Italy is nice. I am in Italy. So things are good, right? Well, not for the kids here.
Look, I am no flogger of things Italian. I spent the first six years of my adult life here, and the people are great, the food is good, and above all they adore children. All things that rank high in my book of the necessities of life.
Well, my pals and I all have school aged kids now, and as boring parents will do, after we tease them, turn them upside down and get them to try wine and too many sweets, we sit around discussing them. Eventually, we center our talk on the schools we entrust them to.
Two of my friends are high school teachers (one has a PhD in physics, the other a masters from an American university in English). Yes, jobs are hard to come by. They did the impossible by not giving me a word edgewise for half an hour, as they talked about how their schools essentially shut down for 7-10 days each year “taken over” by the students. There is no sense of authority, no direction from the top, and each, at 10 years into the profession, speaks about burn-out.
Two other friends are parents at the Mamiani high school (Mamiani one of the Italian nation’s founders, like calling a school the McHenry school). They note that the takeover of their school was abetted by parents, who did not think it was a bad idea. After all, they were in high school during the Years of Lead (sort of Italy’s 68 generation just a decade later) and they did the same thing. Today, seeing their children “struggling” against the establishment makes them feel a soft and warm sort of nostalgia.
Protest in the 70s I get. An impending sense of fascism at the door, the Red Brigades, chaos and fighting in the streets, the assassination of a PM. Now, well, the kids are kind of upset that they can’t eat potato chips in the classroom. A television program has been set at Mamiani High, just in case you’re interested in stretching your tongue a bit.
My friends, we have enormous problems in Massachusetts, with dropout rates and insufficient focus on basic literacy. But after hearing of the continued slide in Italian schools, I have to say that we are thinking more boldly, more concretely about what needs to be done. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize as this week of education reform debates begins. If the House and Conference pass the test before them over the next two weeks, we will make a big dent in our remaining challenges.