Friday, February 24, 2006

Restricted Thoughts & Inquiry

According to William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), the leading American advocate for a free trade industrial society as well as a professor of sociology at Yale University, he defined "critical thinking" as "the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not... It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances."

Malaysiakini which covered the second public hearing by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity, heard the grievances made public by a senior lecturer of political science at a local Malaysian university with the administrators' overt attempts to stifle critical thoughts and inquiry.
Alleging blatant discrimination, the lecturer with 25 years service at a local university claims to have been dumped in cold storage for teaching her students to critically evaluate national policies.

"I'm a political scientist. How can I not teach students to critically evaluate national policies? I don't simply criticise and do highlight the good and bad points," she said on condition of anonymity.
Apparently, (but unsurprisingly), faculty members were also told to remove Far Eastern Economic Review as well as the Aliran monthly from the list of reading material for students. The question then is, what type of sanitised "political science" are our Malaysian students being taught at the local universities? That there cannot exist contrarian and diverse views?

Political science was one of my degree subjects as part of my Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) course. Many have asked how the subject is relevant to the "real world" unless one is interested to become a "politician". My answer has always been straightforward. Political science gives a student plenty of diverse views from the presence of various political institutions around the world to various political and socio-economic theories such as Marxism and Democracy. Reading Marx and Engels (and enjoying it) doesn't make me a Marxist or Communist - instead it broadens my mind and exercises my thought faculties to analyse in depth the strengths and weakness of the various arguments, theories and assumptions.

Kian Ming is working towards his PhD in Political Science at Duke University. I'm certain that he is reading plenty of materials which may be regarded as harmful to national sensitivity and security, as defined by some of the vice-chancellors of the local universities. However, I'm certain that his degree with definitely be worth a fair bit more from those who graduate from the local universities purely from the fact that he will be exposed to a wide and diverse range of quality thought, instead of being restricted to propaganda on American democracy and political institutions.

Without alternate views, students will just no longer be challenged, which in turn, makes a mockery out of the political science degrees granted by the university. Sigh, no wonder we have idiots as "elected" student leaders who will happily tell the country's political leaders that they should be kept in a tight leash and be fed dog food for the country's leaders are omnipotent.

On a side note, it was also interesting to read the accusation the lecturer made that she has discovered a "second admission list" held by the vice-chancellor himself. Too bad, we are unable to find out more about this. I wonder which university we are talking about.... hmmm..


Anonymous said...

Too bad we don't even know which university it is. Malaysia as a culture has long been know for not liking transparency and accountability. People should just put their trust in those put in position. TO not trust means you can't be loyal. That has been the logic. We need to challenge this way of thinking first.

Kian Ming said...

Surprisingly, I haven't had many classes which have taught me things that might be considered sensitive to national security. Well, maybe one or two lectures in one or two classes. But having sat through an undergraduate class where I am the teaching assistant (TA), I've noticed how the professor who's teaching the class always tries to question the assumptions held by the students and / or provides them with tools to question those assumptions themselves. In the graduate classes that I've attended, we're always taught to critique an argument (rather than to defend it) so that we can get used to critiquing our own work. So I fully support what the anonymous lecturer was doing in Malaysia. You have to highlight both good and bad points in national policies and you have to ask your students to think for themselves what the good and bad points are.

I'm not sure what removing FEER and Aliran from the list of readings materials meant in practical terms - was FEER and Aliran removed from the library or were they just taken off the reading list for some (or all) of the political science courses? If it's the first, then these guys have obviously not heard of the Internet. If it's the 2nd, then it's even more laughable. They probably have to remove almost all of Jomo's and Gomez's books from the reading list. I'm not sure what will be left after that.

undergrad said...

Don't worry. as long as free-flowing resources in internet pervades into our daily lives, we shouldn't be bothered by the "censorship" from the said university. The university admin only make a mockery of themselves for being myopic in view diversity.

What-me-worry? said...

Nowadays the concept and practice of a univeristy are very different from those of the olden universities, where people went to learn, study, think, question, debate, challenge, conduct research, and generate new knowledge.

Nowadays many universities are set up by governments as factories to produce graduates with limited knowledge and indoctrinated to be grateful to the political masters. Many universities are also here for economic reason as a business venture, rather than for academic reason.

Most of the high-ranking university officials are political appointments and their allegiance is to their politcal masters. With the various restrictive and punitive acts and practices (such as Akujanji) imposed on our universities, is it 'shocking' to read about what is mentioned in the blog? I'm sure this is a pervasive practice in most, if not all, of our universities.

Are you surprised why many of our local university graduates are not critical-thinking, are lost without model answers, and are unemployable?

Some of the street-smart graduates have found the solution to quick and good employments: don't have to be critical-thinking individuals, just join the youth wing of the ruling political parties, be seen, be heard, and be recognized for a smooth path to success!