Last Wednesday the Ministry for Education and Employment issued a press release which said that none of the books presented to it by the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) had been distributed in schools. The minister later told the Times of Malta that he had faced a number of “ġenituri nkwetati” (concerned parents) who felt that their children were about to be indoctrinated into the ways of the gay and wicked. Or something.
A good part of me sympathises with the minister. There are few things as tiresome as a cackle of concerned parents. First, they seldom make up a representative sample of parents. Rather, they’re usually a bunch of people in need of a life, ‘Little Princess on Board’ stickers on their cars and a penchant for moral panics.
Second, most of their crusades turn out to be little more than brews of ignorance and crowd psychology. I’ve come across parents who were concerned that teachers were getting lazy, and that three hours of homework a day were not enough. At one time there was also much concern about the children of asylum seekers, who were about to infect their fellow pupils with Ebola and obscure African diseases.
That’s exactly why I think the minister should not give in to ġenituri nkwetati, but rather go ahead and distribute the books provided by the MGRM. The argument has little to do with gay rights and everything to do with the fundamentals of education.
It all hinges on the misleading words ‘distribution’ and ‘indoctrination’. I would certainly be extremely unhappy if the MGRM, or the Vegan Society, or the Church, were planning to distribute materials in such a way as to proselytise and peddle dogmas. That’s because no matter how worthy the cause, orthodoxies are never a good idea.
I haven’t seen the books in question, nor do I feel I need to. That’s because, within the limits of common decency, it’s not really the content that matters, but rather the dynamics of distribution and access.
The facts are that the MGRM secured a grant of €2,000 from the EEA/Norway NGO fund (and not from a sinister organisation that sells the eyeballs of aborted foetuses and turns the rest into soup, as someone has suggested). That money was used to buy a small stack of English-language books on same-sex relationships.
A handful of schools would each have got about 10 books. That’s 10 books for every couple of hundred pupils in those schools, in other words. The people at the MGRM were aware of the arithmetic. I’m reliably told that they presented the books more as a symbolic gesture than anything else.
Concerned parents are usually a bunch of people in need of a life, ‘Little Princess on Board’ stickers on their cars and a penchant for moral panics
The gesture was symbolic of two things. First, of the existence and realities of same-sex attraction and relationships. Surely a useful thing for children to know about, whether or not their feelings and morals eventually take them in that direction.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the books were a symbol of an open-minded system of education. Contrary to popular notions, that doesn’t mean one in which anything goes. The idea is that education is, or should be, all about intellectual promiscuity.
Tangibly, some of those books would have been kept by teachers as part of their work resources. The rest, ideally the bulk, would have gone to school libraries. Which makes sense, because the basic principle of a library is that of a repository of as many different ideas as possible.
Until 2006 Turkmenistan was ruled over by a despotic crank called Saparmurat Niyazov. The libraries held millions of books, none of which talked about anything except the greatness of Niyazov. That’s also because totalitarian states cultivate a bizarre model of books and education. They think they’re about the one and only Good News.
The same appears to be the model favoured by the ġenituri nkwetati and by the likes of Ivan Grech Mintoff. They think that books, and education generally, are there to set up and fix the orthodoxies and dogmas we must all live by.
Which also explains why they used a word like ‘indoctrination’. These people, whose ideas on education haven’t budged since they sat on the tal-mużew benches decades ago, believe two things. First, that children should be taught the version of things favoured by the ġenituri nkwetati; that bit is called ‘learning’. Second, that children should be kept off all other ideas; those ideas are called ‘indoctrination’.
A more pig-headed and myopic notion of learning could scarcely be imagined. The decision not to distribute the books presented by the MGRM is the very antithesis of education.
I said earlier that this is not about gay rights. Only that is not entirely correct. It strikes me that I had never before seen parents so concerned about which books were available to their children.
A typical school library will house a couple of thousand books on any number of topics. I am not aware that parents routinely sift through library catalogues to assess the value of those topics.
In other words, it’s the topic of same-sex relationships specifically that has rubbed the ġenituri nkwetati the wrong way. On that one and that one alone, they decided that suppression was the word. It’s the basic principle of education, sacrificed at the much-bloodstained altar of homophobia.
On October 8, Charles Azzopardi, a family therapist and paid consultant to the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity, wrote on Facebook (in public, that is) that “Jews are the real terrorists. Wherever they go, there is bloodshed and war”.
It’s clear that his racist views and the brief of the ministry he advises are as reconcilable as Frankenstein and a consultancy on organ donation. More broadly, it is the duty of any government to serve citizens fairly, irrespective of their race, colour or creed. Azzopardi’s role as consultant to the ministry is no longer tenable, and I call on the minister to sack him. I have also formally reported Azzopardi to the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE).
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