Thursday, April 07, 2005

11] Develop Minds, Scrap Boot camps

Develop Minds, Scrap Boot camps
by Azly Rahman

Previously, I demonstrated how the national service is based on a philosophy of anti-humanism. The public has not heard of an evaluation report on the effectiveness of the first session. We need a national report such as one produced in a developed nation.

I argued why we need not jail our youth for their conscientious objection to militarism in education. Our youth wants to know what will become of them in a society governed by those who think that education is the process of shoving into their minds a certain form of nationalism.

Our youth wants explanations why military leaders are running their lives in those camps of indoctrination. The parents of these children need to know that what the government is doing is actually wrong - anathema to the meaning of education.

What might our exit plan for the national service be if we educators conclude that it is creating more damage to the creative and critical minds? What might it be if it is based on a paradigm conceived by those who are not knowledgeable of or have been out of touch with cutting edge research in the art and science of human cognitive development, such as that explored in the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?

I propose that the national service be postponed and the project be given to the universities specifically, schools of education and/or schools which deal with the development of youth cultures.

I propose that the government's role should be to provide national standards for developing the Malaysian mind that would suggest the objectives of teaching thinking based on what has been established by the education ministry in courses such as Kursus Kemahiran Berfikir Secara Kritis dan Kreatif and Ilmu Futuristik.

I see great potential for expanding the minds of our future generation if we put a halt to the current programme of militarising our children and instead provide grant-based mind development programmes to develop them as transcultural thinkers.

Malaysian professors of education and cultural change are the ones who know the Malaysian mind best. Let them do the job of educating our youth.

Let them spend the remaining RM500 million allocated funds to work in collaboration with youths, multi-cultural community leaders, parents, and progressive government leaders to craft a non-boot camp based mind expansion and cognitive development programme.

Let them show their skills in grooming our youth into Rousseau's Emiles and liberated Sophies.

Mind development project

We need not create blind nationalists. We need to create transcultural citizens. We need not use indoctrination theories of the 1950s. We now have constructivist theories of the new millennium.

Our aim for the Malaysian children of the future should be to help them create whatever ethical possibilities in their lifetime based on the ability to use the best of their critical, creative, ethical, and futuristic thinking skills.

Here are the objectives of the proposed programme:

As cultural beings, they should learn how to create new artifacts to help humanity solve problems. They need to learn what it means to be self-sufficient and how to create ‘cultural communities’ that value the idea of ‘self-help’ as opposed to getting subsidies tied to patronage politics. They need to find alternative ways of living; to de-evolve from the hyper-ventilativity and complexity of a neo-colonised national economic system and to even perhaps ‘de-urbanise’ and ‘re-villagise’.

As economic beings, they should know the skills to create a society that value ‘needs’ more than ‘wants’ so that their generation will not have to be burdened with foreign debts passed down from their political leaders who designed economic conditions that create those debts.

As political beings, they should learn how not to be blind nationalists based on their strict interpretation of ‘Malayness’, ‘Chinese-ness’, ‘Indian-ness’, ‘Iban-ness’, ‘Kadazan-ness’, ‘Murut-ness’, or ‘pan-Malaysian-ness’, or ‘pan Asian-ness’. They should learn how to create a new social order based on the re-envisioning and revising of the past as well as the restructuring of the confusing present.

They should be taught how to imagine what a new government might look like, instead of being made to anticipate which son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in law of past or current leaders will be installed as rulers. The children want to have ‘ownership of democracy’ not to be owned by political demagogues.

As philosophical beings, the children of a new Malaysia should learn from the varieties of religious and philosophical discourse that will incite and excite the brain cells into making the greatest number of connections that will turn them into intelligent multi-cultural beings able to come together in study circles that deconstruct any kind of ‘arrogant’ knowledge. They want to learn how to become ‘radical multi-culturalists’ who pay allegiance to philosophy and not to deformed politics.

As ethical beings, they should learn to be critical consumers of the ‘mediated world’ they live in. They should be taught to know why Malaysian television stations are producing mediated junk to capitalise on the libidinal and not the cerebral needs of the human self. They should know what strategies these broadcast stations are using to invent and manipulate realities, to blow the minds of TV viewers, to mesmerise viewers into organised confusion, to glue them to the TV sets, and to sell dreams in order to gain as much profit as they can through the production of sophisticated junk.

The youth of today should know how the government and private TV stations are contributing to making the few owners of satellites up in the sky rich, while the poor on the earth below are happy being poor as long as they have 100 channels as their intellectual diet. As the media critic Neil Postman once said, "Thanks to television, the children of tomorrow will have four eyes and no mouth."

As futuristic beings, they should know how to create a less and less corrupt world, by creating a government based on a good separation of powers, and based on the leaders' commitment to national projects that focus on national needs more than national greed.

They should know if we actually need more national cars, if our privatised water system is robbing the basic needs of human beings, if university education will become freely accessible to all, if we are going to spend our leisure developing good reading habit than golfing in signature golf course that were once inhabited by the ‘squatters’ (popularly known among Johoreans as ‘Sting Gardens a.k.a. Setinggan Gardens’)

Our youth are born gifted and talented. They should be turned into ‘radical multi-culturalists’ or ‘Malaysian transcultural citizens’ that will be "walking democracies in themselves". This should be the vision of our nation.

Youth empowerment

Once we have given the national service to the faculties such as the school of education in Malaysian public and private universities, we can design the programme based on the seven considerations below:

1. Involve representatives from youth themselves; those who can articulate what they need to know in order for them to create a society that is less corrupt and one that will be governed based on a strong sense of distributive and formative justice.

2. Involve representatives of the youth political parties in the redesigning of the national programme. We ought not to turn the project into a battleground for the hearts and minds of the youth but rather, in the tradition of conflict resolution and mediation, to give due respect to the youth to express their hope and wishes to be good Malaysian citizens that will chart their own political, intellectual and cultural destiny. We may discover that in the non-partisan dialogues a great deal can be achieved in the long run.

3. Involve educators from the different ethnic groups who understand the hopes and aspirations of our youth and who want to design a better future based on multi-cultural understanding in the most meaningful sense of the word. They are the best sources of cultural information and cultural leadership.

Invite educators who understand the best designs in curriculum and instruction to come up with engaging, student-centered, democratically-inspired, higher-order thinking skills-based daily lesson plans that will sustain the interest of the youth and make them understand the meaningfulness of the concepts and the skills we are attempting to impart.

Invite competent educators to work with the youth - those who have mastered the art and science of teaching and managing the youth. In short, get highly-qualified and certified teachers and trainers to be in the programme. Education is too precious an enterprise to be left to those who are good at killing the creativity of the learners.

4.Train the trainers to understand who they are working with and how best to develop the minds of those they are attempting to educate. Again, the idea that education is a gentle profession must be applied to the training programme that hopes to create thinking citizens who will value knowledge as a most powerful tool of nationalism as well as to understand the complexities of globalisation and cut-throat crony-corporate capitalism.

The trainers and educators should undergo a six-month university-offered course in Cross-Cultural Perspectives in order to equip themselves with enough concepts and skills to teach a multi-ethnic population that is diverse.

5. Create a ‘voucher system’, in which a youth will bring a certificate of educational funding, and choose which programme at an institution of choice to attend in order to fulfill the requirement of a National Mind Development Service programme.

The money allocated for each participant is channeled to the proper organisation/university; one that can provide training based on a set of competency standards.

In other words, the youth are the customers of the quality service we provide. This should be better than treating them like juvenile delinquents and prospective inhabitants of our prison-industrial complexes.

Create an incentive such as college credits or Advance Placement courses (AP) for universities that will help youth transfer the earned credits to meet the needs of a university/university college foundation course.

The voucher system would also build into the programme the notion of accountability. The universities or service-provider institution, will have to market themselves well and follow the national standards closely.

6. Have universities managing this programme conduct sustained and cumulative action research projects that will document the success or concerns of this project. I am sure each institution, given adequate funding, can produce magnificent evaluation report as nationally and internationally significant to document the intellectual development of our precious youth.

Foundational questions

The Malaysian Mind Development Project, my proposal for an alternative to the current national service, should be based on several fundamental questions that will form the basis of this major undertaking. Following are the foundational ones:
- How has politics, economics, sociology, and psychology shape the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, etc youth of today?

- What do they value? What are their hopes? How has tradition contributed to their identity? What is the nature of youth culture they are in at this point in history? How might we teach them to explore transcultural identities better?

-How can this information be used to create a good enough mind development project to effect the changes in thinking we wish to see? What kind of political, social, and cultural system would they desire as a utopia? How do we help our youth construct an ethical society that can regenerate itself through revolutionary and evolutionary changes based on the truth-force of transcultural philosophies?

Herein lies the importance of training in multi-cultural education that values conflict resolution more than indoctrination and military training. Knowledge is power. History is a subjective field of knowledge; a study of the creation of the possibilities of freedom out of cultural constraints and cultures that disable.

Approach the training from a neurolinguistic perspective of teaching; an approach which begins with respecting the child as a powerful, intelligent, loving, and wise human being, and designing curriculum and instruction that values the dialogical process more than dictatorial approaches.

Education is not about humiliating people in boot camps. This paradigm is only suitable for the creation of a master-slave relationship.

A plethora of research into brain science and its application to the principles of learning points to the idea that when learning happens in a stressful, dictatorial, meaningless environment, the natural response of the brain will be to be in a ‘fight and flight’ mode. A positive environment will be one that will not have the children be talked down at or worse, yelled at. Poor curriculum design and incompetent educators add to the breakdown of the learning system.

We must create world-class youths that can think, argue, reason, rationalise and create ethical alternative futures from the ideological ruins of yesteryears - youth that will know the value of peace and inter-faith dialogues, inter-cultural understanding that breaks the shackles of ethnocentrism, parochialism, and greed.

What must we do?

I therefore address all of you:

Youth of today, would you agree to a newer design that is based on strategies to develop your cognitive and emotional intelligences? Even in the United States, research on the effectiveness of boot camps as a positive experience remain inconclusive.

Parents, ask questions of what is the meaning of education, instead of letting the state jail your children! The children will learn to hate learning and most likely end up being unpatriotic.

Military-leaders turn educators and professor in uniforms - you need to make way for liberal, humanistic educators to take charge of this process of social reproduction.

Leaders in government, rethink how we may create a better society. The future of our youth lies in your hands. We must begin releasing their imagination, by providing the tools of critical, creative, ethical, and futuristic thinking; we cannot impose our thinking that has run its course.

Teachers, your role essentially is to transform the next generation into ‘radical multi-cultural and transcultural beings’ These beings will be the next generation of leaders and informed citizens that can create a new government based on reason and reflection, not one based on the modern class and caste system nor on ethnocentrism or retrogressive religious extremism.

Professors of education, and professors in other fields, help the progressive teachers in our society to work out a collaborative plan to help bring our youth back to the field of cognitive development, not let their minds be played around with in some remote encampment.

Government executives, educate and liberate our youth to chart their own destiny, so that they may become makers of their own history. Trust them to build a better future than what we have; a future that celebrates peace, social justice, social equality, and tolerance. A future based on the rule of reason and virtue.

We must go back to the essence of things entire. We must de-evolve.

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