Critical Theory for our varsities
Sep 3, 07 3:07pm
The recent announcement by the Ministry of Higher Education to reconstruct the ideology and modus operandi of our public universities interest me. It seems to provide a good declaration for the nation to embark upon this long walk to academic freedom; for the removal of acts, administrators, and activities that are anathema to the meaning of a university.
The announcement seems to promise a better sense of leadership and scholarship as a response to criticisms on the waning and weakening of purpose of the Malaysian public university.
But how do we reconstruct the consciousness of our higher education institution, so that its body politics can create a holistic sense of beingness – a Ying Yang of intellectual longevity? How do we remove the structures that are caging the mind and soul of the university? What do we need to do to create this "apex" university in perhaps a hundred years to come?
"First things first," as the Management "feel-good guru" Stephen Covey would say. "Think lateral," as the global corporate marketer of thinking skills Edward deBono will advise.
Critical Theory of society
Our developmentalist ideology needs a critical analysis. This ideology has become a shibboleth in itself and one we are trapped in, and one that has driven our nation to the brink of political, economic, social, and cultural chaos on the eve of our 50th. Year of Merdeka. Our Independence needs a radical critique.
If we can step outside of this ideology of race-based, hypermodernised system of evolution of a corporate-nation-state and put this worldview in a crystal ball, we will be able to see something different. We will be able to see a world of alternatives to the one that is falling apart. But what do we need to critique this ideology we are trapped in?
A critical theory of society - that's what we need in this post-half-a-century of the nation's independence. We need a new paradigm of looking at ideology and how to deconstruct it.
What is a critical theory of society? Where do we begin to germinate the seed of this kind of education?
Many of our university leaders who still cannot and will not understand the difference between the concept of hegemony and totalitarianism as opposed to education and liberation. To them, it is a place for exercise total control of the mind, body and the soul.
Critical thinking, which is supposed to be made to permeate all disciplines, all curriculum, all written and spoken discourse is flushed down the drain of academia, replaced with the structures of mental oppression, making human beings merely cogs in the wheels of Kapital at these serve the weakening a and failing corporatist Malaysian nation-state. Whether an university is run via a "faculty" or "college" system, does not matter.
What is key is the manner critical discourse is made to permeate all the disciplines and into the minds of the faculty and the students. What is important is to celebrate critical thinking and to honor radical minds that can help construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct society so that any government that no longer serves the needs of the people and the environment can be replaced by the work of the thinking university. Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky.
What is the value of this mode of thinking?
Critical thinking will help in the process of removing the structures that are shackling the nation; structures that are making us unable to clearly see the issue of race, class, ethnicity, political-economy, controlling interests, and ideological domination in a newer light. These structures will continue to help facilitate the role of the universities as instrumentally-relevant institutions useful to the survival of the deteriorating Asian-Despotic corporate-nation state.
Structures of a vulture-culture
These structures are built with clear awareness of their usefulness; true to what the French thinker Louis Althusser called "ideological state apparatuses". In mission statements of our public universities, absent is "critical thinking" as one of the skills to be infused into students and as an educational/pedagogical process to create a thinking citizenry. We do not see a conscious effort to promote the skills of critical thinking about society, to teach students to name the oppressive strictures in it, and to make radical changes to impact progressive and peaceful well-beings of citizens. In these mission statements, there is no declaration of the need to respect and encourage the free flow of ideas however radical they are – in the name of academic freedom and the allegiance to truth through scientific inquiry, rather that allegiance to state-designed totalitarianism through all levels of indoctrination and the monitoring and molding of student thinking.
Our universities have become a "conveyor" belt to produce one-dimensional human beings who will help ease the way for young-hooliganistic leaders who are claiming a continuation of neo-colonialism as their "birthright" - leaders who are beginning to employ even rougher, rowdier, more brutal "mat-rempitized" brigades (the grandchildren of Merdeka/Independence) to achieve their goals, as the Black nationalist Malcolm X would say, by whatever means necessary.
Human capital re-evolution?
What a waste of human resource and human talent, what a subtle form of oppression - for those ruled, reproduced, and be made to repeat and regurgitate what the Official and Packaged Knowledge System tells their brain to respond to. When during interviews graduates cannot string together a good sentence in English let alone provide a synthesised/integrative analysis of what they have learned, we have got a problem with what goes on in the classrooms and the nature and culture of critical thinking we have cultivated. Continue to keep the emerging middle class passive and docile in their thinking - this will be good for total control so that this nation and its generations will be lobotomised of its critical sensibility.
But there is still hope for our nation. Like Albert Camus would say of Sisyphus, we will continue to roll the rock up on the hill and at least imagine ourselves happy.