How broken education precedes broken democracy

One Thursday morning, I was sitting in my SOK democracy class, when the teacher asked what a general election is. No one answered. He asked me not to answer as he knew I would have known what it was, so he wanted to hear it from someone else. Shockingly, not a single student in a class of about 20 pupils knew the answer. The room went silent.

This opened my eyes to the severe problem our democracy is facing because of a damaged education system. The system has evolved over the years to treat politics as though one is threading on eggs, as though the mention of a local politician would be treason. A simple political comment is taboo in any classroom. Politics has been made a dirty subject. For this reason, we have built a society unable to discuss politics and respectfully reach a conclusion. We no longer know the difference between a healthy discussion and a verbal war.

When Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated, my Form 5 class brought her up, and a fight emerged, almost as if we were politicians on a television show, shouting at one another incoherently. The teacher put all her efforts into calming the students down. Eventually, we went silent, and we never brought politics into class again.

It feels as though, amongst the most important skills our schools could ever teach us, they forgot an essential one. They forgot to help us become critical thinkers. They forgot to help us understand the importance of awareness. They forgot to let us talk about what our politicians are doing. This is ultimately destroying us from within, because when we refuse to talk about it, they are given the green light to do whatever they will, like facilitating the assassination of an investigative journalist, or needlessly cutting down hundreds of trees.

Students participate in a debate as part of their school activities

The classroom has to become a safe space for discussion. As of now, not only is politics a taboo subject, many humanities teachers do not know how to handle a class discussion between students, or are even aware of the subject, to begin with. Most treat the subject with alarm and concern and try to move on with the syllabus as quickly as possible. This needs to change. The debate has to become normality.

Surely, Vote16 was a step in the right direction, no?

The reality is that, without a proper space for politics in the classroom, without a chance for us to discuss and criticise what is happening around us, our early chance to vote is simply another way to lead us into thinking we have control over our own country. What our democracy desperately needs, is for us to better understand it. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

After all that our country, and the world, has been through in recent times, we desperately need to change the way our society looks at its politics. The only key to this shift is the introduction of politics in our classrooms. The longer the wait, the larger the risk our democracy faces.

Written by: Charlene Camillieri

(This article was originally posted on civilsocietymt.com)


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