Faces, young peo­ple and the (usual) moral panic

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Dr Andrew Az­zopardi Dean Fac­ulty for So­cial Well­be­ing, Univer­sity of Malta & Broad­caster – Għandi xi Ngħid www.an­drewaz­zopardi.org

Let­ting Go

One of the most re­ward­ing mo­ments in my Dean­ship is that in­stant when you are sit­ting ‘on the boards’ watch­ing the faces of the grad­u­ates im­mensely sat­is­fied that they have man­aged to see through the project they started three or four years ear­lier. Their face says it all, they are telling us; ‘do not sti­fle our en­thu­si­asm’, ‘we want to take the lead now’, ‘you had your chance, now let go’. Much as this might sound painful and dis­turb­ing to peo­ple my age and even older it is fun­da­men­tal that we heed the mes­sage. I re­mem­ber be­ing 18, 20, 24 years old want­ing to bring the so much needed changes in the post 80’s era. I wanted to crack open the Malta I wanted for my­self and for my chil­dren, fam­ily and friends. Not that I had any ex­pec­ta­tions to change the World but I surely be­lieved that one could trans­form or at least leave an im­pact on the cir­cle around him/her. I was never happy rest­ing in my cosy corner, I gave it a shot, I did my part.

Our gen­er­a­tion had some suc­cess and nu­mer­ous fail­ures.

Not­with­stand­ing, that some of the so­cial dents I used to see as a 20-year-old I did not man­age to re­pair yet I gave the forces of in­iq­uity a run for their money. And yes, we need to start let­ting go. The thou­sands of grad­u­ates col­lect­ing their cer­tifi­cates dur­ing this month are ready to lead and take this Coun­try to the next level.

Moral Panic

I will start by con­grat­u­lat­ing Pulse for the vic­tory they recorded last Fri­day dur­ing the elec­tions at Ju­nior Col­lege. It is a pity that the cel­e­bra­tion had to take the twist it did. The in­jury to the po­lice of­fi­cer was de­plorable and ob­jec­tion­able what­ever the cir­cum­stances. The ex­ces­sive fire­works and hys­ter­ics are silly know­ing well-enough that with ex­ag­ger­a­tion you risk lack of fo­cus.

How­ever, if one had to re­move these sense­less de­tails, I do not agree that elec­tions should in any­way be stopped. I be­lieve that these elec­tions are a use­ful ex­er­cise and the com­pe­ti­tion that en­sues is good and has a pos­i­tive im­pact. At cer­tain points I get con­fused. In this Coun­try we want young peo­ple to be in­volved in de­ci­sion mak­ing, we want them to get en­gaged in or­gan­i­sa­tions and then if it’s a po­lit­i­cal group we get our knick­ers in a twist. Yes, po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment is good and maybe it should be en­cour­aged fur­ther. Po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment is not bad, nei­ther is as­sim­i­la­tion to one party or an­other. My god this is so Stan­ley Co­hen and his moral panic. The mo­ment we as­so­ciate an ac­ci­dent to a young per­son, all hell breaks loose and it is ‘koc­cuti’, bla kon­troll’, ‘psa­taz’. I just can­not un­der­stand why young peo­ple never win with the older gen­er­a­tion. Safety, yes. But other than that let them com­pete, let them chose, let them cam­paign and bat­tle it out, let them try to bring about change in the way they know, let them have a judg­ment and out­look – aren’t these ex­pe­ri­ences that they will be fac­ing when they grow up.

Lis­ten more, talk less

When life is so com­pet­i­tive, one might ask, how do should we mea­sure suc­cess? And this is what I told my fresh­ers’;

First mea­sure: Sim­ple, you are able to lis­ten more than you talk... keep tabs on the in­puts and the out­puts... the more in­puts you are gaug­ing the smarter you are;

Sec­ond mea­sure: Even sim­pler, you are able to run an ar­gu­ment with­out feel­ing this in­ept fear of an­noy­ance, ir­ri­ta­tion or re­sent­ment - if you are pro­fi­cient in en­gag­ing with some­one’s ar­gu­ment, even if you might not agree, and still feel serene, com­posed and un­ruf­fled, then you are good.

Third mea­sure: Hardly pos­si­ble you might think, but yes even sim­pler, Uni would be a suc­cess story, if peo­ple start telling you, ‘how you have changed’ – be­cause in­con­sis­tency - is a virtue. Not hold­ing ‘des­per­ately’ to what you think, is good. On the other hand re­tain­ing com­po­sure in what you be­lieve in is par­adise, per­fec­tion, sun­shine…

‘The Clicker Gen­er­a­tion’

Fi­nally, I would like to quote some morsels of what a col­leagues of mine, Prof. Saviour For­mosa, Head, Depart­ment of Crim­i­nol­ogy (Fac­ulty for So­cial Well­be­ing) said dur­ing his brilliant Ora­tion (13/11/2017 UM);

Ev­ery­thing must be weaved in Con­text. Today I am ad­dress­ing the mil­len­ni­als, the first clicker gen­er­a­tion. I am ad­dress­ing the gen­er­a­tion who have ac­cess to vast knowl­edge caches but are com­pelled with the need to tweet sim­plic­i­ties, up­load or ex­hibit one’s as­sets to so­cial me­dia in an in­creas­ingly con­nected world.

In an ef­fort to un­der­stand so­ci­ety, one could at­tempt to weave to­gether the Alma Mater’s role in keep­ing this na­tion’s san­ity on the right track, as such is a good place to start.

Com­pare our so­ci­ety to an­other so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion - the ant colony: an ag­gre­gate and struc­tured ma­chine that works in tune to an or­gan­ised core.

The same for the state and our Univer­sity. We have much to be proud of, but we must pre­pare our stu­dents to think crit­i­cally to make the jump and move from data to in­for­ma­tion to knowl­edge to or­gan­ised ac­tion.

And this is where CON­SCIENCE ap­pears.

L’Univer­sità ta’ Malta IS the state’s con­science and has an obli­ga­tion to so­ci­ety to guide, nur­ture and pro­mote so­cial change. Are we be­ing re­ac­tive as against proac­tive?

Where was our con­science when the Mal­tese state de­pended on the strength­en­ing of those so­cial co­he­sion fac­tors that sus­tain our so­cial cap­i­tal?

Aca­demics should be there to en­lighten those who veer onto an al­ter­na­tive level of pol­i­tics and re­sort to parochial­ism and self-mu­ti­la­tion in their zeal for coun­try bash­ing, in ex­change for a few pre­sumed po­lit­i­cal brownie points.

Such in­clude he­do­nism, panama, a cul­ture of rare res­ig­na­tions, push-back, cit­i­zen­ship cru­sade uturns, cor­rup­tion, oil scan­dal, calls for in­sur­rec­tion, the de­mean­ing of pub­lic fig­ures, at­tack­ing the so­cial cap­i­tal en­ti­ties and in­sti­tu­tions. These, in con­junc­tion with the con­tin­u­ous anti-Malta in­sti­ga­tion in for­eign fora have man­aged to dent the out­sider’s per­cep­tion though we strive hard to re­v­erse such.

Ed­u­ca­tion has be­come sta­tus­based not skills-based. Are we teach­ing skills or sim­ply award­ing cer­tifi­cates to stu­dents in a per­pet­ual cy­cle that gives grad­u­ates the per­spec­tive that they in­stantly be­come knowl­edge­able in all things PREFET? We have cre­ated a caste sys­tem based on MQF level... the new Brah­mins, the new Vaisyas, the new Shu­dras. We have cre­ated the new Ay­a­tol­lahs of knowl­edge who pre­side over the masses through ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion based on how many avatars we have or have not and how we can use those to do our work.

Ed­u­ca­tion has be­come a rote in rou­tine, such that stu­dents per­ceive univer­sity as just an­other step in their pri­mary-sec­ondary­ter­tiary tran­si­tion and not as a source of pride based on the achieve­ment of skills.

Within these dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties, we need to ground our stu­dents to ap­proach aca­demic life with vigor and a re­al­is­tic sense of the world out there. The lack of read­ing is wor­ry­ing. Ref­er­ences to wiki and junk is a knowl­edge killer as is the new pla­gia­rism plague.

Com­pe­ti­tion is good for this Alma Mater and we can notch it up in the league of uni­ver­si­ties. But we need drive, loy­alty, co­op­er­a­tion, trust and a mod­ern op­er­and.

It is time to carry out a re­view of aca­demic ef­fort to en­com­pass one’s im­pact on so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly where more in­tra-in­ter-fac­ulty col­lab­o­ra­tion is en­acted.

The cur­rent siloi­sa­tion of academia needs to be con­fined to his­tory.

Life’s not fair but through hard work it be­comes fairer.

My ex­pe­ri­ences were strange, scary and won­drous. I ex­pe­ri­enced war, fear, sur­prise, dis­cov­er­ies, self-re­liance, friend­ship and fa­ther­hood. This is what shaped me and it re­flects re­al­ity out there: it is what we do to in order to bet­ter so­ci­ety that makes us the coun­try’s con­science.

How can you know poverty if you never fell low? How can you un­der­stand fail­ure if you al­ways passed or found an aide to push you through? How can you un­der­stand your job un­der­stud­ies if you never started from the bot­tom? How can you know hunger if you never wanted? How can you un­der­stand fear if your worst night­mare is in CS Go? How can you feel com­pas­sion if your boat trip was a boat party to Comino, Ios or Ibiza? How can you un­der­stand the re­al­ity of war if you never smelt death? How can you ex­pe­ri­ence the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment if you never smelt dew? How can you un­der­stand a pedes­trian if you al­ways drove a car? How can you un­der­stand re­al­ity if you spend your life in the glas­stick­ing do­main? You grad­u­ates are to­mor­row’s con­science, do us proud.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent Wed­nes­day 15 Novem­ber 2017

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