Saturday, December 20, 2008
Of universities and one-dimensionality
EXCERPT FROM AN ESSAY..
It is not only the theocratic state that lives and breathes the regimes of ‘truth-force’. Public universities, too, have their own philosophy of statehood and strategies of statecraft. In the language of international relations, borrowing from John Lewis Gaddis, the universities have their “strategies of containment in cold wars that are happening in their backyards”.
Public universities are producing public one-dimensional beings trapped in their own logic bubbles. University leaders operate on the idea that all ideas must point to the dictates of the State. In this environment of intellectualism, one loses hope of the creation of more ‘committed’ or, borrowing from Gramsci, “organic” intellectuals that will become the beacons of hope for a multi-cultural generation of thinkers.
The theme of this Shakespearian-like theatre of the absurd playing at these universities is this: ‘It is Not that I love Philosophy less, but I love Brutal Politics more’.
Public universities become a mini ‘police state’. Any dissenting view must be crushed. Each question, each doubt, and each deflecting view must, at all cost, be neutralised to fit the thinking of the ‘philosophy of the university’. Each university lecturer or professor must be given guidelines of what truth to believe in and to funnel into the minds of the students and which truth must be avoided.
Each academician must be monitored closely in the style and conviction of the American senator-witch-hunter of the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy. Each student who questions the government of the university and the government of the day must be suspended or removed.
The university student lives in a universe of comfort and they are made to fear to speak of newer realities, to explore and to think, and to innovate and to question assumptions. There is a prevalent corruption of the ‘philosophy of the university itself’.
In all mission statements of the university or in any sensible, safe, and sound learning institution from the tabika and tadika (kindergartens) to post-graduate programmes, we pledge to create ‘open-minded’ citizens who will live a progressive life but in reality we are afraid to carry out that mission.
We are trapped in the language we use. We are now incarcerated in our own prison-house of language.
The world of the university student has become a world of higher order vocational education. Professors may have contributed to the design of this kind of world - this utopia called university. Professors act as though they have all of the answers, all the truth there is. They impose their beliefs, however faulty these beliefs may be.
But this is understandable as there is no such culture as the culture of ‘challenging a professor’. To these educators, to ‘teach’ is, following the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, “to bank” into the students the truths the latter will consume, but never to teach them to question. Never teach them the most profound of all questions: on human freedom and the quest for meaning.
Is this the confidence we put in our public educational institutions? The word ‘public’ and its correlation ‘res public’ and its transmutation ‘republic’ should be powerful enough to make us understand that the universities do not belong to the state or the Vice-Chancellors, but belong fundamentally to the aspirations of the peoples whose philosophies are superior to the state and its apparatuses.
We must return the deeply Politicised and Policed Universities to the deeply-rooted tradition of the university as a world of study of the “arts and sciences of the free man and woman”. We must educate our public universities of the meaning of progressive education if we wish our children to enter learning institutions that call themselves ‘world class’.
‘World class-ism’ has its foundation in deep inquiry and total respect for the intellect. It does not give the licence for university administrators to expel students and academician for their dissenting views.
We must cultivate critical thinking. We must teach our students to question taken-for-granted assumptions we live by, using the proper tools of scientific, philosophical, and ethical reasoning.
"Dissent", as an American statesman-philosopher once said, “is the highest form of patriotism”.
This is what embodies the thinking of many a great Malaysian philosopher-statesman such as Onn Jaafar.
We must engineer a ‘renaissance’ of our public educational institutions. Let us begin to set the universities free.
SOME THOUGHTS ON FREEDOM
REMEMBER SENATOR McCARTHY?