A Modest Proposal

There has always been  a lot of talking  about how to reform the school system  since……ever, and I understand  that this topic is a major issue worldwide. If there is a debate, it means that there is a problem. I am also sure that nobody has a clue of how to solve it – sometimes I suspect even the will -.  I have experienced  in years the most insane, pointless reforms –  usually at no cost – with the only result of systematically taking down the old educational system – which requires to be modernized, no need to say  – without adding anything worthwhile, sensible, effective. The consequence? At  first an imperceptible crack was heard (and ignored) , then  a tiny slit became visible (and ignored), till, in one fell swoop, an endless chasm opened before us, the chasm of ignorance.

I teach to students from 14 to 19 and whenever it is time to meet the new young classes , my  colleagues and I always end the first week in shock, as every year we believe to have seen the worst and every year we realize that the worst has yet to come.  It has now become customary to refer to students of 14 years of age, who have “ freely”  decided to join the family of the   “Liceo Scientifico” ( which is a high school whose main object should be to train for university) as “not schooled” yet. That is : a 14 year old scholar, after  8(!!!) years spent in the educational system circus, can barely know how to behave properly or develop any  learning method and, more recently, even produce an intelligible writing. You can imagine my amazement when few days ago I asked one boy  to write some words ordered in a column on the blackboard and to see that he was, actually, organizing them  in a sort of “cloud” rather than in a column. Words scattered here and there with no logic or any logic I could decipher, let alone his handwriting: cursive, capital and  small letters were all displayed before me in a hypnotic dance.😵

It seems, in fact,  that the latest generations are no longer used to holding a pen in their hands. They are so disoriented and naïve in a certain way, that dialogues as the one that will follow have  become routine:

Mario: but Teach… why did you mark this word?😕

Mrs Tink: because it is wrong. The correct word is “pet”.😏

Mario: This is what I have written.😇

Mrs Tink:  No Mario, you have written “cet”, the first  letter is something between a “c” or an “i”… but it is not a “p” for sure…🤔

Mario: but Teach, had it been an “i”,  I would have dotted the “i”!😐😇

Mrs Tink: Mario…..do you know what an alphabet is?🤨

Mario: Yes , of course,  a,b,c……….?😇

Mrs Tink:  Mario wait, I need to rephrase the question:   do you know what the function of an alphabet is?🤨

Mario: (no answer)…🙄

Mrs Tink: well, an alphabet is a sort of  convention, by which we agree that the sound at the beginning of these words, for example, like: “Pub, Police, Pop and Pet” , takes the form of this graphic sign: “P” in the written form. This sign cannot be changed at one’s pleasure or state of mind, otherwise,  we could not understand one another. In fact, if I rewrite those words with the sign you used, they might become : “Cub, Colice, Cop and Cet”, and this is what I assume. So, as long as I have to grade your tests, you’d better  make sure I understand what you  write……. because you want me to understand, don’t you?🤨

Mario: of course, I do!🥴🤕

Mrs Tink: good boy!😏

Assessment board (a child neuropsychiatrist , a psychologist  and a speech therapist in a reproaching tone) Mrs Tink ! Have you ever considered that Mario might be suffering from dyslexia or dysgraphia?🧐🧐🧐

Mrs Tink: (annoyed)😖😤 I have, and, if I may, it should be none of my concern at this stage, because,  as far as I know,  the assessment of graphic competence should be performed after the so called “ learning phase” which is usually at the end of the second grade and Mario attends the ninth grade. Hence, Mario could be either the victim of a system which has not been able to assess his learning needs or he is simply lazy, just like many of his peers, who are no longer used to seeing  neatness and correctness as a value, as it requires time and effort, effort they wish to direct somewhere else ( with the support of their families), of course.  When they get to the ninth grade in such conditions, it is almost a lost battle.😑

Assessment board: Mrs Tink, we believe it is urgent that you take a training course on learning disorders of 25 hours starting from tomorrow!😑😑😑

Mrs Tink:😭😭😭 if you think that yet another course will solve the question, all right, let’s take the course, but allow me to say a few words more. Don’t keep burying the school under loads of useless projects or “prodigious”” reforms,  if you cannot imagine beforehand  to what  those plans will take. As for now, their effect on teachers – on me – is only cultural frustration and paralysis of creativity. Before thinking of something grand, I would suggest you to start with something  apparently small, but more effective.  Any school reform should start from the beginning, that is, the “elementary “ school. It is in the first five years that you lay the foundations  of an effective  learning process even through the aforementioned diagnosis, which would have positive outcomes, as done in due time. Otherwise, if  we keep building on clay, we cannot but sink in that chasm and I am sure many – you?- would not be displeased about it.


26 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. LOL! Oh dear, I am so sorry. I think you’ve summed up the essence of the problem here when you said, “an alphabet is a sort of convention.” There used to be these conventions, these mutually agreed upon standards that enabled us to communicate, but then the world just went mad and now everything is chaos.

  2. That you are an extraordinary teacher, I have never doubted. I just wonder how many idiots will have been organizing our lives and how long it will take?! In Germany, they have planned for many decades to reform the school system. At the same as they also mean to reform the healthcare system! Results; nothing! By the way, my handwriting is not such a nice one, but I keep writing! 😉🤗💖

    • It is relieving to read your words, as here we have the impression that outside our borders every nation, and Germany in particular, is better organized, well…..beter compare to Italy. Now that I think about , it is not relieving at all as if everywhere it is the same, even Germany, we are hopeless. 😦
      Cheers, my genius!

      • oh my dear Stefy, I have noticed in these many years of my life in Germany that a lot of things are very deceptive from the outside! The idiots are all over the world, even here in Germany. Cheers my adorable teacher 😘 ❤

  3. Kids are too busy exercising their thumbs playing games or texting in shorthand on their phones. We had handwriting lessons and spelling tests back in the 1960s. Now they’re tapping keyboards – it’s a wonder they can’t write properly.

  4. I feel your annoyance with “new and improved” systems of education that are more accurately called demolitions of education. I’m not saying that my own education was perfect.

    I now live in a place where students can do gym classes online; where math is not a requirement; where students are not permitted to fail – even if they get 25%, or never show up to class. They get a D rather than an F and are shuffled off to the next grade to become someone else’s responsibility.

    Perhaps like generations before me, I fear for the future of civilization, for my own future, dealing with doctors, lawyers, educators, voters, and leaders who come from revisionist educational systems.

    It seems an impossible hurdle to truly improve education. But whose standards would be used as the measuring stick for improvement? Which generation would be making the changes? Maybe that’s an even bigger fear.

    • Dear Cindy, your words are my words. But, you see, somehow it is our fault too. We play the victim role and avoid acting – at least the majority of us – as acting would mean endanger our comfort zone. The question should be, why do the F become D? Of course, there are pressures ( principal, families, collegues), but eventually we yield as it is the easiest thing to do.

      • I agree, we almost always take the path of least resistance and give in to external pressures. Parents want their children to be successful, and an F is a sure sign of being unsuccessful. That hurts. But it is the reality. It doesn’t mean the parent is a failure. However, many (perhaps most) will not accept failure (of children or selves) as a possibility. Everyone must get the same trophy, those who do not pass and those who excel. It validates self worth for students, parents, and educators. Instant gratification of reassurance that each individual is valuable, worthwhile, successful, provides validation – perhaps where it is a false positive.

        Who most feels the reality of the failures within the education system? Certainly not the student who gets a D but also receives the trophy; likewise, not the parents who pressure the system to accept failure as success. Likely the most disturbed are the implementers of the education system (teachers, principals, curriculum developers) which forces compliance based on parent pressure.

        Are we really doing our children a favour by ensuring that they never fail? The real world is not as coddling – failure at some (even many) things is inevitable for everyone at some (even many) times in life. The same is true of success, though more effort is required to be successful (how we measure success is a topic for another day). The earlier we as parents, students, educators – society in general – realize that, the more realistic we will be about our own abilities, strengths, and specific areas for improvement. Reaching out for help to make improvements is not a sign of weakness, but rather is a success in itself.

  5. Always resist anyone who says something is the teacher’s fault. I used to say, ‘A child is in school for six hours a day. Where are they the remaining 18 hours, with whom, being influenced by whom?’ Parents have to take some responsibility.

    As for handwriting, my was pretty awful but I felt this give me an advantage as a teacher, as students were always desperate to decipher my comments on their work, and I would overhear them asking each other what I’d written. Often they had to ask me. This meant they actually read and engaged with what I had written. That’s my excuse, anyway!

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