Wednesday 05 August 2020

Keep partisan politics out of Sixth Form

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

I’m looking forward to seeing whether any action is to be taken against those Junior College students who assaulted a police officer while she was on duty as they were celebrating the victory of student organization Pulse, at the student council elections . According to reports the policewoman was pushed to the ground and sustained fractures. The students acted like a bunch of football hooligans and the consequences should be harsh in order to send the right message.

Understandably, the Police Union came out strongly against this incident.  Union Chief Sandro Camilleri was quoted as saying that “police officers are continuously being taken to hospital, and that if they try and use some force it is used against them. If you do your job you risk being kicked off the force. They don’t want body cams for officers, as they reveal the truth of what would be going on”,

It was not just the injury to the police officer, however, which is the problem, but the fact that the students were completely out of control, letting off illegal rocket flares, and causing considerable disturbance to the neighbours with their excessive noise into the early hours of the morning. This has been going on for years and it needs to stop, but I think the only way to shut it down is to keep partisan politics out of the student elections at Sixth Form altogether.

I think it is time to stop this charade of Pulse (affiliated with the Labour Party) and SDM (Studenti Demokristjani Maltin, affiliated with the Nationalist Party) contesting elections like mini-me politicians as they take their first tentative steps into the big world of politics. It starts at Sixth Form and keeps going right straight up to University where the real training ground begins. Put simply, we are a people who, when it comes to politics, simply cease to reason or even function like rational human beings. Something strange and primitive seems to take over and it becomes almost like a snarling, all-gloves-are-off deathly battle between two alien species (and for what, exactly? That is the mystifying question).

You would think, watching the teenagers hurling themselves at the fence in the throes of ecstasy, that they had won a crucial college football game against a rival team – at least that is the only valid example I can come up with to justify why there would be such hysteria at a school. You see, teenagers going nuts because they have won a sporting team event I can understand; there is something about being on a team which fosters fantastic school spirit, and excelling at some type of sport and beating another team within an atmosphere of healthy competition is always a worthy achievement (although it still wouldn’t warrant hooliganism).

But winning a student election in the name of “your” political party and thinking this means anything concrete in real terms is just another symptom in the never-ending list of symptoms which point to the chronic malaise in this country. Tribal politics is an insidious tapeworm which has chewed its way into the very innards of this nation. It afflicts people in varying degrees: some suffer only the mildest of attacks and quickly recover when they take long, deep gulps of fresh air outside of the putrid toxicity of cyber space. Others have vaccinated themselves quite thoroughly and not only are completely immune, but look at those who are in the thick of it with a bemused, amused, and almost fascinated anthropological expression of interest, much in the same way that Margaret Mead must have studied some exotic tribe. Then there are those who are, quite simply, beyond hope and can only be filed away in a dusty drawer labelled ‘lost causes’. In their case, the sickness is not only chronic, but it festers, it consumes them, and by doing so it spills over and taints anyone within a 5 foot radius.

The telltale signs are many but can be boiled down to a simple easy-to-spot habit: everything that they ever discuss is inevitably referenced within the context of when it happened, who was in Government at the time and whether the person concerned is PN or Labour. That’s pretty much their philosophy, and nothing else matters. Like a blinkered horse who can only see the finish line, the finish line is always winning the election, no matter how many casualties are knocked down along the way.

And this is what we have at Sixth Form every time there are the student elections. Rather than encouraging individualism, debating skills and critical thinking, we have simply transposed the national US against Them bickering into a college setting where a microcosm of the general elections takes place. What should happen instead, in my view, are student elections shorn of the party affiliations, where students stand for election as independents, make their case for why they should be elected to the council, and learn how to campaign and persuade their fellow students to vote for them on their own two feet. Student politics in this sense are an excellent learning tool for future potential leaders which should be encouraged; it would stimulate sound arguments, teach students about public speaking and learning how to win support based on your capabilities and not some vague political party platform. It would also hopefully prod them into taking an active role in the running of the school.

In fact what we need on the whole is more student activism right up to University where it seems to have shriveled up and died. My guess is that it has died because many students have shunned traditional politics all together and don’t want to be mired in it on campus, especially as there are those who delight in attaching labels to people’s foreheads which last a lifetime. In fact, I would even argue that the KSU elections should also be chopped off completely from political party affiliation, much for the same reasons I mentioned above.

Like a nasty fungus which needs to be treated at source, I think it is only in this way that we can start to reverse the crippling damage which partisan politics have wrought on this country. Stop indoctrinating children by teaching them party chants and draping them in party flags while dragging them along to mass meetings, and remove partisan politics from Sixth Form and preferably even University.

Oh, and one last thing, please ditch the extremely silly idea of giving 16-year-olds the vote. It’s bad enough we have adults who are completely immature when it comes to their politics, we don’t need to add even further immaturity to the mix.

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