I have ever read. Brooks deserves to be much better known than he is.

Although he wrote in the 1960s, the issues he talks about are still relevant today. “Business Adventures” went out of print decades ago and Brooks died in 1993, but his family was nice enough to let me post one chapter called “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox” on my blog.

I don’t read a lot of fiction but was surprised by how much I loved the novel “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Melinda read it first and kept stopping to recite parts of it out loud to me. Eventually, I decided to take a look.

I started it one night at 11 p.m. and stayed up with it until 3 a.m. It is very funny, while also showing a lot of empathy for people who struggle in social situations.After I sent it and the sequel (“The Rosie Effect”) to dozens of friends and wrote about it on my blog, I heard from a lot of people who were touched by it. There is talk of turning it into a movie, which I hope happens. Rosie and Don Tillman would make a great on-screen couple.

I like highlighting the work of Vaclav Smil. He has written more than 30 books, and I have read them all. He takes on huge topics like energy or transportation and gives them a thorough examination.

Smil’s books are not for casual readers and I don’t agree with him on everything, but I like to feature his work because the world would be a better place if more people thought as rigorously and systematically as he does.

The need for a new education


December 18, 2015

The need for a new education

by Jesús  Sanchez Granados*

Edited for Brevity–Din Merican

outcomes_4

In the beginning, education and the ideals it embodied aspired to create a “perfect” citizenry. Later,the objective shifted to ensuring that citizens were well-trained, and more recently it shifted once again to the awakening of the critical spirit. Today, the ideal is creativity: the capacity to learn and a lifelong willingness to face new things and modify learned expectations accordingly; there can be no learning without re-learning, without the revision that must be undertaken when we realise the weakness of what we thought we knew. In a knowledge society, education is the capacity to be creative in an environment of particular uncertainty, the capacity to properly manage the cognitive dissonance that gives rise to our failure to comprehend reality (Innerarity, 2010).

Therefore, in the world of liquid modernity, we must move away from sporadic education and towards lifelong learning.This entails overcoming security-driven resistance: the pillars to which we cling because they lend us a sense of security a mistake in a world filled with insecurities and ephemeral validities.

Conventionally, education has been understood as preparation for life, as personal realisation, and as an essential element in progress and social change, in accordance with changing needs (Chitty, 2002). Orr (2004) declares that if certain precautions are not taken, education may equip people to become “more effective vandals of the earth”. He describes education of the sort we have seen thus far as a possible problem, and argues for a new type of education:

More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival. It is not education but education of a certain kind that will save us.
(Orr, 2008:8)
Education, in other words, can be a dangerous thing (…). It is time, I believe, for an educational ‘perestroika’, by which I mean a general rethinking of the process and substance of education at all levels, beginning with the admission that much of what has gone wrong with the world is the result of education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies,overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance.” 
(Orr, 2004: 17) 

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has emerged as a paradigm for revising and reorienting today’s education. ESD consists of new forms of knowing and learning how to be human in a different way. This education aims to contribute to the sustainability of personal integrity or, in the words of Sterling (2001), to the integrity of the spirit, heart, head and hands.

As argued by Dewey and the educational reconstructionists, it is often not enough to do things according to custom or habit that is,to reproduce the existing social system. Instead, new answers must be sought. If we are to imagine new ways of living and acting, then we must be capable of assessing and bringing about social change, because successfully achieving sustainable development requires the following principles: being aware of the challenge, taking action voluntarily, assuming collective responsibility and forming a constructive partnership, and believing in the dignity of all human beings without exception.

These principles for lasting human development, formulated at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, imply lessons that largely coincide with the four pillars of education set out in the Delors Report: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.In the context of ESD, UNESCO (2008) suggested the inclusion of a fifth pillar: learning to transform oneself and society. In a sense, education must lead to empowerment: through education, individuals should acquire the capacity to make decisions and act effectively in accordance with those decisions, and this in turn entails the ability to influence the rules of play through any of the available options. Thus, education consists in developing not only personal but also social qualities; it is the development of social conscience: awareness of how society works, knowledge of how it is structured, and a sense of the personal agency and how all together allow and determine intervention and a sense of the extent to which personal agency allows intervention (Goldberg, 2009). Essentially, it opens a dialogue between the personal and the collective, between common and individual interests, between rights and obligations. 

Reformulation of higher education

Einstein once said that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.Current needs suggest that we must learn to view the world and, therefore, education in a new way.Higher education has in the past demonstrated its crucial role in introducing change and progress in society and is today considered a key agent in educating new generations to build the future, but this does not exempt it from becoming the object of an internal reformulation. 

According to the World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century  (1998), higher education is facing a number of important challenges at the international, national and institutional levels. At the international level, there are two main challenges. The first is the role of supranational organisations such as UNESCO in advancing the prospection of trends and improvements, as well as in promoting networking and twinning programmes among institutions. The European Union (EC-JRC,2010), for example, has stressed that higher education must change and adapt to economic and social needs, that institutional change is essential to educational innovation, and that information and communication technologies must form part of the teaching and learning process. The second international challenge is to encourage international cooperation between institutions in order to share knowledge across borders and facilitate collaboration, which, furthermore, represents an essential element for the construction of a planetary (Morin, 2009) and post-cosmopolitan citizenship (Dobson and Bell, 2006): the assumption of interdependence, “deterritorialisation”, participation,co-responsibility, and solidarity among all inhabitants of the planet. 

States must provide the necessary financing so that universities can carry out their public-service function. States may also enact laws to ensure equality of access and strengthen the role of women in higher education and in society.

The following are the challenges faced by universities and other institutions of higher education:

  • Changes in universities as institutions and at the level of internal organisation. These changes should aim to improve the management of resources (human, economic, etc.) and be restructured to improve internal democracy.Universities must continue their mission to educate, train and carry out research through an approach characterised by ethics, autonomy,responsibility and anticipation.
  • Changes in knowledge creation. Interdisciplinary and trans disciplinary approaches should betaken and non-scientific forms of knowledge should be explored,
  • .Changes in the educational model. New teaching/learning approaches that enable the development of critical and creative thinking should be integrated. The competencies common to all higher-education graduates should be determined and the corresponding expectations should be defined. In a knowledge society, higher education should transform us from disoriented projectiles into guided missiles: rockets capable of changing direction in flight,adapting to variable circumstances, and constantly course-correcting. The idea is to teach people to learn quickly as they go along, with the capacity to change their mind and even renounce previous decisions if necessary, without over thinking or having regrets. Teaching and learning must be more active, connected to real life, and designed with students and their peculiarities in mind.
  • Changes aimed at tapping the potential of information and communication technologies in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The goal of such changes is to create what Prensky (2009) calls digital wisdom.
  • Changes for social responsibility and knowledge transfer. The work of higher education institutions must be relevant. What they do, and what is expected of them must be seen as service to society; their research must anticipate social needs; and the products of their research must be shared effectively.
 *Jesús Granados holds a PhD in Education from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with a thesis on Education for sustainability and Teaching Geography. Graduated in Geography (UAB), he holds a Master in Social Sciences Education (UAB) and a Master in Environmental Education and Communication (ISEMA). He worked at Universidad de la Rioja and in 2004 moved to the UAB to teach and research at the Faculty of Education, where he implemented, amongst others, the subject of Education for sustainability that was an optional campus subject available for all the degrees at the UAB.  At present,since May 2011 Jesús is working at GUNI as studies, research and contents coordinator. For further information about this article, contact the author at the following e-mail address:  jesusgranadossanchez@gmail.com

People like Prime Minister Najib and his Ministers must be “The Keepers of Justice”


December 17, 2015

People like Prime Minister Najib and his Ministers must be “The Keepers of Justice”

by Bernama

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak

HRH Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah

People entrusted with public office must be “the Keepers of Justice”, safeguarding the nation for future generations, the Sultan of Perak says. Malaysians could be regarded keepers of justice “only when we ourselves are able in turn to bequeath our nation to our sons and daughters in the original – if not in an even better state – which we inherited from our founding fathers”, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah said.

HRH Sultan Nazri quoted Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, as describing the inheritance as follows: “Justice before the law, the legacy of an efficient public service, and the highest standard of living in Asia.”

He said this when launching a book titled ‘On Justice and The Nature Of Man’ by Muslim philosopher Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. HRH The Sultan also alluded to what the Tunku said about the principles of a sovereign and democratic nation and the seeking of the welfare and happiness of the people.

Uphold justice

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak inspects the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) youth during the annual assembly at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Malaysia’ s NSC Sultan –Dispenser of Malaysian Justice. He is above the Law and rules by Law, not by the Rule of Law. He does not understand what HRH Sultan of Perak means. –Din Merican

“In my estimation, he perfectly summed up the natural consequences of our actions when we, the Keepers of Trust, uphold justice in all aspects of our lives, including the way we run our nation,” His Highness said.

Sultan Nazrin then quoted verses of the Quran and prominent figures on man, justice and life, saying: “So long as we are true to ourselves and are guided by the sense of justice that God has created through our human nature – that unique and special creation of God that is in fact mankind – the pursuit of happiness will not only be realised as one of our unalienable rights as individual human beings, but also that we will be able to achieve a just and happy society.”

Prof Syed Naguib

He noted that Syed Muhammad Naquib, in his 57-page book, had written a commentary on justice and the nature of man, based on two verses from the Quran.

HRH Ssultan said the professor’s lifelong project had been to look at the philosophy of modern times, explore it, understand it and subject it to the tradition of Islam.

– Bernama

 

Education as a Political Institution


November 29, 2015

Education as a Political Institution

by Bertrand Russell

June 1916 Issue

The Atlantic

“Education should not aim at a dead awareness of static facts, but at an activity directed toward the world that our efforts are to create.”

No political theory is adequate unless it is applicable to children as well as to men and women. Theorists are mostly childless, or, if they have children, they are carefully screened from the disturbances which would be caused by youthful turmoil. Some of them have written books on education, but without, as a rule, having any actual children present to their minds while they wrote. Those educational theorists who have had a knowledge of children, such as the inventors of kindergarten and the Montessori system, have not always had enough realization of the ultimate goal of education to be able to deal successfully with advanced instruction. I have not the knowledge either of children or of education which would enable me to supply whatever defects there may be in the writings of others. But some questions concerning education as a political institution are involved in any hope of social reconstruction, and are not usually considered by writers on educational theory. These questions only I wish to discuss.

The two principles of justice and liberty, which cover a very great deal of the social reconstructionBertie required, will not give much guidance as regards education. Tolstoy tried to conduct a village school without infringing liberty; but when anybody except Tolstoy was teaching, the children all talked to each other, and when he himself was teaching, he secured order only by untheoretically boxing their ears in a fit of temper. It is clear that a literal adherence to the principle of liberty is quite impossible if the children are to be taught anything, except in the case of unusually intelligent children who are kept isolated from more normal companions. This is one reason for the great responsibility which rests upon teachers: the children must, unavoidably, be more or less at the mercy of their elders, and cannot make themselves the guardians of their own interests. Authority in education is to some extent unavoidable, and those who educate have to find a way of exercising authority in accordance with the spirit of liberty.

Where authority is unavoidable, what is needed is reverence. A man who is to educate really well, who is to bring out of the young all that it is possible to bring out, who is to make them grow and develop into their full stature, must be filled through and through with the spirit of reverence. It is reverence that is lacking in those who advocate ma­chine-made, cast-iron systems: militarism, capitalism, Fabian scientific organization, and all the other prisons into which reformers and reactionaries try to force the human spirit. In education, with its codes of rules emanating from a government office, with its large classes and fixed curriculum and overworked teachers, with its determination to produce a dead level of glib mediocrity, the lack of reverence for the child is all but universal. Reverence requires imagination and vital warmth; it requires most imagination in respect of those who have least actual achievement or power. The child is weak and superficially foolish; the teacher is strong, and in an everyday sense wiser than the child. The teacher without reverence, or the bureaucrat without reverence, easily despises the child for these outward inferiorities. He thinks it his duty to ‘mould’ the child; in imagination he is the potter with the clay. And so he gives to the child some unnatural shape which hardens with age, producing strains and spiritual dissatisfactions, out of which grow cruelty and envy and the belief that others must be compelled to undergo the same distortions.

The man who has reverence will not think it his duty to ‘mould’ the young. He feels in all that lives, but especially in human beings, and most of all in children, something sacred, indefinable, unlimited, something individual and strangely precious, the growing principle of life, an embodied fragment of the dumb striving of the world. He feels an unaccountable humility in the presence of a child—a humility not easily defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers. He feels the outward helplessness of the child, the appeal of dependence, the responsibility of a trust. His imagination shows him what the child may become, for good or evil; how its impulses may be developed or thwarted, how its hopes must be dimmed and the life in it grow less living, how its trust will be bruised and its quick desires replaced by brooding will. All this gives him a longing to help the child in its own battle, to strengthen it and equip it, not for some outside end proposed by the state or by any other impersonal authority, but for the ends which the child’s own spirit is obscurely seeking. The man who feels this can wield the authority of an educator without infringing the principle of liberty.

It is not in a spirit of reverence that education is conducted by states and churches and the great institutions that are subservient to them. What is considered in education is hardly ever the boy or girl, the young man or young woman, but almost always, in some form, the maintenance of the existing order. When the individual is considered, it is with a view to worldly success- making money, or achieving a good position. To be ordinary, and to acquire the art of getting on, is the idea which is set before the youthful mind, except by a few rare teachers who have enough energy of belief to break through the system within which they are expected to work. Almost all education has a political motive: it aims at strengthening some group, national or religious or even social, in the competition with other groups. It is this motive, in the main, which determines the subjects taught, the knowledge which is offered, and the knowledge which is withheld. It is this motive also which determines the mental habits that the pupils are expected to acquire. Hardly anything is done to foster the inward growth of mind and spirit; in fact, those who have had most education are very often atrophied in their mental and spiritual life, devoid of impulse, and possessing only certain mechanical aptitudes which take the place of living thought.

II

Some of the things which education achieves at present must continue to be achieved by education in any civilized country. All children must continue to be taught how to read and write, and some must continue to acquire the knowledge needed for such professions as medicine and law and engineering. Except in such matters as history and religion, the actual instruction is only inadequate, not positively harmful. The instruction might be given in a more liberal spirit, with more attempt to show its ultimate uses; and of course much of it is traditional or dead. But in the main it is necessary, and would have to form a part of any educational system.

It is in history and religion and other controversial subjects that the actual instruction is positively harmful. These subjects touch the interests by which schools are maintained; and the interests maintain the schools in order that certain views on these subjects may be taught. History, in every country, is so taught as to magnify that country: children learn to believe that their own country has been always in the right and almost always victorious, that it has produced almost all the great men, and that it is in all respects superior to all other countries. Since these beliefs are flattering, they are easily absorbed, and hardly ever dislodged from instinct by later knowledge.

To take a simple and almost trivial example: the facts about the battle of Waterloo are known in great detail and with minute accuracy; but the facts as taught in elementary schools will be widely different in England, France and Germany. The ordinary English boy imagines that the Prussians played hardly any part; the ordinary German boy imagines that Wellington was practically defeated when the day was retrieved byBlucher’s gallantry. If the facts were taught accurately in both countries, national pride would not be fostered to the same extent, neither nation would feel so certain of victory in the event of war, and the willingness to fight would be diminished. It is this result which has to be prevented. Every state wishes to foster national pride, and is conscious that this cannot be done by unbiased history. The defenseless children are taught by distortions and suppressions and suggestions. The false ideas as to the history of the world which are taught in the various countries are of a kind which fosters strife and serves to keep alive a bigoted nationalism. If good relations between states were desired, one of the first steps ought to be to submit all teaching of history to an international commission, which should produce neutral textbooks free from the patriotic bias which is now demanded everywhere.

Exactly the same thing applies to religion. Elementary schools are practically always in the hands, either of some religious body, or of a state which has a definite attitude toward religion. A religious body exists through the fact that its members all have certain definite beliefs on subjects as to which the truth is not ascertainable. Schools conducted by religious bodies have to prevent the young, who are often inquiring by nature, from discovering that these definite beliefs are opposed by other equally definite beliefs which are no more unreasonable, and that many of the men best qualified to judge think that there is no good evidence in favor of any definite belief. When the state is militantly secular, as in France, state schools become as dogmatic as those that are in the hands of the churches; I understand that the word ‘God’ must not be mentioned in a French elementary school. When the state is neutral, as in America, all religious discussion has to be excluded, and the Bible must be read without comment, lest the comment should favor one sect rather than another. The result in all these cases is the same: free inquiry is checked, and on the most important matter in the world the child is met with dogma or with stony silence.

It is not only in elementary education that these evils exist. In more advanced education they take subtler forms, and there is more attempt to conceal them, but they are still present. Eton and Oxford set a certain stamp upon a man’s mind, just as a Jesuit college does. It can hardly be said that Eton and Oxford have a conscious purpose, but they have a purpose which is none the less strong and effective for not being formulated. In almost all who have been through them, they produce a worship of ‘good form,’ which is as destructive to life and thought as the mediaeval Church. ‘Good form’ is quite compatible with superficial openmindedness, with readiness to hear all sides, with a certain urbanity toward opponents. But it is not compatible with fundamental openmindedness, or with any inward readiness to give weight to the other side. Its essence is the assumption that what is most important is a certain kind of behavior: a behavior which minimizes friction between equals, and delicately impresses inferiors with a conviction of their own crudity. As a political weapon for preserving the privileges of the rich in a snobbish democracy, it is unsurpassa­ble. As a means of producing an agreeable social milieu for those who have money with no strong beliefs or unusual desires, it has some merit. In every other respect, it is abominable.

The evils of ‘good form’ arise from two sources: its perfect assurance of its own rightness, and its belief that correct manners are more to be desired than intellect or artistic creation or vital energy, or any of the other sources of progress in the world. Perfect assurance, by itself, is enough to destroy all mental progress in those who have it. And when it is combined with contempt for the angularities and awkwardnesses that are almost invariably combined with great mental power, it becomes a source of destruction to all who come in contact with it. ‘Good form’ is itself dead, static, incapable of growth; and by its attitude to those who are without it, it spreads its own death to many who might otherwise have life. The harm which it has done to well-to-do Englishmen, and to men whose abilities have led the well-to-do to notice them, is incalculable.

The prevention of free inquiry is unavoidable so long as the purpose of education is to produce belief rather than thought, to compel the young to hold positive opinions on doubtful matters rather than to let them see the doubtfulness and be encouraged to independence of mind. Education ought to foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth. But it is creeds that hold men together in fighting organizations: churches, states, political parties. It is intensity of belief in a creed that produces efficiency in fighting: victory comes to those who feel the strongest certainty about matters on which doubt is the only rational attitude. To produce this intensity of belief and this efficiency in fighting, the child’s nature is warped, its free outlook is cramped, inhibitions are cultivated in order to check the growth of new ideas. In those whose minds are not very active, the result is the omnipotence of prejudice; while those whose thought cannot be wholly killed become cynical, intellectually hopeless, destructively critical, able to make all that is living seem foolish, unable to supply themselves the creative impulses which they destroy in others.

III

Certain mental habits are commonly instilled by those who are engaged in educating: obedience and discipline, ruthlessness in the struggle for worldly success, contempt toward opposing groups, and an unquestioning credulity, a passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom. All these habits are against life. Instead of obedience and discipline, we ought to aim at preserving independence and impulse. Instead of ruthlessness, education ought to aim at producing justice in thought. Instead of contempt, it ought to instill reverence, the attempt at understanding– not necessarily acquiescence, but only such opposition as is combined with imaginative apprehension and a clear comprehension of the grounds for opposition. Instead of credulity, the object should be to stimulate constructive doubt, the love of mental adventure, the sense of worlds to conquer by enterprise and boldness in thought. Contentment with the status quo, subordination of the individual pupil to political aims, indifference to the things of the mind, are the immediate causes of these evils; but beneath these causes there is one more fundamental, the fact that education is treated as a means of acquiring power over the pupil, not as a means of fostering his own growth. It is in this that lack of reverence shows itself; and it is only by more reverence that a fundamental reform can be effected.

Obedience and discipline are supposed to be indispensable if order is to be kept in a class, and if any instruction is to be given. To some extent, this is true; but the extent is much less than it is thought to be by those who regard obedience and discipline as in themselves desirable. Obedience, the yielding of one’s will to outside direction, is the counterpart of authority, which consists in directing the will of others. Both may be necessary in certain cases. Refractory children, lunatics, and criminals may require authority, and may need to be forced to obey. But in so far as this is necessary, it is a misfortune: what is to be desired is the free choice of ends with which it is not necessary to interfere. And educational reformers have shown that this is far more possible than our fathers would ever have believed.

What makes obedience seem necessary in schools is the large classes and overworked teachers demanded by a false economy. Those who have no experience of teaching are incapable of imagining the expense of spirit entailed by any really living instruction. They think that teachers can reasonably be expected to work as many hours as bank clerks. The result is intense fatigue, irritable nerves, an absolute necessity of performing the day’s task mechanically. And the task cannot be performed mechanically except by exacting obedience.

If we took education seriously, we thought it as important to keep alive the minds of children as to secure victory in war, we should conduct education quite differently: we should make sure of achieving the end, even if the expense were a hundredfold greater than it is. To many men and women a small amount of teaching is a delight, and can be done with a fresh zest and life which keeps most pupils interested without any need of discipline. The few who do not become interested might be separated from the rest, and given a different kind of instruction. A teacher ought to have only as much teaching as can be done, on most days, with actual pleasure in the work, and with an awareness of the pupil’s mental needs. The result would be a relation of friendliness instead of hostility between teacher and pupil, a realization on the part of most pupils that education serves to develop their own lives and is not merely an outside imposition, interfering with play and demanding many hours of sitting still. All that is necessary to this end is a greater expenditure of money, to secure teachers with more leisure and with a natural love of teaching.

Discipline, as it exists in schools, is very largely an evil. There is a kind of discipline which is necessary to almost all achievement, and which is perhaps not sufficiently valued by those who react against the purely external discipline of traditional methods. The desirable kind of discipline is the kind which comes from within, which consists in the power of pursuing a distant object steadily, foregoing and suffering many things on the way. This involves the subordination of impulse to will, the power of directing action by large creative desires even at moments when they are not vividly alive. Without this, no serious ambition, good or bad, can be realized, no consistent purpose can dominate. This kind of discipline is very necessary. But this kind can result only from strong desires for ends not immediately attainable, and can be produced only by education if education fosters such desires, which it seldom does at present. This kind of discipline springs from within, from one’s own will, not from outside authority. It is not this kind which is sought in schools, and it is not this kind which seems to me an evil.

Ruthlessness in the economic struggle will almost unavoidably be taught in schools while the economic structure of society remains unchanged. This must be particularly the case in the middle-class schools, which depend for their numbers upon the good opinion of parents, and secure that good opinion by advertising the success of their pupils. This is one of many ways in which the competitive organization of the state is harmful. Spontaneous and disinterested desire for ‘knowledge is not at all uncommon in the young, and is easily aroused in many in whom it remains latent. But it is ruthlessly checked by teachers who think only of examinations, diplomas, and degrees. For the abler boys, there is no time for thought, no time for the indulgence of intellectual taste, from the moment of first going to school until the moment of leaving the university. From first to last it is simply one long drudgery of examination tips and textbook facts. The most intelligent, at the end, are disgusted with learning, longing only to forget it and to escape into a life of action. Yet there, as before, the economic machine holds them prisoners, and all their spontaneous desires are bruised and thwarted.

The examination system, and the fact that instruction is treated entirely as training for a livelihood, leads the young to regard knowledge from a purely utilitarian point of view, as the road to money, not as the gateway to wisdom. This would not matter so much if it affected only those who have no genuine intellectual interests. But unfortunately it affects most those whose intellectual interests are strongest, since it is upon them that the pressure of examinations falls with most severity. To them most, but to all in some degree, education appears as a means of acquiring superiority over others; it is infected through and through with ruthlessness and glorification of social inequality. Any free disinterested consideration shows that, whatever inequalities might remain in a Utopia, the actual inequalities are almost all contrary to justice. But our educational system will conceal this from all except the failures, since those who succeed are on the way to profit by the inequalities, with every encouragement from the men who have directed their education.

IV

Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, it seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils, and it is the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position. It makes the power of churches, governments, party caucuses, and all the other organizations by which plain men are misled into supporting old systems which are harmful to the nation and to themselves. It is possible that there would not be much independence of thought, even if education did everything to encourage it; but there would certainly be more than there is at present. If the object were to make pupils think, rather than to make them accept certain conclusions, education would be conducted quite differently: there would be less rapidity of instruction, more discussion, more occasions when pupils were encouraged to express themselves, more attempt to make education concern itself with matters in which the pupils felt some interest.

Above all, there would be an en­deavor to rouse and stimulate the lo of mental adventure. The world in which we live is various and astonishing: some of the things which seem plainest grow more and more difficult the more they are considered; other things, which might have been thought forever undiscoverable, have been laid bare by the genius and industry of the men of science. The power of thought, the vast regions which it can master, the much more vast regions which it can only dimly suggest to imagination, give to those whose minds have traveled beyond the daily round an amazing richness of material, an escape from the triviality and wearisomeness of familiar routine, by which the whole of life is filled with interest, and the prison walls of the commonplace are broken down. The same love of adventure which takes men to the South Pole, the same passion for a conclusive trial of strength which makes some men welcome war, can find in creative thought an outlet which is not wasteful or cruel, but full of profit for the whole human race, increasing the dignity of man, incarnating in life some of that shining splendor which the human spirit is bringing down out of the unknown. To give this joy, in a greater or less measure, to all who are capable of it, is the supreme end for which the education of the mind is to be valued.

It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education. Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought, real thought, looks into the pit of Hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light ofthe world, and the chief glory of man.

But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back: fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be. Should the working man think freely about property? Then what will become of us, the rich? Should young men and young women think freely about sex? Then what will become of morality? Should soldiers think freely about war? Then what will become of military discipline? Away with thought! Back into the shades of prejudice, lest property, morals, and war should be endangered! Better that men should be stupid, slothful, and oppressive than that their thoughts should be free. For if their thoughts were free, they might not think as we do. And at all costs this disaster must be averted. So the opponents of thought argue in the unconscious depths of their souls. And so they act in their churches, their schools, and their universities.

No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past, rather than the hope of creating the future, dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a dead awareness of static facts, but at an activity directed toward the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumph that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man’s survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less sombre than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create.

Regaining Society’s Fundamentals


November 2, 2015

Regaining Society’s Fundamentals

by Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

I am now in Ruby Koi Farm, the biggest Koi fish distributor in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, sipping the famous cafe soda while being soothed by sounds of the water flowing into the Koi pond. Sitting here watching the fish swimming, all the positive thoughts enter your mind and you wonder why is it that some people who are more blessed than others make life difficult for many more.

SchoolOfAthens

The world is always shaped by a select minority for the silent and passive majority. The so-called educated ones in a society are usually about three per cent of the population. This small percentage then ends up filling up important positions in society as government servants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, religious and political leaders, judges, corporate managers and so on.

These are the people who are not only going to shape society but also determine the “habitat” under which the rest of us are going to live. It is not only their educational qualifications that will determine whether our general quality of life will be better but more importantly, it will be the attitudes and the values that they have.

In this sense, therefore, the quality and content of our educational system are important. The standard of the curriculum is important to ensure that we produce high quality graduates who are not only efficient and knowledgeable in their respective fields but also have creative thinking abilities.

Creative thinking is necessary to ensure research abilities and adaptability and upgrading of one’s knowledge as knowledge develops in the respective fields. If our educational levels and standards are inferior, we will be producing mediocre graduates who will in turn make the society suffer because of their mediocrity.

Can you imagine what happens to the quality of life of the general masses if we have a mediocre minister or a mediocre ketua pengarah in important positions?

Society will suffer

Quite apart from pure educational qualifications, a strong sense of ethics, good values and humanistic attitudes is fundamental. By this, please do not think that I am referring to blatant religious indoctrination.

My own observation over the years tells me that religious indoctrination actually leads to another form of oppression and gives the follower a completely warped perspective of life. I am referring to time-tested universal values such as compassion, empathy, honesty, diligence, humility, sense of humanity, and recognition that the environment and us are inter-twined.

These are values that are able to curb evil activities such as corruption, abuse of power, wastage of resources, irresponsibility or even indolence.

We seriously and urgently need to infuse these values into our school system by focusing on them through a Malaysian lens and not through so-called moral classes for non-Muslims and religious classes for Muslims. We have to embark and work on it so that it will become a national culture. Most often, it is our current, general “informal” pervasive culture that prevents us from becoming the best human being possible.

These values are vital to prevent us from building a nation like a metaphorical luxurious looking house, full of termites infesting the structure behind the facade. Slowly but surely, the nation collapses in the long run and the people will suffer.

However, for these values to be a national culture, since the majority are silent most of the time, there must be political will among the leaders. Will our current crop of political leaders be courageous, consistent and diligent enough to push for a humanistic and ethical national culture that embodies the values I alluded to earlier? Can the general masses be persuaded to understand its significance? These are the challenges.

It is equally unfortunate that in the past 35 years or so, in our quest for physical development, we seem to have side-stepped the development of the “human” in us. We have allowed our society to be consumptive, superficial and non-critical in culture and, our Malaysia bolehness does not seem to encompass the achievement of greater ideals and values.

We have made a big mistake and continue to allow religiosity, ala Middle Eastern cultures, to permeate into our culture.

I observe that, due to political tensions and contests, the country has been sliding downhill for the past 16 years in many ways, including losing a culture of empathy and compassion. Unfortunately, this has been artificially engineered by politicians for pure political ends.

We keep witnessing the worse expression of human behaviour among our so-called community leaders and even religious leaders. It is as if these select few want the country ablaze with general hatred and for all of us to lose our sense of humanity.

It becomes urgent to keep the discourse on the nature and content of the national culture alive and active until it slowly evolves into a reality that we can be proud of. Hopefully, one day when I come back to Ruby Koi Farm, they have love and respect for me instantaneously simply because I am Malaysian.

Now, that will also be the best door opener for forging international and business relationships.