Why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work, part 3 of 3: Knowledge and Understanding

In this third part of the series, I will try to outline the third part of the label evil industrial globalist, which should be attributed to those who actually like the current Malaysian education system, or at the very least these are their ideological buddies whether they know it or not.

The first part described the industrial part of this label, going back to the reason for the creation of a public school education system, having its foundation in a need for factory workers that could take orders and be compliant. The second part described the evil aspect, outlining briefly – and I do mean briefly – how the current system encourages and spreads evil by systematic abuse and various brainwashing techniques.

So what about the globalist part? How does that fit into the picture? As I said towards the end of the first part, Malaysia is currently engaged in a race to the bottom, to produce the most obedient and ignorant workers, so as to be attractive for outsourcing contracts for multinational corporations. Whoever wins this race, however, and there are certainly many contestants, will be the ultimate loser, and will see its resources drained, both of the natural kind and the human kind.

There is a reason there is a brain drain going on, and it’s not because Malaysia is losing this race. The contempt for critical thinking and analytical discourse is increasing by the minute. Looking at a number of the comments the previous part has garnered on Facebook makes it clear that ridiculing critical thinking is a common practice.

Ironically though, those very comments are exactly what Ponerology describes is the pre-condition for institution of evil systems and pathocracy in a country. Let me requote it for your benefit:

During “happy times” of peace dependent upon social injustice, children of the privileged classes learn to repress from their field of consciousness the uncomfortable ideas suggesting that they and their parents are benefiting from injustice against others. Such young people learn to disqualify and disparage the moral and mental values of anyone whose work they are using to over-advantage. Young minds thus ingest habits of subconscious selection and substitution of data, which leads to hysterical conversive economy of reasoning. They grow up to be somewhat hysterical adults who, by means of the ways adduced above, thereupon transmit their hysteria to the next generation, which then develops these characteristics to an even greater degree. The hysterical patterns for experience and behavior grow and spread downwards from the privileged classes until crossing the boundary of the first criterion of ponerology: the atrophy of natural critical faculties with respect to pathological individuals.

When the habits of subconscious selection and substitution of thought-data spread to the macrosocial level, a society tends to develop contempt for factual criticism and to humiliate anyone sounding an alarm. Contempt is also shown for other nations which have maintained normal thought-patterns and for their opinions. Egotistic thought-terrorization is accomplished by the society itself and its processes of conversive thinking. This obviates the need for censorship of the press, theater, or broadcasting, as a pathologically hypersensitive censor lives within the citizens themselves.

This is exactly the kind of behaviour that I have observed, even from ones who supposedly are a part of the intelligentsia of Malaysia. This is not a good sign. There is no need for overt censorship if the citizens are perfectly capable of censoring themselves.

Think about that for a moment.

What is knowledge and understanding anyway?

The best cure, or immunization, against this kind of pathological process is knowledge and understanding. If you know about what is being done to you, and understand how it fits into the bigger context, it will have much less effect.

The purpose of this post is to get you, the concerned reader, to realize how what is being taught through the Malaysian education system is to a large extent irrelevant. However, instead of pointing out the uselessness of rote learning and memorizing facts, I will instead violate the rule I set out for myself in the first post – to not offer any alternatives or suggestions – and instead suggest what would be useful to learn in school, and roughly the process for doing so. Hopefully by seeing that, and comparing with what is there now, it will become apparent just how wrong the current approach is.

The first step is to understand the process of learning, from perception all the way up to application. This process starts with data, the raw perception of the world around us.

This can be collected and organized by individuals familiar with a particular field, and then transformed into what we could call information. You know, like books and Internet websites. Once information about a topic is available in a comprehensible format for someone not intimately familiar with it, other people can read and listen to this information.

When information is perceived and processed by an individual, who can connect it to previous information and fit it into his or her mental mosaic of how the world works, it can turn into knowledge. I say “can”, because if the receptor, the person trying to acquire said information, is flawed in the sense that their previous knowledge and beliefs are imperfect or flat out wrong, it is entirely possible that the new information is distorted and instead creates lies and beliefs that are not true, objectively speaking. This is why it is essential that anyone wishing to truly understand the world around them should first critically assess their current beliefs, and if they are rational or not. If they do not do so, it is highly likely that any new information pouring into this muddled glass will just add to the volume of nonsense, without any true benefit. Scientists, I’m looking at you!

Once knowledge has been created in an individual, and let’s for the moment assume that it is correct for the sake of argument, the next step is to transform this knowledge into understanding. The purpose here is to be able to relate the new knowledge with as many other pieces of knowledge as possible, connecting the dots if you will, and be able to apply said knowledge in as many different contexts and situations as possible, to see where it applies, and where it does not apply. This step makes the knowledge actionable, as in, you can actually do something with it, without causing harm to yourself and others. It becomes, in short, useful. Any attempt to apply knowledge without understanding, or even worse, apply wrong knowledge without understanding that it is so, is highly likely to cause harm in various ways.

The next, and final, step in this process is mastery. I’m not even going to attempt to explain this, as it’s a massive topic on its own.

The point here, for the purpose of understanding any education system, is that if you do not get to at least the level of understanding, the knowledge that you have is rarely useful, and any attempt to apply it will most likely fail and/or cause harm. The question is, where is the focus of the Malaysian education system? Is it on data, information, knowledge or understanding?

Think about it for a moment.

What should we learn?

Education is not something that we do just because “it is a good idea”. There are many “good ideas”, but not all of them are worth investing time and money in. So, if we then take the approach that “getting an education” is in fact an investment, what should one learn?

As with any investment, you would have to do a risk/benefit analysis. In particular, you will want to ask yourself the question: what knowledge will I have the most use of in my life, and how can I minimize the risk of investing time and energy in something that will turn out to be useless?

In answering this question I am going to suggest that things that can be learned can be roughly divided into three different types: languages, skills, and subjects.

Languages are those things that we use to communicate about other things, including itself. Languages, if seen in isolation, are pretty much useless. It is only when we apply a language to something, such as talking about education, that it gains value. But because languages can be applied to such a vast amount of subjects, they are of enormous value. They are as generally applicable as possible. Another good attribute of languages is that they are relatively few. In Malaysia they are basically Malay, English, Mandarin, Tamil, and math.

Yes, math. You didn’t know that math was a language? Well, it is! Like any language, on its own it has very little value apart from purely academic and intellectual discussions, but when you apply it to talk about other things, it has immense value. Going shopping? Math. Building a house? Math. Figuring out what the bill at the restaurant is going to be after service tax? Math. Deducing the logical conclusion of an argument? Math. Math is all around us, and it is the language the universe uses to talk to us. As such, learning the language of math is perhaps one of the most powerful tools you can have in your toolbox.

And, correspondingly, not understanding math is a great weakness, and will ensure that you will be taken advantage of one way or the other in life. The consequences of not being able to realize that a particular MLM or similar scam mathematically is risky is something that Malaysians face every day. Much of my time is spent explaining the folly of various such schemes to friends and family. I would rather not have to do that.

The second level of things to learn are skills. Skills are things that also are relatively useless on their own. Critical thinking without something to think about critically is, well, useless. It is only when we apply skills to something else that they gain value. But as with languages, since they can be applied to such a vast amount of subjects, they have enormous value. Like languages they are also, relatively speaking, few. Let’s say they are in the thousands. That’s few, and among those there is a basic set of about ten that will get you very very far. Critical thinking, creative thinking, mind mapping, public speaking, and so on, are skills that I use on an almost daily basis, no matter what problems I need to solve. No matter what your job is, having ten such general skills will VASTLY improve your quality of life.

The third level of things to learn are actual subjects. Things like history, science, sociology, playing the drums and cooking. We apply languages and skills when learning these, and so understanding the languages and skills needed for a particular subject is invaluable. Priceless even. On the flip side, not knowing the language of the subject you are studying, makes it highly confusing and close to pointless. There is one example of this in the current Malaysian education system, as it turns out. Do you know which one?

The problem with subjects is that there is essentially no limit to how many there are of them. There’s millions of potential subjects, billions even. So from an investment point of view, where you want to get the most bang for your proverbial buck, investing in a particular subject is a MASSIVE risk. Most likely the last time you will read about a specific subject, or have a need for it, is in school. Once you are out in the real world, where grownups go about their business getting things done, what you will actually need are mainly languages and skills, and any subjects required to be a productive member of society you will have to learn on your own after you left school.

The question now becomes: what is the Malaysian education system focusing on? Is it languages, skills, or subjects? And when it teaches languages, such as math, does it focus on the importance of being able to apply it to other subjects? And when it teaches subjects, does it involve applying skills or not?

Think about it for a moment.

That which has true and lasting value is left out. Pretty crazy, huh?

So how should we learn things?

Because of this immense risk of not learning the subjects you need to get a job while in school, it is really important to know how to learn new things. The process of learning. If you have this, then whatever is thrown at you, you can say “I don’t know, but give me a minute and I’ll figure it out”. If you are a pure-bred product of any established education system, your answer would instead be: “I don’t know. Please instruct me”. These people you want to stay away from, because they’ll never get anything done, and will need hand-holding all the way. If they do manage to get something done, it’s not done properly as they have no method for assessing the quality of the outcome.

So how does learning work? How do you acquire new skills? There are two models I know of which are pretty good at explaining this, and they are basically variations of each other. One is called Shu-Ha-Ri, and comes from the field of martial arts. Here is the definition from Wikipedia:

It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebearers created. We remain faithful to the forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.

In my experience from practising traditional Japanese martial arts, this progression of learning and understanding is extremely useful, and can be applied outside the field of martial arts.

During the shu phase we learn about the basics and facts on a specific topic. If we are studying, for example, the skill Six Thinking Hats, we learn about the skill itself, the method it proposes, and roughly what it is for. Then we apply it to some set of pre-defined examples, which are ordered to be progressively more complicated and sophisticated, for the purpose of learning the method itself. We do not invent more steps, that is, we do not try to apply creative thinking to the process itself, but only as a part of executing the process. This is the shu phase, where we acquire the knowledge about something.

After having done this, so that we are familiar with the skill and how to apply it to pre-defined and self-contained problems, we then proceed to apply this skill in a more natural environment, where problems to be solved arise naturally, and where we get to test our understanding of the skill. We have to define the problem ourselves, what the constraints are, how to apply the skill, and we also get to assess the validity of the result. We may even start to modify the process, all the while keeping in line with the original constraints of the method. This is the ha phase of learning, where understanding is achieved.

When this has been done for a long, long time, and we know by heart how to apply this skill in various conditions and contexts, to a large variety of problems, then we can attempt the ri phase, wherein we can choose whether to follow the process, or invent a completely new one that solves the same problem in an entirely different way.This is the ri phase, where mastery is the end goal.

We have mastered the technique, and can apply it fluently and with ease, no matter what life throws at us.

Now consider the Malaysian education system: what level does it focus on (shu, ha, or ri), and how often is it that you get the opportunity to get to the ri stage in understanding a skill, in a guided fashion?

Think about it for a moment.

That last part of the question has an easy answer: zero. In the olden days, when we had master-apprentice teaching, at least a few would reach the level of master under the guidance of a willing master, so as to continue a tradition or trade. Today, when we focus on the average, we are destined for mediocrity. The end result of this is that our society becomes an idiocracy, the rule of the ignorant. Generation after generation, less and less understanding remains, and society gets more and more atrophied, leading to a downwards spiral to eventual destruction.

What does it all mean?

As I hope is clear by now, the outcome of the current Malaysian education system has very little value. A grading system that involves systemic cheating by all involved, a mental and emotional environment that promotes mental unhealth, and a focus on learning things that have little value, all contribute to the wet dream of evil industrial globalists, those who wish to use Malaysia as an outsourcing country for the purpose of easy access to uneducated, easily controllable workers, who believe that the manager-worker system created by Frederick Winslow Taylor, focusing on standard specifications, targets and inspections, is the right way to go. It is in the interest of globalists that Malaysians are educated enough to be controllable, but it is not in their interest that you take charge of your own destiny with knowledge and understanding.

There is of course other, even more troubling, consequences of this madness. This is not the first time in history that a society has seen large amounts of angry, uneducated and unemployed youth. As one typical example, in Nazi Germany this was taken advantage of by shrewd political forces that directed this anger towards a part of the population, claiming that they were “running all businesses, banks, money flows, and dealing between themselves”. Ignorance is the food of fear, which eventually leads to hate. It would be a shame to see history repeat itself.

Unfortunately, there are two things that can be said about history:

  • Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
  • The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history

Will this be true again? Or can Malaysia be immunized with knowledge and understanding to avoid this from repeating?

We shall soon find out.

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Why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work, part 2 of 3: Systemic Evil

This is probably the most difficult blog post I have ever had to write. In part, because the subject matter, of evil and it’s expression in a school environment, is something that most people simply don’t know about or understand, and in part because I have quite a lot of empirical data from St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur (SJI) and through discussions with other teachers, parents and students from other schools, to draw from. To compress this huge subject into a blog post, while still making it clear enough for concerned readers to comprehend, seems impossible to me. But given the severity of the issue, I will at least try, and hopefully discussions later can clarify any missing points.

There is also the question of whether the data I have from SJI, an all-boys public school, can be generalized to other schools, and the education system at large. As I hope to show, I think it can to quite some extent, but more importantly, if the feedback from my first post is anything to go by, You will be able to help provide any missing pieces. I have faith in the notion that once someone points out that the Emperor have no clothes, others will be able to see it as well.

I am also aware of that this blog is definitely TL;DR material, and that I tend to use way too many uncommon words. To help with that read it in steps if you like, and I’ve tried to link as many of the difficult and technical words as possible to their definitions, where you can learn their meaning, if need be.

The big picture

So let’s get on with it. The first part in this series described the industrial background of the education system, in Malaysia and elsewhere, and how it’s design is no longer relevant in our current society, and that what it aims to produce, grade-A students, has little to no actual real value and does nothing to fulfill the purposes of a good education system.

At the end of the first post I stated that anyone who thinks the current system is good should be labeled “evil industrial globalists”, or at the very least they have these as their ideological buddies, whether they want to or not.

Whereas the first post discussed the industrial aspect, this second post will focus on the Evil part of that label. Since there exists a, more or less, clinical understanding of what Evil means, which is quite different from the colloquial every-day use of the word, I want to begin to explain exactly what I mean when I use the word “evil”.

The understanding and analysis below is going to be based on the field of psychology and its study of pathology – such as psychopathy/sociopathy, pathological narcissism, and schizophrenia – both in the individual and macrosocial sense. It will also focus on what happens to “good” people (i.e. people who under normal circumstances would not behave in “evil” ways) when they are subjected to systems created for the purpose of generating evil people and acts.

The two main books I have used for references and understanding are on the one hand “The Lucifer Effect” by Phil Zimbardo, which describes in detail how this second aspect works: how good people turn evil when put into an evil system, and on the other hand I have used “Political Ponerology” by Andrew M. Lobaczewski, which describes in detail how pathological individuals group together and give birth to said evil systems. These two books naturally complement each other, and should be read and understood by anyone wanting to understand what is happening to the Malaysian education system, or other systems which exhibit the same symptoms and problems.

What is evil anyway?

The concept of “evil” is a widely used and misunderstood term, and so let’s begin by stating what it means. Here is one definition from “The Lucifer Effect”:

Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf.

or in short:

Evil is knowing better but doing worse.

As should be apparent, schools are a very obvious place where evil can occur, as there is abundant authority and systemic power to be abused, and very little consequence of doing so, as the ones who are abused, children, have little to no way of escaping said abuse. With great power comes great responsibility, indeed.

Another, slightly more complex, way of looking at evil can be found in the foreword to “Political Ponerology”, where it is put like this:

What is evil? Historically, the question of evil has been a theological one. Generations of theological apologists have written entire libraries of books in an attempt to certify the existence of a Good God that created an imperfect world. Saint Augustine distinguished between two forms of evil: “moral evil”, the evil humans do, by choice, knowing that they are doing wrong; and “natural evil”, the bad things that just happen – the storm, the flood, volcanic eruptions, fatal disease.

And then, there is what Andrew Lobaczewski calls Macrosocial evil: large scale evil that overtakes whole societies and nations, and has done so again and again since time immemorial. The history of mankind, when considered objectively, is a terrible thing.

Death and destruction come to all, both rich and poor, free and slave, young and old, good and evil, with an arbitrariness and insouciance that, when contemplated even momentarily, can destroy a normal person’s ability to function.

Over and over again, man has seen his fields and cattle laid waste by drought and disease, his loved ones tormented and decimated by illness and human cruelty, his life’s work reduced to nothing in an instant by events over which he has no controls at all.

These are the definitions of evil that I will use from now on, as they focus properly on the two things that are needed to understand what is going on: how pathological individuals create evil systems, and how normally good people in these evil systems proceed to do evil things to other people, specifically how teachers abuse students in a school environment.

Of 5-year-olds and crocodiles

Before we delve into the examples of evil, it is also important for you, the concerned reader, to have at least a cursory understanding of what I mean with “pathological people”, and specifically “psychopaths”. This is another widely used and misunderstood term, which now is reasonably well understood in clinical circles. Most people I meet understand it in the “Evil Genius in Hollywood Movies” sense, or use it as shorthand for “people I really don’t like”.

This is quite far from the truth, and having a more clear sense of what it means is necessary before we go on. I’m going to quote from Martha Stout’s book “The Sociopath next door” to give you a sense of what a psychopath is, and what their mind looks like:

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.

You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.

You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered.

How will you lead your life?

What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people(conscience)?

The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people – whether they have a conscience or not – favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dull-witted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and non-violent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites…

Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all.[…] Crazy and frightening – and real, in about 4 percent of the population.

[…] The high incidence of sociopathy in human society has a profound effect on the rest of us who must live on this planet, too, even those of us who have not been clinically traumatized. The individuals who constitute this 4 percent drain our relationships, our bank accounts, our accomplishments, our self-esteem, our very peace on earth.

[…] What differentiates a sociopath who lives off the labor of others from one who occasionally robs convenience stores, or from one who is contemporary robber baron – or what makes the difference between an ordinary bully and a sociopathic murderer – is nothing more than social status, drive, intellect, blood lust, or simple opportunity.

What distinguishes all of these people from the rest of us is an utterly empty hole in the psyche, where there should be the most evolved of all humanizing functions.

Some of you reading the above will get a chill down your spine going “OMG! I know people like this!”. Yet others will think to themselves “NO, we are all born Good, and Love and Light will fix anything that is not so”. And some of you will think:”sure, that is my life, and I love it! So what?”. This post is written for the first group. If you fall into the other two categories, you can stop reading now, as you will not get much out of it anyway.

The ability of psychopaths to hide in plain sight, as we all project our own conscience on the intent and actions of others (“I’m sure he meant well”), is an amazing feat, and is a key reason why they can stay in relative hiding, whether they be criminals, teachers, CEO’s or presidents. They all share the same black hole in their mind, which they continuously try to fill with money and power. But it never fills up, and so they continue until they are stopped or die.

Even though it is useful to have a clinical view of what psychopaths are, and how they work, sometimes it is necessary to lighten things up and make fun of things. Humor is a great asset against evil. So, in my family we have adopted two other terms for psychopaths, that we use when we talk about these things.

One is “5-year-olds” (with due apologies to 5-year-olds), in the sense that psychopaths tend to behave a lot like little children. They always want want want, don’t really care about other people, and usually have a really unrealistic and childish view of how the real world works. To them, reality is what they can convince other people, and that makes it real in their mind.

The other term we use is “crocodile” (and again due apologies to real crocodiles by the way), and the reason for this is that like crocodiles, psychopaths simply follow their nature in doing all these evil things. It’s what they are, and what they are really good at. Like crocodiles they don’t feel bad when they “eat” other things, and like crocodiles it is a good idea for real humans, with consciences and empathy, to simply stay away from them. There is also no need to pity crocodiles for being what they are, wishing that they were “normal”. They certainly don’t think so, and they firmly believe that WE normal humans are the weird ones, having this idiotic conscience that holds us back. A crocodile is a crocodile is a crocodile, and they just do what crocodiles usually do: they kill and eat other things that happens to be close to them. Like psychopaths they are a part of nature, and we simply have to accept that they are there, and deal with them appropriately in a way that minimizes evil.

The many faces of evil

Now that you have some idea of what I mean with the words “evil” and “psychopath”, let’s get into the details of what this can look like in a school environment. Below I will enumerate a number of such examples from SJI and elsewhere that I am aware of, both big and small. Later I will try to give you a big picture idea of what it all means.

I should also preface this by saying that both students and a majority of teachers are victims in all of this. I doubt that this reality is what the teachers had in mind when they opted for this career, and that most of them are as sick of it as I am, but have had to adapt to it and endure, as a survival strategy. They are the proverbial good apples put into bad barrels.

Breaking the spirit

The first step towards creating a successful evil system is the breaking of the spirit. This is done by breaking the body, breaking the emotions, and finally, breaking the mind. Once that has been achieved, and the spirit of a student has been broken, the next steps can be taken.

Below are examples of this, mostly taken from SJI. Whether they are specific to SJI, or occur in other places as well, I’m hopeful that we will find out in the comments section. Some of these strategies are mandated by the Ministry of Education, and can therefore safely be said to be generally applicable.

Step 1: Breaking the body

The first step is inducing sleep deprivation, so that students are constantly tired and not able to think and resist. The way this is done in Malaysia is to have “morning sessions”, which start at roughly 7AM, which means that our kids have to get out of bed at 5AM, to get ready and take the trip to the school, hoping to beat the rush hour morning traffic. To say that they are constantly tired and drowsy is an understatement.

When they are in the classroom, the sound level is so high that the brain has no choice but to shut out sounds. I did an experiment whereby I was at one end of a normal SJI classroom, and my wife was in the other end. She could hear me whisper. These acoustics are great if you are building a classical Greek theater, but in a classroom of 30+ students, and a teacher that tries to overcome this kind of noise, it is a nightmare. No real education can be done in such an environment, regardless of the teachers’ intents.

The rooms are constructed out of hard surfaces, with no sound absorption, and so the minutest of sounds make a huge impact. In a good office environment this would never be tolerated, as it would impact the performance of work greatly, but this is the environment in which our kids are supposed to learn and study. It’s deplorable, and causes severe dissociation and daydreaming, as an escape from this madness.

Next up, the food that is made available should be such that is helpful for a growing body that needs to concentrate and think. In SJI the choice of food is anything but.

Do you like pizza? How about a nice cheese burger? Some of you might even admit to being fast food junkies! And that is actually not far from the mark. Both wheat and milk, which are used in bread and cheese (which when combined gives us pizza, cheese burgers and lasagna), contain proteins that when digested produce forms of morphine, that gives you a narcotic high. Here is one report on this:

[…]Opiates hide inside casein, the main dairy protein. As casein molecules are digested, they break apart to release tiny opiate molecules, called casomorphins(sic). One of these compounds has about one-tenth the opiate strength of morphine. The especially addicting power of cheese may be due to the fact that the process of cheese-making removes water, lactose and whey proteins so that casein is concentrated. Scientists are now trying to tease out whether these opiate molecules work strictly within the digestive tract or whether they pass into the bloodstream and reach the brain directly.

As you will find by looking for studies and articles on the subject, there is some debate as to the extent to which these opiates influence our bodies. There is also quite a lot of studies showing links between wheat- and milk-based products and (for example) schizophrenia and autism, which is my main concern for the purpose of this post. Food products containing wheat and milk are abundant in school canteens. So why on earth are we serving food to kids that have these effects? I thought “intoxication” and doing drugs was a no-no? Apparently not.

Now, if you want healthy and thinking students, the above would seem like crazy. If you, on the other hand, wish to create the foundation for easily controllable and sickly students, then this food strategy can be useful. So what is the school trying to achieve here anyway? Who benefits from this?

Step 2: Breaking the emotions

Once the body has been broken, the next step is to break the students emotions, and put them into a state of hopelessness and obedience. Here are a few examples of how this is achieved.

In Malaysia the concept of caning is legally accepted, and this is a very useful tool to break students. When this is discussed on an intellectual and legal level, the purpose is to induce “discipline”, and to punish “bad” deeds so that they won’t happen again. In reality, caning is applied for any little thing, even randomly.

Here are a few examples that can lead to caning:

  • If you are late to school because of the crazy Kuala Lumpur morning traffic
  • If your bus breaks down
  • Looking smug in class
  • Standing next to another student that is about to be caned, and laughing about it
  • Causing discomfort for the teacher
  • Wrong uniform on the wrong day
  • Not wearing a tie
  • Failing exams
  • Having too long hair
  • Having a mustache and/or beard
  • Any minor disobedience against teachers
  • Whistling
  • Being sleepy (see point about sleep above why that is)
  • Not standing properly during assembly
  • Caught bringing any electronic devices

The randomness of it all is mindboggling, and apart from the physical effect of inducing adrenaline (which is not good for studies), it can also cause traumatization and dissociation issues, which can haunt individuals for life. Physical abuse is a key component in any brainwashing strategy, and in school it is legalized.

For executing the actual caning there are various tools that are used. The traditional “rotan” stick is the officially sanctioned caning tool, but other items such as shoes, brooms, metal rulers, books, pens, etc. have all been applied in SJI. If any such tools are unavailable, hands are used either for slapping, pinching or pulling of ears and hair. All in the name of “discipline”, but being substantially nothing but child abuse.

Apart from hitting students there are other forms of punishment. Doing squats, doing laps around the field, being forced to pick up trash around the school (while a communal Gotong Royong is good, associating picking up litter with punishment is not). When it comes to punishment the teachers show great imagination and creativity.

It is not only teachers who abuse the students. For example, in SJI there is a “tradition” whereby anyone who is having a birthday gets beaten up by a gang of boys, as a “present”, all the while chanting “happy birthday to you!”. This is all done with the awareness of the teachers, who do nothing to stop it.

Then there are even cases where students are instructed by teachers to beat each other up. On one occasion, as part of a “physical exercise” class the students were asked by the teacher to line up, and then “beat each other up”. Chaos ensued, and some took the opportunity to attack their fellow students with impunity, while others tried to defend themselves as best they could. My step-son had cuts and bruises on his body coming home from this event, and was in a mild state of shock.

Step 3: Breaking the mind

With both body and emotions broken, the last piece of the proverbial nut to crack is the mind itself. This is done in more subtle and covert ways, as to give the resemblance of normality while in actuality being paramoralistic and delusional.

One example that comes back again and again is the requirement to answer a question exactly as instructed. Any variation, including using synonyms for the supposed “correct” answer, is met by a consistent “that is wrong”. By keeping the allowed range of answers within a very tight set of possibilities the students creative and critical thinking is effectively suppressed.

Another example comes from an arts class: instead of promoting freedom of expression and exploring ideas in a creative ways, the students were asked to trace an image that was given by the teacher. This was to ensure that the students “did it right”.

During one arts exam an assignment was given to paint a landscape. My step-son mistakenly included a sky with clouds, carefully created by first making a blue background and then use the eraser for the clouds to give an impression of fluffiness. When the teacher saw this he asked for the sky to be removed altogether, as it had not been part of the assignment. If this was not done in a timely manner, the teacher would fail him. He also got marks reductions because the flowers he put in were deemed “too small”.

Then there is of course the systemic cheating. As described in a previous post, the principal of SJI is cheating with his statistics to make the average look higher (although it is entirely possible that this is actually endorsed by the MoE, as I’ve seen references to similar schemes elsewhere), the teachers cheat by prepping students on exactly how to take a test with maximum score (ignoring whether the students actually understand anything at all), and the students are as a consequence incentivized to cheat and game the tests any way they can. Copying essays, keeping cheat sheets, whispering answers, anything goes as long as they are not caught. If they succeed, they are considered “successful”. In a psychopathic world, the only failure is if you get caught. As long as “public perception” (another pathological term) is that you are good, you are, by their twisted logic, good.

And you wonder why there is so much corruption in society? They’re only doing what they have been taught is my response to that. If you want to get rid of corruption, then change what happens in school first.

Students are also not allowed to be wrong. If they answer wrong, they are told that they are “stupid”, “not paying attention”, “hopeless”, and other such wonderful epithets. But teachers are frequently wrong as well, but when that happens, woe to whoever dares to point this out. In one instance this even went so far as to a teacher insisting on using the wrong number for Pi during a math exam, even though it was obvious that it was wrong. We can’t have teachers admitting to have faults, now can we.

After all of the above has been done to the students, consistently and over a large period of time, finally their spirits break and they decided to do the easy thing: to conform, be obedient, and do what the teachers says Even if its blatantly wrong.

Us and Them

In any effective system of evil, it is important for participants to lose their sense of individualism, both of themselves and of others. It is easier to abuse someone if you don’t think of them as a human feeling individual, but rather as some abstract object onto which hate and fear can be projected.

It is also easier to abuse someone if you feel that you are only playing a role, whether it be Johannian, prefect, teacher, or principal. Thinking “I am just doing my job”, which stops personal responsibility for ones actions, is the most banal form of evil, and probably the most common as well. In the school environment this is accomplished in a number of ways, as outlined below.

Step 1: I’m just a number

The first and most obvious way in which to remove student’s sense of self is to have them wear uniforms. You can sort of tell by the word itself. Uni-form, one shape. This has two purposes, one of which is to make everyone conform to one particular shape within a group, and the other is to distinguish one group from another. “Oh those evil Victorians, with their different badges and ties.. grrrr”. It is a subtle but time-tested way of doing it, and which serves as foundation of the erasing of individual expression and personality, and identifying ones self instead with a group and its often pathological ideology, such as in this case.

Next up is to shape the actual people to look as similar as possible. In the military this is done by shaving the hair off, but at least the military has a functional purpose with this, which is for sanitary reasons when soldiers are in the field. In school, however, there really are no such excuses, and yet there are strict rules for the length of the hair, the color of the hair, and how nails should be cut, and so on.

And here I have to explain the deranged merit-demerit system that is in place to enforce this. Here’s roughly how it works. At the beginning each student gets 100 points (local variations may exist). Then there is a manual which describes the various ways in which demerits, or “losing points” can occur, and other ways to get merits, or “gaining points”. The demerits include everything from burning down the school (which is not really a school matter, but a criminal offense which should be dealt with accordingly) all the way to “having too long nails”, “not correct hair colour”, “not correct haircuts”, “wearing wrong uniform on the wrong day”, “bringing a nail clipper to school”, and so on.

Some of these things clearly belong in the criminal sphere, and as such are nothing that the school should try to police themselves, whereas on the other end of the spectrum the rules primarily are there to suppress students personal expression and create conformity and obedience. The merit-demerit system accomplishes this by relying on students’ fear of getting demerits, eventually involving a call to the parents, and also the fact that part of this number will be added to the final grade sheet. Which is, by the way, insane.

In one example I know of, a student whose colour of hair is naturally brown, was accused by a teacher of having dyed it. No protests or natural explanations were accepted, and the teacher in the end requested that the student dye her hair black. Another student was given the same order, for the same reason, but refused to colour her hair and was subsequently suspended for this violation. Some spirits can’t be broken.

In another case a student did have short hair, but in addition to that he had a small pony tail which he clipped up so as not to be noticed. When one of the teachers found out, it was cut off. And often the teachers will indeed just cut hair off then and there, when these dastardly offenses are found out, and they’re not exactly good at that craft, to put it mildly.

A related subject to the merit-demerit system is how student prefects are used as spies to ensure compliance with these rules. Each class will have a prefect appointed, which will act as the local snitch that tells the teachers when any of the merit-demerit rules are violated, regardless of their silliness. If they do not do this, they themselves can be punished. In this way the prefects, who are just students themselves, get to participate in this pathological system under the guise of “just doing my job”.

Step 2: They’re not people

The second step towards dehumanization and deindividuation is to make other people not seem like people. The overall goal is to reduce them into objects, having no inner psychological landscape, and deserving no consideration or empathy. This, again, is a time-tested strategy in the military field, as it is more or less required to get soldiers to want to shoot, maim, and kill other humans. Unless, of course, the soldiers are psychopaths, in which case getting a chance to hurt other people is a delightful situation.

There are several ways in which students get to view other students as objects, and referable mainly through slur words and hate. First, there is the segregation of students in classes based on their so-called “academic performance” (see my first post for the validity of that). Depending on your grade you get put in either the “top class” or the “bottom class”, and you are subsequently handled very differently.

There is ample empirical data to suggest that such a division, based on just the idea that students will inherently fall into one category or the other, is blatantly illogical. Many studies of schools where this kind of division is not done have concluded that those who are slow starters may very well catch up and supersede the other students who had an easier start, simply because they had to work harder to get it, and once they did, improving from that point was much easier compared to those who flew through the early stages and then got stuck because they didn’t really grasp the subject as well as they thought.

There are also variations of favoritism, where certain are encouraged because they are pretty (if it’s girls), or anti-favoritism, where students are called names simply for having poor parents or a difficult background.

Anyhow, once students have been put into separate categories (depending on so-called academic achievement, pocket size of parents, or prettiness), the top students are told that they are great achievers, must work even harder to get “all A’s” (and other such non-sense), and that they are the proper representatives of the school. Those who, for any reason, happen to end up in the “bottom class”, are treated quite differently. They are constantly verbally, emotionally and physically abused (the rotan is ever present), and told that they are stupid.

Racial slurs, such as “Malays are stupid”, “your stupidity is why you were conquered by the British”, “why you so stupid, you Chinese should be good at this lah”, “you Malays are so god damn lazy”, “you will amount to nothing”, are a part of everyday “teaching”. This kind of labeling, racial segregation, and verbal abuse, is an excellent way of dehumanizing people into simple objects, worthy of nothing but despise.

On the racial and cultural divide line, I am also aware of cases where teachers have actually told students not to mix with students of other races and religions, due to the risk of the other students trying to “convert” the students to another religion. This kind of rhetoric promotes fear, hate, and ignorance, and is hardly worthy of a modern global society, where understanding and mutual acceptance should be key concepts.

Step 3: Get in line

Once students have accepted their place in the fold, and learned to view others by their derogatory and racial names, the last step is to make sure that they don’t try to step out of this loopy mindset. The main strategy used here is “loyalty”. I use the word very loosely, because it bears little resemblance to any kind of true loyalty, but this is how it is presented.

Basically, a chain of loyalty is established starting with God, then the king, then the government, then the school, then the principal, and finally to teacher. If a student were then to, for example, oppose a teacher, this chain is then used to impart the notion that the student is by extension being disloyal to the school. If this doesn’t work, then they will try to make it sound like you are being disloyal to God instead, which is despicable indeed. I wonder if God sees it the same way though.

This kind of misplaced one-way loyalty (as opposed to mutual sincere respect) is the by far most effective way that the students are kept in line. It also seems like this is the main reason schools are not willing to deal with teachers behaving in criminal ways, such as the extortion by the BM teacher outlined in a previous post, as doing this could “hurt the name of the school”. Rather than doing the right thing and stopping the students from being abused, the problem is either ignored or worked around in order to avoid damaging the reputation of the school. In this case the principal had the idea that the teacher could ask the students for “permission” to participate in this scheme, thereby making it legal (disregarding the sickness of the scheme, and forgetting that minors cannot enter any legal contracts).

According to pathological thinking, I am, for example, being “disloyal” to the school by pointing out all these problems. This is, of course, a sick way of looking at it, but in a psychopathic world, where denial is the foremost strategy when dealing with problems, it is supposed to make sense.

Crazy talk

Apart from dehumanization and breaking the spirit of the students, a vital part of any evil system is the indoctrination of the pathological ideology. You know, crazy talk. A key strategy here is to give speeches and paramoralistic talks, which are supposed to give the students guidance in how to be moral and good people.

In reality, however, these kinds of talks frequently use words in a simplistic, or even backwards meaning, which completely distorts the sense of what they mean. These talks are often given to many students in a group, such as during the morning assembly, so as to give an impression that since everyone else thinks this makes sense, it makes sense, even though what is being said is strictly speaking completely irrational and illogical.

As one example of paramoralistic thinking, all students are forced to take a pledge to get all A’s on the PMR and SPM examination. This is obviously impossible for them to actually achieve (or if they did the test would be badly designed). On the surface it sounds like they want the students to “take responsibility”, whereas in actual fact this pledge is then used against them through shaming and guilt. Both of which, by the way, are typical psychopathic behaviours.

Another example of crazy talk, which invokes the misplaced loyalty chain, is the following: “causing problems for teachers is a sin”. This is an attempt to take something very local and specific, yet with a very wide interpretation of “problem”, and make it seem as though this is something that has to do with God. The teachers are putting themselves on the same level as God. Isn’t that heresy I wonder?

An even more severe example is the following: “I will kill you with a machete if you fail”. This is actually a not so subtle threat, and is in fact a criminal offense. Imagine if a person in authority were to say this to you, and you had no power whatsoever to do anything about it. Would you feel creative and inclined to critical thinking after that? Didn’t think so. The same teacher also said the following: “Those I favor shall get A’s, and those of you I don’t like I will fail”. Would you want this lovely gentlemen to handle your kids during the day? Or be anywhere near a school for that matter?

All in a normal day at school.

What does it all mean?

Now that you have some idea of the kind of ridiculous crazy stuff that goes on in SJI and elsewhere, the question is of course, what does it all mean? What should we all do about it?

To me, the most important thing to do is to understand this evil system as just that, a system of evil. And in order to do this we have to look at theory and concepts that describe how similar evil systems work, and what they look like. As described at the start of this post I will be using the results and conclusions from the book “The Lucifer Effect – Understanding how Good people turn Evil“, and also “Political Ponerology – A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes“. We begin by looking at the pre-condition for allowing this kind of evil to begin to exist in the first place, as explained in Ponerology:

During “happy times” of peace dependent upon social injustice, children of the privileged classes learn to repress from their field of consciousness the uncomfortable ideas suggesting that they and their parents are benefiting from injustice against others. Such young people learn to disqualify and disparage the moral and mental values of anyone whose work they are using to over-advantage. Young minds thus ingest habits of subconscious selection and substitution of data, which leads to hysterical conversive economy of reasoning. They grow up to be somewhat hysterical adults who, by means of the ways adduced above, thereupon transmit their hysteria to the next generation, which then develops these characteristics to an even greater degree. The hysterical patterns for experience and behavior grow and spread downwards from the privileged classes until crossing the boundary of the first criterion of ponerology: the atrophy of natural critical faculties with respect to pathological individuals.

This is a fairly accurate description of the situation at hand. Over the past few generations the thinking of Malaysians have changed such that they seem to be more and more receptive towards “crazy talk”, and no longer view it as illogical and immoral, but instead accept the inconsistencies as normal and the excuses that they are given for these as sound. In a school environment this happens even more easily, due to the systemic power and authority that the teachers and principals have.

This leads to a contempt of critical thinking, and is enforced through this skewed concept of “loyalty”, which then leads to the individual censoring their own thoughts, to be compliant with the pathological narrative:

When the habits of subconscious selection and substitution of thought-data spread to the macrosocial level, a society tends to develop contempt for factual criticism and to humiliate anyone sounding an alarm. Contempt is also shown for other nations which have maintained normal thought-patterns and for their opinions. Egotistic thought-terrorization is accomplished by the society itself and its processes of conversive thinking. This obviates the need for censorship of the press, theater, or broadcasting, as a pathologically hypersensitive censor lives within the citizens themselves.

This, essentially, is what makes it very difficult for any student involved in the described evil system to realize that this is what it is, as they constantly censor their own thoughts in order to make sense of what happens around them and minimize their own pain and punishments.

When it comes to the school itself, and the people who are drawn to it in order to “teach”, there is in this situation forces in play that make it easier for those with schizoid and pathological thinking to flourish there. In ponerology these are called spellbinders, and they function something like this:

Spellbinders are generally the carriers of various pathological factors, some characteropathies, and some inherited anomalies. Individuals with malformations of their personalities frequently play similar roles, although the social scale of influence remains small (family or neighborhood [or schools]) and does not cross certain boundaries of decency.

Spellbinders are characterized by pathological egotism. Such a person is forced by some internal causes to make an early choice between two possibilities: the first is forcing other people to think and experience things in a manner similar to his own; the second is a feeling of being lonely and different, a pathological misfit in social life. Sometimes the choice is either snake-charming or suicide.

Triumphant repression of self-critical or unpleasant concepts from the field of consciousness gradually gives rise to the phenomena of conversive thinking, or paralogistics, paramoralisms, and the use of reversion blockades. They stream so profusely from the mind and mouth of the spellbinder that they flood the average person’s mind. Everything becomes subordinated to the spellbinder’s over compensatory conviction that they are exceptional, sometimes even messianic. An ideology emerges from this conviction, true in part, whose value is supposedly superior. However, if we analyze the exact functions of such an ideology in the spellbinder’s personality, we perceive that it is nothing other than a means of self-charming, useful for repressing those tormenting self-critical associations into the subconscious. The ideology’s instrumental role in influencing other people also serves the spellbinder’s needs.

The spellbinder believes that he will always find converts to his ideology, and most often, they are right. However, they fell shock (or even paramoral indignation) when it turns out that their influence extends to a limited minority, while most people’s attitude to their activities remains critical, pained and disturbed. The spellbinder is thus confronted with a choice: either withdraw back into his void or strengthen his position by improving the effectiveness of his activities.

It should be obvious to the discerning reader that being a school teacher, with ultimate unquestionable authority, is a perfect place for this kind of sick individuals. And indeed, the above description quite well fits a number of teachers at SJI and elsewhere. They have found their paradise, where they can preach their twisted non-sense to an audience that cannot leave in disgust.

We now switch gear and instead of looking at the deranged individuals and the societal conditioning that helps them get into positions of power for the purpose of abuse, we will now look at the construction of “bad barrels”, which when you put “good apples” (normal healthy teachers and students) into them creates the conditions for evil to grow. Philip Zimbardo writes in “The Lucifer Effect”:

The powerful don’t usually do the dirtiest work themselves, just as Mafia dons leave the “whackings” to underlings. Systems create hierarchies of dominance with influence and communication going down – rarely up – the line. When a power elite wants to destroy an enemy nation, it turns to propaganda experts to fashion a program of hate. What does it take for citizens of one society to hate the citizens of another society to the degree that they want to segregate them, torment them, even kill them? It requires a “hostile imagination”, a psychological construction embedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms those others into “The Enemy”. That image is a soldier’s most powerful motive, one that loads his rifle with ammunition of hate and fear. The image of a dreaded enemy threatening one’s personal well-being and the society’s national security emboldens mothers and fathers to send sons to war and empowers governments to rearrange priorities to turn plowshares into swords of destruction.

It is all done with words and images. To modify an old adage: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can sometimes kill you. The process begins with creating stereotyped conceptions of the other, dehumanized perceptions of the other, the other as worthless, the other as all-powerful, the other as demonic, the other as an abstract monster, the other as a fundamental threat to our cherished values and beliefs. With public fear notched up and the enemy threat imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in mindless conformity, and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images of the enemy on posters, television, magazine covers, movies, and the Internet imprint on the recesses of the limbic system, the primitive brain, with the powerful emotions of fear and hate.

This is exactly the kind of brainwashing techniques that are carried out in Malaysian schools, as outlined in the data presented earlier. By a constant barrage of racist slurs, us vs them mentality, the students are primed for this kind of dehumanizing thinking, which then can be used for other purposes. This is not the first time it happens in human history, and most likely not the last. The outcome is usually the same, and the ending is rarely happy.

If you have been to this kind of schooling environment, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have not, much of this will seem like totally outrageous and outlandish. But this is what students in Malaysia are facing every day, so that their spirits can be broken and become obedient workers, capable of little more than following orders. And many of the above examples are from what is considered a top public school. Just imagine what goes on elsewhere.

It should be said, on the topic of generalization, that not all schools are this bad. Some are better. Some are worse. Not all teachers are the same. Some are better. Some are worse. What I’m concerned with here is not where a particular school is on the crazy scale, but the direction it is all heading in, today or tomorrow, and how the overall system guides this descent.

Denial is not a river in Egypt

Now that you have been presented with a brief snapshot of what goes on in so-called school environments in Malaysia, and I do mean brief, and what the psychological and systematic point of view of all this means, there are a couple of different ways in which people usually react. In a normal healthy society the instinctual response would be anger, a feeling of unfairness, with regard to how your children are treated while you are at work.

But because many of you – parents, students, teachers and others – have been exposed to this kind of evil yourself, and the internal censor is likely to be telling you nasty things right about now, there is also a high risk that you will simply deny pretty much all of the above. “He is probably lying”, “this is an attack on Malaysia!”, “he’s tarnishing the good name of the school”, “he’s got some hidden agenda”, and other such paramoralistic and pathological thoughts, are likely to pop up. I wish I was lying, and I wish that I had some agenda other than “protect kids and safeguard our common future”, but that’s just not the case.

But, take these thoughts and feelings. Look at them. Feel them. Ask yourself: why do I feel this way? Is this real or imaginary? And if you have a conscience, as a teacher or parent, know that your first priority should be to protect these innocent children that are being abused on a daily basis, perhaps like you yourself were in a similar situation before them.

You see, it doesn’t have to be this way. This is not normal, and it can be done differently. But all of you have to realize this, and reclaim your right to a sane school environment, which focuses on learning and celebrating individual passion while encouraging cooperation and respect.

It’s your future. Shape it carefully and with love, not hate.

Continue to part 3 here.

Further reading

Here is a list of recommended references that you can watch and read:

Posted in Health, Random thoughts, Systems Thinking | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work, part 1 of 3: School as factory

In my previous blog post I described my frustration in seeing that St John’s Institution is doing pretty much everything wrong, from an educational point of view. The principal was cheating with his grade average scheme, the merit-demerit system in use is inherently pathological, and what is being taught is frequently wrong and irrelevant.

Based on the feedback from that post, primarily from concerned citizens and past Johannians, my idea with this series of posts is to outline and explain, in excruciating detail, why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work, and why it cannot be improved, only replaced.

This first part focus on the structural problems of how it is setup, and the inherent folly in believing that the outcomes it generates, have any value. The second part will focus on how education is conducted, and the psychological pathology that is involved in its delivery. The third part will focus on the relative uselessness of the content that is being delivered, and which in many cases is blatantly wrong.

Let me also be clear about one thing before we get started: the purpose of this set of posts is to get you, the reader, to lose any faith, confidence or belief you might have that the current education system has any value whatsoever. I am going to apply critical thinking only, and offer no solutions, suggestions or alternatives. This is an intellectual and emotional forest fire, which will hopefully burn down to the ground any illusions you might have about the usefulness of what is. Attempting to fill a glass that is full of dirty water with clear water is a futile task, so I won’t try.

Let me furthermore be clear that at the end of this discussion you will hopefully understand that there is no single person, or even group of people, to blame. This is a problem with the system, and there is no one person in charge of that system. Even the top ministers of education are stuck in this system, and are essentially helpless. Everyone is trapped in the same nightmare, and noone knows how to wake up, and most don’t even realize that it is a dream they are all dreaming together, with very little to do with actual objective reality.

Therefore, any examples of misdoings that I will be quoting here is merely as examples. I fully expect other principals to do the same cheating, that other teachers other than those at St John’s behave the same, and that students all over the place are equally mistreated and lied to. The system dictates it.

This is, of course, no excuse for criminal behaviour, only an explanation as to why it arises and is allowed to continue. There is still some element of choice within this system. Those, like the BM teacher described in the comments section of the previous post, who have stepped over the line, must be dealt with by the legal system and taken far far away from any children.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Why do we have school?

The very first question to be answered is why we have school as an institution in the first place. In the olden days, before school was invented, there were many other forms of education in place, such as master-apprenticeship setups, monasteries of contemplation, and simply being educated at home about how life works, and how one should lead it.

With a slightly more modern approach most thinkers in this field would summarize the purposes of institutionalized school, and education, to fall into the following genres:

  1. Individual. A citizen needs to understand the history and context in which he or she exist, and be able to take rational decisions in response to everyday problems.
  2. Cultural cohesion. It is of tremendous value if members of the community share an understanding of the community and the various rituals and customs that exist within it.
  3. Academic. In order to further our understanding of the universe in which we find ourselves, having educated individuals that can apply the scientific principles to create new knowledge is valuable.
  4. Getting a job. This is probably the most obvious one. We need to be educated so that we can get a job and be productive and valuable to a company in particular and society in general.

That’s basically it. So when we judge a system which supposedly is an answer to these general needs, we have to see how well it fits these requirements, and whether it is a healthy and humane way of producing the wanted results.

As it is, the current Malaysian education system fulfills neither of these needs.

Much of what is to be said here can be applied to any education system, so there is certainly a more general problem, but because I live in Malaysia, interact with Malaysians, and have a Malaysian family, I’m going to limit the discussion to Malaysia. Feel free to extrapolate these conclusions to any other country, where applicable.

Where does school come from?

To understand the current education system it is essential to understand its beginning, and the rationale that existed then for creating it. Since human civilization is a long string of causal events there is no starting point, because there was always something before any particular event. But the shortest flashback in history we can make that will give us a reasonable understanding of what we see today is to go back to the industrial revolution, and the context in which public school was invented, as a solution to a very specific societal need.

Seth Godin writes about this like so:

The common school (now called a public school) was a brand new concept, created shortly after the Civil War. “Common” because it was for everyone, for the kids of the farmer, the kids of the potter, and the kids of the local shopkeeper. Horace Mann is generally regarded as the father of the institution, but he didn’t have to fight nearly as hard as you would imagine—because industrialists were on his side. The two biggest challenges of a newly industrial economy were finding enough compliant workers and finding enough eager customers. The common school solved both problems.

The normal school (now called a teacher’s college) was developed to indoctrinate teachers into the system of the common school, ensuring that there would be a coherent approach to the processing of students. If this sounds parallel to the notion of factories producing items in bulk, of interchangeable parts, of the notion of measurement and quality, it’s not an accident.

In the context of the industrial revolution, and the need to find compliant workers for factories, the invention of the public school system makes perfect sense. One of the main thinkers of the time, Frederick Winslow Taylor, published in 1911 his book “Principles of Scientific Management”, in which he outlines the assumptions upon which his method is based. They are, roughly, that workers are uneducated, don’t speak the native language (such as English), and are intellectually challenged and should therefore not be trusted with anything having to do with managing themselves.

These principles for management, which have survived largely intact until this day, are widely practiced in contemporary Malaysian society, whether it be government, corporations or NGO’s. The basic ideas are to separate workers from managers, create highly standardized specifications which workers must follow, have managers inspect said work based on targets and KPI’s, and use sticks and carrots as motivational tools.

I just described pretty much any Malaysian corporate management strategy. The question these companies must ask themselves is: do we have uneducated and intellectually challenged workers who don’t speak the language? If not, why the hell are you applying a method that was designed with these assumptions in mind?

Taylor’s work was revolutionary in the sense that it described a method for management. This, the idea that we should apply methods to our work, we have him to thank for. Pretty much everything else is irrelevant in today’s context. It should also be said that even Taylor himself is probably crying in his grave right now, as an essential principle of his is to apply scientific measurement and analysis to the work being performed. That part is pretty much forgotten today, as targets and KPI’s are based more on guesswork and wishful thinking than anything else.

But I digress. The key insight is that school was an answer to the problem of industrial mass-manufacturing more than anything else. As such, the grades were not so much interpreted with regard to “how much do you know?”, but rather, “how compliant and able to follow instructions are you?”. As workers are specifically designated to take and follow instruction, the concept of rote memorization and regurgitation is not a design flaw, as many contemporary education thinkers would say, but rather it’s a direct consequence of the need to produce compliant workers. And it worked.

Seth Godin in his Stop Stealing Dreams manifesto elaborates further on this point:

Frederick Taylor is responsible for much of what you see when you look around. As the father of Scientific Management, he put the fine points on Henry Ford’s model of mass production and was the articulate voice behind the staffing of the assembly line and the growth of the industrial age.

Armed with a stopwatch, Taylor measured everything. He came to two conclusions:

Interchangeable workers were essential to efficient manufacturing. You can’t shut down the line just because one person doesn’t show up for work. The bigger the pool of qualified labor, the easier it is to find cheap, compliant workers who will follow your instructions.

People working alone (in parallel) are far more efficient than teams. Break every industrial process down into the smallest number of parts and give an individual the same thing to do again and again, alone, and measure his output.

One outgrowth of this analysis is that hourly workers are fundamentally different from salaried ones. If you are paid by the hour, the organization is saying to you, “I can buy your time an hour at a time, and replace you at any time.” Hourly workers were segregated, covered by different labor laws, and rarely if ever moved over to management.

School, no surprise, is focused on creating hourly workers, because that’s what the creators of school needed, in large numbers.

This basic idea also influences how schools were constructed and managed, on a physical level. A school building imitates that of a factory, with classes of students each doing the same task in parallel without interaction, following the bell to switch from one task to another, and where we even call a years worth of production “batches” (geez, how much more obvious can it get?).

In other words, school is producing exactly what it was designed for. But do we have the same needs in our current society? In a highly connected knowledge-worker society, where most mechanical and work-intensive tasks have been delegated to machines, and even factory work now requires problem solving skills to keep production running at high speed and quality, why are we using an education system that does not cater to these needs? ’tis silly.

Why should I care about school anyway?

The next level of serious misunderstanding has to do with how motivation works, which is a crucial component to any form of learning. The following applies equally to the education system and companies trying to motivate their employees.

Dan Pink describes in his book Drive how there are basically three types of motivation, each having to do with a particular level of needs and context. The first level of motivation are about our most basic needs, such as access to food, shelter and social company. This is why you go to work at all, so that you can continue to function and have a house to live in and food on the table.

The second level of motivation is what is colloquially called “sticks and carrots”. The basic idea is that by incentivising certain behaviour and punishing other behaviour, you can control a person’s willingness and ability to perform a task. In the business world these are “bonuses” in various forms, and punishments if you do not perform well as measured by the yearly performance review, which typically is based on targets, arbitrarily defined and set.

In school, the carrot is “if you perform well you will get good grades”. Or “if you perform well your parents will be happy”. Or “if you perform well you will be successful in life”. And the stick is, at least in Malaysia, quite literally a rotan being applied to various body parts if you fail to comply. With the merit-demerit system now in use there are also demerits you can receive for such horrific misdoings such as “too long hair”, “too long nails”, “bringing a nail clipper to school”, or similar stupid things, none of which relate to education, or even “discipline”.

All else failing, the teacher can always use the ubiquitous “if you do not perform your parents will be unhappy”. The pathology of all this will be outlined in the next post, but suffice to say at this point that motivation is primarily thought of as following this general idea of “sticks and carrots”, and that this is a good way to motivate students to perform well.

There’s just one tiny little problem.

As Pink has shown, through a serious scientific study of how this type of motivation influences work, it mainly applies to strictly mechanical work that involves no cognitive skills, no creative thinking, and no communication with other people. So if these types of motivational tools are applied to situations involving any of that, performance goes down rather than up. The more intensive the “motivational tools” are used, the lower the performance goes. It actively shuts down creative thinking.

Predictably.

Pink describes the situation as follows:

Too many organizations – not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well – still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. They continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don’t work and often do harm. Worse, these practices have infiltrated our schools, where we ply our future workforce with iPods, cash, and pizza coupons to “incentivize” them to learn. Something has gone wrong.

Given this, the question becomes: is school work a case of non-cognitive, unthinking, mechanical and repetitive work? No? Then why are motivational tools that only work for that applied? Just asking.

Now would be a good time to pause for reflection, considering that this type of motivation and target/KPI-mania is used to guide pretty much all of Malaysian organizations, governmental and otherwise. The loss of quality of service and increase in costs due to this practice on a national level is immense. Staggering even.

Think about it.

So how should students be motivated instead? As stated in the opening, this is a destructive-only post, so I’m not going to elaborate on that. The curious reader is instead encouraged to read Drive, or watch any of Dan Pink’s excellent presentations that are available on the web. Me, I’m going to continue with our lovely intellectual forest fire. If you’re not depressed yet, just wait, the worst is still to come!

You get what you measure

Since the purpose of school, as defined and rationalized when it was created, is to create obedient and compliant workers for factory work, there should be no surprise that we train students for the kind of measurements that are applied in such a setting, even though that setting barely exist anymore.

Therefore, the grades that our students get, which is largely based on their ability to memorize facts and follow strict instructions on how to answer particular types of questions in tests, do not measure so much their ability and mastery of a subject, but rather just this ability to do as they are told. As a factory manager of the industrial revolution era I do not care so much about your grade in history as much as I care about that you have a high average grade, indicating that you are a good worker able of taking and executing instructions.

So if you are an all-A-student, please stay away from my company, because, honestly, I don’t need any employees like you. Nor do any other company I know of that are not involved in strictly mechanical work.

“Congratulations, you got all A’s as you were told to, but I’m afraid you’re unemployable. We need people who can think for themselves, be self-directed, and solve problems. Sorry.”

If my kids get too many A’s I might have to sit down with them and have a serious chat, to find out what’s wrong.

What Malaysians say

At this point I want to turn your attention to some of the feedback that I got from the previous blogpost, and which highlight many of the issues discussed above. Jon says:

Since the 80s the education ministry has been turned into a “factory” to attempt and shape the young into unquestioning drones. The Education Minister’s portfolio is regarded more as a waiting room for the Prime Ministership, and a lucrative money/contract making opportunity. With such noncommitted politicians heading the education ministry, its no surprise the system has been, and still is, on a decline…

Johann Goethe says:

If there was anything that I learned about the education system in general (be it 1st-world or 2nd-world), is that the the ones who conform most to whatever the rubric is are the ones who are considered ‘successful’ or ‘smart’. When it comes to Malaysian schools (SJI is not spared), the exam-based rubric itself is in such a state of disrepair (and ill-enforced to boot) that cheating was a feasible alternative to the mental regurgitation that would be actually studying for it.

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to such a profoundly sick society.

Mindblowed says:

I must say, there is always a huge gap between our brilliant minds created under formal education, and those brilliant mind outside of the system. It’s not of quantity of A’s they may or may not grab throughout their academia life, but rather quality of overall understanding of life they achieved. They seem to be kinda dull at dealing with real life problems, lack of creativity, no empathy, like a void, ya know?

bakh says:

first time i really realised that my education in st johns havent done me justice was during my first year in a british university. turorial sessions!!! where the tutor would expect the student to proactively discuss in a group. i found that a difficult task while the british students had no problems at all. it is because i was not encouraged (or rather almost discouraged) to speak, question, discuss ideas and engage in dialogue during my high school years in st johns. to me if there was something that had to change in the school system, that would be it!!!

Unlayerme says:

I am so glad my last child is leaving the system soon as he is in his final year. They are making him wrong for having knowlege beyond his textbook which is such a nightmare for him and they give zero points eventhough he is actually right. e.g What is the function of bank? Text book answer is “deposit savings” my son answer “to lend out money to earn interest as income” which in reality that is what is so. No no no. Zero points for him.

Peter says:

I’m a Malaysian, 26 now, and I’ve been telling people since 8 years ago, that the Malaysian education system’s aim is to create drones, not intellectuals. I don’t think I need to point out the differences between ‘worker’ and ‘intellectual’. I use the term ‘drone’ because I drew the comparison with Malaysian society, and….. ants (watching too many wildlife documentaries as a child). See with ants, their workforce is made out of highly skilled drones (workers). However, these drones only do something when they receive chemical signals given from their Queen. They won’t do anything until they receive a signal to do something, and they won’t stop doing it, as ridiculous as it may be, until they receive a chemical signal telling them otherwise. I found the comparison uncanny.

And so on. The key thing to realize is that the current education system is producing exactly what it is supposed to produce, as originally defined. The main question is: is that still relevant? For whom?

Gaming the system

One of the insights from systems thinking theory and research is that when you use targets as a way of measurement, and grades are a form of targets, participants in the system are incentivized to game it. To cheat. Those who cheat win, those who do not cheat, loses.

Let me describe loosely the supposed purpose of taking a test: it is to measure your ability in the topic of the test. If you are coached in how to take this type of test, rather than spending time learning and understanding the topic more fully, you are therefore subverting the purpose of the test. You are cheating. If you copy papers from friends or past students, you are cheating. If you as teacher gives the questions to the students, verbatim or close to it, ahead of time, you are cheating.

But I get it. You have to. You are forced to do this, and besides, everyone else cheats as well. You are just playing the game as much as everyone else is, because seriously, being honest gets you nowhere. Right?

In organizational management John Seddon has studied this, and has the following to say about targets and how it impacts the original purpose of the work:

There is a systemic relationship between purpose (what we are here to do), measures (how we know how we are doing) and method (how we do it). In the example of the service centre, command-and-control managers typically measure ‘service level’ – calls answered in so many seconds and agent activity. These measures not only obscure the means for improvement, they create de facto purposes that get in the way of the real ones:’pick up the calls’, and ‘make your activity targets’. At a stroke both agents’ and managers’ ingenuity is focused on how to survive; how to avoid being paid attention to. In the broadest sense, the purpose becomes ‘make the plan’. It is dysfunctional but managers do not know it. While these ideas appear to work at one level, they hide the better alternative.

Make the plan. Get those A’s. How doesn’t matter, just that you get them, because that is how we market our school. GET ME THOSE NUMBERS, DAMNIT!

And so you cheat. And our poor students have no choice but to cheat with you. And in the end, we have a whole generation of unemployable ignorants that have to spend tons of time and money on getting some real skills, which will get them a job.

To summarize, grades today, with the systemic cheating by everyone, means little, if anything at all. And you want to use these grades to make exactly what decision?

What is school for again?

Who wants this junk?

Students? They hate it.

Parents? Probably not, but this is what they’re getting.

Employers? Evidently not, since graduating students have such a hard time finding a job.

Academia? Pfffft. They always whine how math understanding of applying students is constantly dropping.

So who is this system for? If you like the system, as it is, I’m gonna put a label on you:

Evil Industrial Globalist

That’s the hat you wear. You want to have obedient and compliant workers that can take orders without question. If you know that you wear this hat, then I commend you for at least being honest with yourself. If you don’t self-describe yourself as an Evil Industrial Globalist, and yet still support the current education system, well, bad news, these are your buddies whether you want to or not. These are who you work for, and who you are preparing your children to work for.

And it’s a race to the bottom, as other countries try to compete with you by creating ever dumber, ever more obedient workers that can be put into factories to create iPhones and other goodies. This is the race Malaysia is currently trying to “win”, but the prize is not exactly desirable.

There are four purposes that school and education in a healthy society should fulfill. As I hope is clear from the above, none of these purposes are met by the current education system. It is failing on all points, and there is no way to fix it, because it doesn’t need to be improved, only abolished and replaced with something that works. It doesn’t have to be great, really, just, you know, something that works. And then it can be improved.

But the structural issues, as outlined above, are only part of the problem. Please join me in the next segment where I outline how the Malaysian education system is promoting what could objectively be described as evil, and how this influences society at large. Until next time!

Continue to part 2 here.

Posted in Random thoughts, Systems Thinking | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Why Malaysia will stay a third world country

Update 2012-03-10: Thanks to all Facebookers, tweeters and re-tweeters for sharing this around! Virtual hugs to all of you! Be sure to read the comments as well, including this one.

Update 2012-03-11: Over 10.000 people have now read this post! THANK you all for sharing this stuff. If you are a Johannian, past or present, who am fed up with the current nonsense, please share your views. YOU are the ones that are losing in this situation, so voice up!

Update 2012-03-11: I have elaborated in the comments on a number of things, including what exactly it was in the delivery that caused me to write this. Please read this, this, and this. This comment also expands on what is taught in many cases is blatantly wrong.

Update 2012-03-14: Over 20.000 people have now read this post! All Tweeters and Facebookers, you are making a huge difference! You’re awesome! At this point, the comments section is as important to read as the post itself. Since there is so much good stuff in there, and more coming in daily, I hope to write a summarizing post that captures all the great feedback you have provided, with more analysis and references spelled out. Keep the comments coming!

Update 2012-03-17: Due to the supportive feedback, both online and IRL, I have now posted a follow-up entry which in more detail outlines why the Malaysian education system doesn’t work. Part two in that series can be found here, discussing systemic evil in the education system. Part three, discussing knowledge and understanding, can be found here.

I have lived in Malaysia for a couple of years now, and am getting reasonably used to it. But some things keep boggling my mind, and today was one of those days.

We went to a “academic information day” at my step-sons school, the St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, to be informed by the principal and teachers about their mission and vision, and how they intend to make our children and students into excellent academic achievers.

However, what I got instead (in the one hour I could muster before I had to leave, my bullshit-meter being completely off the charts), was the most highly condensed delivery of pathological, paramoralistic, delusional, and sadistic nonsense I’ve ever heard. And I’ve been to the school before, so I had some idea of what to expect.

Since we know from experience that when we as parents voice concerns our children get punished, let me be perfectly clear: we have no concerns. This school is great. Our son is learning things that he could never learn in any other place, other than possibly a mental asylum, which we deeply appreciate. When he leaves St John’s he will know everything about dick-fu, and other such useful skills, necessary to combat real life in full force.

Instead of boring you with the nitty gritty details of what was delivered, here’s sort of my conclusion of it all, from four different perspectives.

For westerners:

You know how we look at Malaysia as a third world country, full of uneducated and low-cost labour? Based on what I have seen and heard today, that is ensured to continue for at least one more generation, so you can use Malaysia for this purpose, as you have in the past. No change at all. Malaysians graduating from these kinds of institutions, like the current prime minister for example, are guaranteed to not ask any questions, not think for themselves, and not question corporate policies, of any sort. If you need to keep your employees in a box, and have predictable outcome based on what you tell them to do, Malaysians are for you!

For parents:

If you have a child at St John’s, they are guaranteed to learn such useful skills as bullying, brown nosing, cheating, and more, fully endorsed by the school’s policies. The statements from the principal and discipline teacher today on how they view students and their interactions makes me confident that this will happen, predictably. It always does. If you want your children to gain creative and critical thinking skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, and any such things, this school is not for you. If you want them to learn how to cheat maximally at tests to get A’s, without getting caught, since that is a very valuable skill in real life, then this place is what you want!

For residents of Malaysia:

You know how some of the politicians out of St John’s can’t seem to understand the difference between right and wrong? How they tend to use language to make you feel bad for something you didn’t do? Well, turns out they are not really “bad apples”, they are just  doing what they have been trained and educated to do. You wanna be angry at anyone, be angry at the governors of this school, for allowing it to degrade into this mess. Or maybe this is what they want? Who knows!

For employers in Malaysia:

If you are looking for highly skilled employees that can think for themselves and solve problems without having to ask you all the time for guidance, Johannians are not for you. They simply wouldn’t know what you are talking about, as any such concepts have been kept far away from them. If instead you want another braindead foghead to use as the office servant, then this place offers the best that there is. Just watch out during the performance reviews, because these guys have been trained to fake those A’s as best they can, and you bet they are going to try and do the same with you. You have been warned.

And that just about sums it up I think.

Updated 2012-03-05

It seems I’m not alone in making these observations. From yesterdays The Star:

KUALA LUMPUR: Graduates emerging from the national education system are failing to meet the expectations of prospective employers due to a lack of critical thinking skills and poor communication.

This has resulted in employers having to provide additional training to fit them into their respective job scopes while many graduates have to accept employment that does not correspond with their qualifications.

Malaysian-based education, human resource and recruitment consultants feel there is a need for a sound foundation in critical thinking to be incorporated into the education system to prepare future generations for the employment market.

The above is exactly what I have noticed. Not only are the students not taught critical thinking, they are actively punished if they try, at least at St. Johns. So it would seem that rather than being an isolated case, this is indeed a systemic problem.

There is a ton of reasons for this, as I have found out talking to other parents, ex-teachers, principals, journalists, and more. It all starts however with the policies of the Ministry of Education (which is such an awesome doublespeak name, as it is anything but), which then filters down to principals, some of which are well-intended but tied down, which then filters down to teachers, and finally our poor students that have to put up with this nonsense.

In the end, all of Malaysia gets to see the effect as outlined in the article, with graduates coming out having no useful skills whatsoever that applies to successfully performing any real job. Which, in the end, will indeed ensure that Malaysia will stay a third world country for a long time, no matter what the politicians say. ’tis sad.

Posted in Random thoughts, Systems Thinking | 148 Comments

Creating a JDBC driver for Neo4j

When it comes to NOSQL databases, one of the key advantages is that they allow you to structure your data in a way that better resembles your domain, and also allows you to use query languages where you can express things that are either really awkward or slow with SQL. However, one of the advantages that relational databases have is that they can be accessed from lots of tools using JDBC, as a standard API. So what would happen if a NOSQL database, like Neo4j, also had a JDBC driver? I decided to find out!

Neo4j has a REST API that allows distributed access, and a query language called Cypher which can be used for ad-hoc queries. Since the result of such queries are iterables of maps with key-values, they can be reasonably easily converted to the JDBC ResultSet concept. So I created a thin JDBC API implementation using the Restlet framefork that delegates to this REST API, and sends query strings to the Cypher endpoint. The JSON requests and responses were handled using the Jackson JSON library.

The next question was, if a client tried to list tables and their columns, what should be returned? The approach I took, for now, is to introduce “type nodes”, i.e. nodes that are not instances in the domain model, but instead represent meta information about the model. To model tables I introduced the type node itself, and also property nodes that contain name of the property and its type. Instances of these types would then be related to their type node with the IS_A relationship. See figure below for an example:

The JDBC driver can now ask for a list of tables with the following Cypher query, expressed using the DSL described in the previous post:

start(node("n", 0)).
match(path().from("n").out("TYPE").to("type")).
returns(properties("type.type"));

This basically means: “From the start node, follow the TYPE relationship to find all type nodes, and then return their names”. To list the properties of a particular type node a parameterized query can be used. This is done for the DatabaseMetaData.getColumns JDBC API call, like so:

 public ExecuteWithParameters getColumns(String typeName)
 {
 return start(node("n", 0)).
        match(path().from("n").out("TYPE").to("type").
        link().out("HAS_PROPERTY").to("property")).
        where(prop("type.type").eq(param("typename"))).
        returns(properties("type.type", "property.name", "property.type")).
           parameter("typename", typeName);
 }

Notice that the above creates a parameterized query and also supplies it with the concrete parameter, so that the result can be easily executed.

Quirks mode

While the JDBC driver can be used as-is to execute ad-hoc Cypher queries, to be usable from normal SQL-aware tools there is a little more work required. Specifically, most of these tools will send standardized SQL requests to get data, such as “SELECT * FROM Person”, which will not work with this JDBC driver, as there is no SQL support.

What I did here is to create a “quirks mode” which recognizes these calls and converts them into the Cypher equivalents. By doing this I managed to get the tools outlined below to work. This means that if you want to try a tool not explicitly listed below the discovery part of the tool probably won’t work properly, whereas sending query strings and viewing results should work. Please send me a note if you have a tool that you would want to have supported!

DbVisualizer

With this in place I could now access my Neo4j database using various JDBC tools. Here is a screenshot from DbVisualizer, which was the first tool I tried using it with:

And here’s another screenshot showing how to send ad-hoc Cypher queries:

LibreOffice

When it comes to using a database as a reporting tool, one of the simplest thing you can do is use one of the Office packages and connect to a database and use the data for charts and spreadsheets. Since LibreOffice has pretty good JDBC connectivity I tried it out, and here’s the result:

ODBC in Windows

While having a JDBC driver is great, not all tools that work with databases use JDBC. Some use ODBC instead, and since there is a ODBC-JDBC Gateway available from Easysoft I wanted to try this out. After installing this software it was really easy to set up a connection, and then connect to it using a standard ODBC tool. Here’s a screenshot from what that looks like:

IntelliJ

Lastly I tried using the JDBC driver with IntelliJ, my Java IDE of choice. This worked out really well, and with some configuration it even allows me to enter values for parameterized queries, which is nice. Here’s what it looks like:

JDBC as applet

What about JavaScript usage? While you can access Neo4j directly from JavaScript using REST calls there are still some advantages to using the JDBC driver in the web browser, as the JDBC API abstracts things likes types and other metadata. Because of this I made a packaging of the driver as a Java applet, so that it can be included in HTML pages and called through Javascript. You can see an example of this here.

Future ideas

At the moment the driver only supports reads, since Cypher, as the underlying query language only supports read operations. Once Cypher has been updated with support for modifying operations it should be possible to add this to the JDBC driver.

If/when Neo4j gets a binary connection protocol, it will be interesting to try and support that instead of the REST API. That should allow for higher performance, both due to serialization efficiency and connection management.

Conclusion

While most NOSQL databases, such as Neo4j, provide a non-relational way to store and query data, in this case it was possible to create a JDBC driver that can expose that non-relational data in a way that works reasonably well with the JDBC API. This makes it possible to access Neo4j from a whole host of tools, and makes it possible to more easily make reports from its data, as well as debug the data itself.

For more details, see the GitHub project page to download and install the driver. If you want to get started quickly you can download the test database that I created for the above screenshots from here.

Posted in Java | 6 Comments

Creating a DSL for Cypher graph queries

My first assignment at Neo4j was to create a Java DSL for the Cypher query language, that is used to access data from the Neo4j database in a graphy way.

First off, why a DSL? There’s a ton of reasons why using a DSL instead of strings is a good idea. From a practical point of view a DSL and a decent IDE will make creating queries so much easier, as you can use code completion to build the query. No need to refer to manuals and cheat sheets if you forget the syntax. Second, I have found it useful to create queries iteratively in a layered architecture, whereby the domain model can create a base query that describes some concept, like “all messages in my inbox”, and then the application layer can take this and enhance with filtering, like “all messages in my inbox that are sent from XYZ”, and then finally the UI can add the order by and paging. Doing something like this would be extremely difficult without a DSL.

After a brief readthrough of Martin Fowlers book on DSL’s, to make sure I hadn’t missed any major useful patterns, I went to work. Together with Michael Hunger and Andres Taylor the DSL was quickly iterated, and I will show you a few examples below.

Here’s a Cypher query example:

START n=node(3,1)
WHERE (n.age<30 and n.name="Tobias") or not(n.name="Tobias")
RETURN n

This can be expressed using the Cypher DSL like so:

start( node( "n", 3, 1 ) ).
where( prop( "n.age" ).lt( 30 ).and( prop( "n.name" ).eq( "Tobias" )).
       or(not(prop("n.name").eq("Tobias" )))).
returns( nodes( "n" ) )

There’s obviously a whole bunch of static method imports going on here to allow this kind of syntax in Java. Each clause, such as “start”, takes one or more expressions, and returns a fluent DSL that helps you know what possible clauses comes next. If you use code completion features it thus becomes really easy to build these queries without having to know the syntax. Instead all of your brain cycles can be spent on figuring out how to construct the MATCH and WHERE clauses, which is usually the tricky part.

For the WHERE-clause you have the option of using an infix or prefix notation for the expressions. In other words, these two expressions are the same:

prop( "n.age" ).lt( 30 )
lt("n.age",30)

The most unique clause of the Cypher query language is the MATCH clause, which allows you to do pattern matching in the graph. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

START a=node(3),c=node(2)
MATCH p=(a)-->(b)-->(c)
RETURN nodes(p)

Given two nodes, figure out all the ways to get from a to c in one jump. This can be expressed with the DSL like this:

start( node( "a", 3 ), node( "c", 2 ) ).
match( path( "p" ).from( "a" ).out().to( "b" ).link().out().to( "c" ) ).
returns( nodesOf( "p" ) )

As you can see it becomes a little longer to write a query using the DSL rather than just a string, but I hope that it “reads” reasonably well to not be too difficult to parse in your head. When in doubt you can always add .toString() on the DSL result to see what the generated query looks like.

One trick that Michael Hunger showed me was the Java instance initialization block trick (that’s a mouthful!). Basically, when you instantiate a Java object it is possible to add an initializer block, something like the static block in classes, that are executed as part of the initialization phase of an object. For DSL’s, this can be exploited by adding the terms as protected methods. Here’s how you would use the Cypher DSL with this style:

assertEquals( "START john=node(0) RETURN john", new CypherQuery()
{{
   starts( node( "john", 0 ) ).returns( nodes( "john" ) );
}}.toString() );

In this case there are no static imports at all. Instead “starts”,”node” and “nodes” are protected methods in the CypherQuery class, which makes them available for code completion goodness in the initialization block. This style thus avoids all the static imports, but makes it very hard to do the iterative query construction mentioned earlier. If you build your queries in one step, it could be useful however.

For a more complete set of examples, please see the Cypher reference manual tests in GitHub here.

So what do you do with the DSL builder once you have created the query? In the first version the main thing you can do is to call .toString() to get the query as a string, and then use that to invoke Cypher. However, this forces Cypher to have to parse the query, which can be costly. If you have queries that are repeated often then you can use parameterized queries, so that you only have to do this parsing once. In the long term, we are working on allowing the Cypher engine to execute Cypher DSL queries directly, thus skipping the parsing step entirely.

If you are using Neo4j and Cypher, please try out this DSL! You can find it in Maven repos here. If you have feedback on how to improve it, please let me know, preferably through the Neo4j mailing lists.

The Cypher DSL has also been integrated with the QueryDSL library, which makes for even more static typing goodness. In a future post I will show how that works, and how to set it up.

Posted in Java | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

My new job: Neo Technology

I am happy to announce that I will start working at Neo Technology, provider of the best Enterprise NOSQL solution I know of.

There are a couple of reasons why Neo Technology made perfect sense for me as my next job. I’ve known Emil and many of the other guys in the team for a long time, and really like what they’re doing. For storing domain models I have always thought that NOSQL solutions in general is the way to go, and Neo4j specifically seems like a really great fit for that purpose. The data model just makes perfect sense when you want to back an OO domain model, with its focus on nodes, attributes and relationships, which is the same concepts that we work with in the domain model.

But there are many possible technologies in the NOSQL space that potentially could be used for that. What I like about Neo Technology is the focus on Enterprise NOSQL, meaning not only do they provide a good quality product that covers a wide range of use cases, but they also have a great team that provide support in the field, to understand customer needs, and to provide devops with the tools they need to run it in an enterprise environment. This is where I think NOSQL solutions will be “sorted out” in the next round, and I intend to help Neo4j become the best in this. With the recent announcement that Rod Johnson joins the board, I think Neo is prepared for greatness.

My first focus will be to help out in the community, providing support and understanding user needs and problems, as well as help ironing out whatever bugs they find. The past two years I have been working with Systems Thinking, and my experience is that the feedback loop that customer support provides is essential to provide the organization with the information they need to continue improving the product in the right direction.

So, a big shoutout to the Neo crew and family! I’m happy to be onboard.

/Rickard

Posted in Okategoriserade | 3 Comments

Reductio ad absurdum

As I’ve been learning more and more about Systems Thinking I realize that for some reason a common theme in our insane society is to reduce things into the absurd, and believe that this helps us in any way. We can see this delusion when academic achievement of students is reduced to “grades”, when ways to measure company success is reduced to “KPI’s”, when the popularity of a blog post is measured in “likes”, and so on.

This reductio ad absurdum inspired me to make an art project, the first in my life. Art is, or so it seems, a good way to deal with the depressing weight of the insanity around us. Some do it through satire, some through music, some through writing. The ways are as varied as the craziness in our world.

So here it is: the Reductio Ad Absurdum Of Art. Basically, I’ve taken a number of famous art pieces and averaged the colors down to a single pixel, which then is enlarged so you can see it on the screen. I then took the same art piece, but which had a Simpson twist, and performed the same process. When you see them side by side it is hard, if not impossible, to figure out which one is a masterpiece, and which one is a Simpson-esque satire.

And that, in itself, sums up the absurdity of trying to reduce anything down to a number, and expect it to mean anything beyond just a number. Which company is a master of their trade, and which ones are Simpson-esque charlatans? If all you see is a reduced number, then how would you know?

On that note: Enjoy :-)

Mona Lisa

The last supper

The Persistence of Memory

The scream

In other words

To try to reduce what we see around us to simple numbers, and expect them to mean anything, is absurd. And yet, this is what we do on a daily basis with anything that is important to us. The only thing we can know for sure, is that we can never know anything for sure, if everything is reduced to its absurdity.

Thanks for watching :-)

Posted in Random thoughts, Systems Thinking | 8 Comments

My new home

Hi all!

For the longest of time I kept my blog at jroller.com, but since it is not very easy to use I’ve decided to shift my blog to WordPress. If you are subscribed to any RSS feeds at JRoller, be sure to update your subscriptions to point to this one instead.

One of the issues I had with the JRoller blog is that it mainly covered the techie side of me. In other words, mostly Java stuff. But since I have more sides than just that I figured on this blog I’ll write about other things that interest me, such as Systems Thinking, health (physical, emotional, mental), and more. We’ll see what comes up.

Welcome!

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