• Charles Farrugia

14. Aim Four – “Give me a boy of seven and I will give you the man.”

14. Aim Four – “Give me a boy of seven and I will give you the man.”

a. Boko Haram commanders claim that their fiercest fighters are the young teenagers they abduct from non-Boco Haram communities. Once captured and inducted into the rebels’ radical beliefs and violent methods, the youngsters become the most dedicated adherents to the group’s beliefs and brutal attacks.

b. This is not a modern phenomenon. The Turkish Sultan’s super elite troops and his personal bodyguards were young boys captured from Christian villages on the Mediterranean shores. Converted to the Muslim faith, the Janissaries became the fiercest fighters, the most feared and most loyal troops in the Ottoman empire.

The two examples above (and there are many others) are extreme cases of how ruthless leaders indoctrinate young people to serve their nefarious aims. The same principle applies for positive outcomes when democratic societies establish educational institutions to develop young people, and eventually adults, who are moral and well-adjusted members of the community. The Jesuits claim: Give me a boy of seven and I will give you the man”

Religion and Social Studies are the most obvious subjects on the formal curriculum that fulfil this aim. During Religion Studies, students learn the doctrines of their faith (and hopefully of others), which guide them in their values, attitudes and behaviour. They learn how to adopt and adapt their way of life according to their beliefs in dealing with life experiences. They are encouraged to question what they are taught not simply learn them by heart to accept them without question.

Civics or Social Studies topics prompt students to analyse and evaluate the customs and norms of society. What does it mean to live in a democracy? What are the roles of Parliament, the courts, national institutions, government ministries and departments? Are they fulfilling their roles honestly, fully and efficiently? Do they safeguard the rights of minorities and stand up to corruption by whoever it is, including big business? What is the role of NGOs? Are Civil Servants friendly aids to the people who, through taxes, pay their wages, or are they not ‘civil’ at all? The questions are endless.

In the Religion and Social Studies lessons, students learn to give as well as receive from their communities by helping those in need, volunteering in old peoples’ homes, catering for the handicapped, etc. Naturally, such attitudes should begin in their own classroom, at their own school, as well as at home. Currently, students, parents, teachers, and everyone else who is keeping social distancing, wearing masks and complying with the precautions to beat Covid-19, is fulfilling the fourth aim of Education.

History lessons tell us where we came from and where we are going. History shapes what we are and what we can become. We Maltese have a long colonial history out of which we are emerging slowly in the fold of the European Union. We have deep roots of being a friendly and generous nation. In the 19th Century, thousands of Maltese sought work in the North African Maghreb countries. In the mid-20th Century, practically half the working adults emigrated to Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. Shouldn’t this tell us something about our attitudes to immigrants seeking refuge on our shores?

I could go on and on especially if I deal with Mass Media and Social Media. But you will note that even a subject such as Literature can contribute to this aim through the selection of texts that, for example, show the horrors of war, or heroism of people who sought to safeguard their values and beliefs.

A Huge Dilemma

We, parents and teachers strive to help our children and our students achieve this educational aim. We want them to develop into well-adjusted social beings by respecting the laws and contributing to the stability and well-being of our communities.

In this task, we face a tough dilemma. To what extent should we encourage our children, our students to accept traditional values? How far should we inspire them to act as catalyst of social change? We face the seemingly conflicting tasks of rendering youngsters intellectually autonomous and independent thinkers, while at the same time expecting them to accept and conform with traditional social norms.

I believe that the two goals can co-exist harmoniously. Students are first helped to understand the underlying principles that govern the values, attitudes and behaviours permeating their culture. Once this aim is achieved, they are in a better position to move to a higher level of thinking. At the more advanced level, they analyse, assess, criticise and, when necessary, attempt to alter the prevailing religious, social and economic structures and conditions regulating their lives.

In open learning situations, students are encouraged to ask questions, to express their thoughts and criticism in order to practice and refine social, moral and democratic beliefs. I leave the last word to Pope Francis:

“If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done’, then the gift [the fire of God] vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”

Next blog: The Maltese Ftira. If you wish to get in touch, email me at

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