A guilty pleasure of mine, during Italy's lockdown


It’s about (some) students, and their parents.

In this first part of April 2020 Italian families, students and teachers are going mad, thanks to a full month now of “distance learning”, plus the prospect of two more months in the same way. In this situation of serious, undeniable difficulty for everyone, I have to confess to feeling (*) a perhaps reprehensible, but undeniable satisfaction reading this outburst of an italian teacher (emphasis mine):

“this stuff is not distance learning, the Ministry of Education is in complete confusion, schools are unprepared, even explaining problems is IMPOSSIBLE, and when I say schools I am not talking about teachers and managers, who also have their problems. I am talking about the pupils, that is the “digital natives” who demonstrate impressive incompetence and illiteracy…”

Why am I happy? THIS is why

Before explaining, allow me a side, but crucial clarification: what Italian teachers and students are bearing in these weeks is only emergency learning, NOT “distance learning” at all, and it would be such even if it were done in the best possible way. Distance learning is something designed, prepared and made to work in the long term, under normal conditions.

That said, returning to the digital natives who (not all, of course, but many, too many) are demonstrating “an incompetence and an impressive illiteracy …”

this is the sin that I must confess:

I am wickedly happy that this situation has exposed the deep superficiality, if not ignorance, of those parents who do have enough money to buy new smartphones for every family member every other year (a huge, HUGE waste, by the way), but stop there, feeling real cool and looking at whoever “still uses email and computers” with impatience and compassion.

These are the same people who are now “grumbling” because they, or more often their children, cannot get anything necessary done on 10 cm screens, without real keyboards or mices, cannot understand how to communicate with teachers or institutional sites etc…, and even if they had a computer at home, they wouldn’t know what to do with it, as that teacher said.

This happens for two reasons, hence my reprehensible satisfaction for the current difficulties of digital natives. The first is that those natives only use the 78 mobile apps that are fashionable at any given time among their peers. Consequently now, even when they come across a decent, mobile-friendly school website, their brains freeze, just because that interface is a bit less intuitive than WhatsApp, YouTube or TikTok.

The other reason is more serious, and on this parents, and primary schools after them, have a non-negligible responsibility: I bet what you want that the great majority of “digital natives” in difficulty today are also children who NEVER read, and often are even proud of never doing it.

These are the “digital natives” who, in moments like these that force everybody to read unusual stuff longer than a few WhatsApp screens, freeze.

Nothing digital about this

This is the same problem I fought as a university student, giving private lessons to high school students to make some bucks: 9 out of 10 times those who could not solve a geometry or physics problem were not _“math-challenged” _ : they were, instead, simply teenagers who (I repeat: in high school, and definitely not disabled) DID NOT UNDERSTAND YET a generic text with sentences of more than ten words. Any text, including movie plots or cake recipes.

And at least in Italy this happened (and obviously still happens) because no one after third grade had forced (or adequately stimulated, whatever) those kids to read regularly, anything.

If we want to talk about responsibilities and ideal scenarios…

I would suggest, simplifying as much as possible:

  • the responsibility of giving specific “technical” skills lies with the school system, and perhaps also with children TV channels, if only because it is the least unfeasible solution of all
  • the responsibility of “forcing” children to love reading is and must / can only be with parents

This is because every kid reaching age 6 should already have a craving for learning as soon as possible to read alone.

A teacher may be the best teacher in the world, but if the parents of a child tease him for reading instead of, e.g., playing football or watching TV, it will be a thousands time more difficult to make that child love reading, or even just tolerate that minimum of reading that is absolutely necessary tolive well.

Because only parents can get the ball rolling, by reading every night, proving that reading opens endless wonderful worlds, and surrounding their children with books, or frequent visits to the nearest public library.

But this is a task, and a responsibility, that no parent can escape. It is a task and responsibility for all parents, not just the ones with a PhD and enough money, and shelf space at home, to afford thousands of books. If anything, it is the parents without those “credentials” who should insist more to make their children love reading, as soon as possible.

Because, as famous italian educator don Lorenzo Milani used to say:

“A (factory) worker only knows 100 words, and his boss 1000. That is why HE is the boss”

And THIS is why I am happy about this “struggle”, and this alone, that italian students are facing in these dramatic weeks. Because I hope that at least some of them will learn how important real competence and reading, digital or not, really are.

A guilty pleasure of mine, during Italy's lockdown /img/don-milani.jpg

(This post was drafted in April 2020, but only put online in August, because… my coronavirus reports, of course)

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