If I were Joseph Muscat yesterday at MCAST and saw before me students chanting Malta Taghna Lkoll at the top of their voice to drown out the chants of the students chanting Nazzjonalisti, Nazzjonalisti, I would have made an appeal for the Labour supporters to stop.
I would have told them that they were there to listen to a debate, and that part of the ethos of a debate is tolerance for the opinion of your adversary, and the ability to rebut his arguments with sound logic. Because isn’t that, after all, the message Muscat is trying to impart to voters in his campaign?
But of course that didn’t happen, and the Labour party is now seemingly pleased that the vociferous welcome at MCAST was a kind of ‘payback’ for what happened at the university in 2008 when Alfred Sant was practically booed off the stage by the overwhelming number of students supporting the Nationalist party.
I didn’t like the hostile, antagonistic atmosphere which crackled at Sir Temi Zammit Hall five years ago and from the footage I’ve seen, I didn’t like what happened at MCAST either. To me, they are one and the same.
I remember arguing with people after the fallout from the 2008 debate who justified it by saying it was ‘normal, rowdy student behaviour’. And yet surprise, surprise, now that the students supporting Labour have come out in full force, all I have been reading are the inevitable, predictable adjectives describing them as hamalli, ignorant, semi-literate, and according to one teacher who foolishly posted her feelings on Facebook “barbarians”.
Apparently, booing Alfred Sant was legitimate freedom of expression, but booing Gonzi is spoken of in scandalous tones of “how dare they, they should be grateful for all he has done”.
I guess one type of booing is more equal than the other.
Frankly, it is clear that, five years down the line, we have learned absolutely nothing. Mindless chanting of political slogans does not belong on any campus – it is the reason why the blind fanaticism I see at mass meetings brings me out in hives. But I guess politicians need this visual, aural outpouring of support to assess their chances of victory.
Students, rather than being encouraged to think for themselves, challenge politicians with intelligent questions and actually listen to debates with a discerning ear, are being used and abused by the political system. Bringing partisan politics to our schools and colleges is simply making a mockery of our educational system, where the emphasis should be on learning not brainwashed clapping. It is useless bragging about how we are churning out the numbers in post-secondary education, which looks so good for Eurostat, when so many teenagers obviously require a more holistic type of educational formation to turn them into complete, rounded individuals.
There is so much that could be done as part of the curriculum: Create debating societies, teach public speaking, open their minds to the importance of logic and analysis rather than simply regurgitating what the teacher/lecturer says. Schools should encourage students to argue opposing sides so that they learn how to rebut an argument without resorting to insults, or simply hollering their lungs out. Above all, we really need to teach students some good manners.
Maybe we could send over a few politicians to these classes while we’re at it.