We were very different from the students we teach, it is a matter of fact, but pray, when I say different I don’t mean better, just different. Making an effort to understand that assumption is, my opinion, essential, if we do aim at being of any help to the generations we are supposed to form. This epiphany came across my mind after the sixth school board meeting few weeks ago and after hearing for the sixth time in a row the same things: teachers complaining that their students are not able to develop any learning strategy different from memorizing useless notions which are usually soon forgotten and students complaining on the amount of homework and above all on the fact that they don’t understand what we actually want, that we should feel satisfied and praise them for the (pointless) effort they produce. At the end of these meeting each party goes home fully convinced to be on the right side of the question and the next day everything starts afresh.

Since I would like to try and work on bridging this gap between we teachers and our students, I will focus on what I consider the two most striking generational differences on which to ponder and a humble suggestion in the end. So, difference number one is: parents’ behaviour. Really, I do not understand. Whenever I have to attend P/T conferences, there is one common issue: since teachers give too much homework, parents feel somehow compelled to help their children do their homework  – if we are lucky – or they do it in their place. I’m wondering, this must be the reason why I didn’t have children, as, if after a day at work, you have to cook or look after the house and family and besides, there are your children’s homework waiting for you, well, it is hell. The parents of my generation never thought about doing our homework, for many reasons, but first of all because it was our duty and responsibility, however, they did check whether we had done what had been assigned, I can assure you and I have vivid memories about it and….bruises.

The second difference, of course, concerns the media. Being digital natives means not only that you have grown up online spending a lot of time on various social media, but also that you have developed the attitude of getting to information very fast and superficially at the same time. Messages must be simple, short, catchy  and whatever requires thought, pondered analysis is pushed aside as “démodé”. If this is the scenario, is there a solution?

Yes, there is. Learning proficiently is like making your own fix net of information and the new generations should actually have the effective digital native attitude, rather than the old Sisyphus one. Sisyphus was the king of Corinth who was punished in Hades by having repeatedly to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he had brought it to the summit, and this is exactly the 3 step learning strategy of most of my students have developed: study/memorize,forget,start afresh. That is why they always assume it is too much homework, because they keep on studying the same things they had forgotten, which, however, keep on surfacing even when they deal with apparently different topics.

The correct approach when you study is: copy, edit, paste. An example: if it took an entire hour to study 3 pages about the Magna Carta, I said study, not memorize, when you deal with the Petition of Rights, you’ll have just to copy the concept, edit it with the new protagonists and paste it. It will take 45 minutes this time. Furthemore, if your history teacher wishes to assign you homework on the English civil war, you already know the basic events and you’ll have just to do a little editing, hence 15/30 minutes will be enough to accomplish your task. If you studied the characteristics of English Romanticism and studied some poems, it should be quite natural to find the same issues when you study the Italian poet Leopardi, for example. In this way boredom and a great waste of time would be avoided. Homework is not your enemy, as all the time you spend on training in one of the sports you practice is not your enemy if you have goals. Working pointlessly and with no passion, that is your enemy.




Romantic Buddhism

Year after year of lessons on the Romantics, in particular those of the first generation, a question has gradually taken shape in my mind : “but were these Coleridge and Wordsworth a kind of Buddhists?” I know, it’s hazardous and I have to confess that my knowledge of Buddhism is actually basic: I’ve read Thomas Mann’s Siddhartha and the Autobiography of a Yogi about the Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, that is all. But I want to try to outline an analysis anyhow. Well, Buddhism is a religion /philosophy based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha (the awakened). For the Buddhists he is the enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help men end sufferings through the elimination of ignorance by way of understanding and the elimination of craving, thus attaining the highest happiness: Nirvana. Wow, but this the Indian version of the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads!!!

Rewind: the Romantic poet as the Buddha is the enlightened man with that superior sensibility/imagination who teaches men how to feel and keep memory of their emotions,  in order to better bear the inevitable sufferings of life, thus reaching happiness. He is a poet and poetry is his weapon. Coleridge,in particular, had understood that the burden of our ” wants” can’t help us understand the true nature of happiness and confounds us. Siddhartha seemed to have whatever life had to offer: he was young, handsome, rich and, naturally, admired and envied at the same time. Hpwever, that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more. So, he got rid of that burden of things to be free to choose his way, exactly as St Francis of Assisi did.

The ticking that marks the rhythm of our actions, prevents us from fully enjoying that dreamed happiness too. We are so used to stuffing our days with as many actions as possible that we have no time to pause to think about what we are actually doing. “Stop the ticking!” said Captain Hook, but how? We are not characters of a fairy tale. How is it possible to reach our Nirvana, if this is the frantic pattern of our modern age?

In the eighteenth century Romantic artists had already understood  that man somehow would have undergone a great psychological change due to the impulse of the industrial revolution. Macaulay had said that the social-scientifical growth of England was equivalent to what men had done in three hundred or maybe three thousand years. Clock time had replaced seasonal time and from that moment on we have kept moving faster and faster.

That’s why one of the main characteristics of Romantic poetry is its meditative tone.Time had to slow down to understand the real nature of the self and life.  Remember, for example, the amazing “Elegy” of Thomas Gray where the knelling of the curfew toll which pervades the first stanzas gradually fades to give way to the poet’s deep reflection. In the poem “Daffodils” only in a moment of beautiful stillness Wordsworth can experience that pure happiness destined to be enjoyed forever and in Coleridge’s “Rime” the Ancient Mariner stops with a spell a reluctant young Wedding Guest in order to be able to communicate with him and then let him meditate on the meaning of his tale.

So the point is that these “Romantic Buddhists” had understood the importance of meditation to reach the necessary awareness that might lead to happiness. Meditation is, in fact, the primary means of cultivating  Buddhism. Your mind focuses on an object, this image expands to your mind, body and entire surroundings till your mind is able to gain insight into the ultimate nature of reality and reach a sense of beatitude. In that state, time does not exist and we are in harmony with ourselves and the world outside reaching our Nirvana. Yes, but  ……..excuse me, what time is it? I’ve got to go.



Rain is a very powerful symbol. Chaucer makes it, in fact, the great protagonist of the very first lines of his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. It’s April and the “sweet showers “ have soaked deep into the dry ground to water the roots of the flowers. The combination of this spring rain with Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, is so powerful that the “tender shoots” are quickly transformed into “buds”  under the eyes of a “young sun” and with the background music of birds singing. It is the joyful natural rebirth which also stirs man’s spiritual rebirth. That’s why spring was symbolically chosen as the perfect time of the year by Chaucer and his pilgrims to set on a pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Beckett. Chaucer, therefore, gives us an image of a man totally integrated and in harmony with the world and its natural forces. But that was more or less seven hundred years ago.

When The Waste Land  was published in 1922 , the world had just witnessed the horrors and follies of  World War I and what remained in the present was perceived only as a “heap of broken images”  on  a “dead land “. Among the ruins of the certainties and values of a glorious past, Eliot’s modern man is at loss, he is a “dried tuber”  forced to live a meaningless life. Therefore, the coming of the joyous spring produces a rather depressive mood, if man finds no reasons to live. What’s worse, if you have ever experienced such a state of the soul, than somebody that lightly tells you how wonderful life is, but you can’t see it?  It is not. It can’t be.

Eliot’s world is, in fact, deaf to the seasonal call to life. The feeble rain, which makes its presence in the first lines of the poem as in Chaucer’s Prologue, has, however, lost its invigorating power either on nature and on man.The drops of water try to stir the roots that seem to rest safely covered by the “forgetful” winter snow, but they are “dull“, hence, unwilling to put their heads out of the ground. That’s why April for Eliot is “the cruellest month”: man must emerge from his hibernation only to live in the desolate“stony rubbish” which is the present without the smallest idea of where to go and what to do. Eliot’s modern man, in fact, walks in circle and fixes “his eyes before his feet”, as there is no future to pursue.

Then there is a third option, that is, when men are ready to the natural call of life, and I am, but you feel depressed as you realize that it is the 23rd of March and there is still no spring at sight, only a lot of rain; it has been raining for an entire month, to be precise. So, my question is: “If winter comes can spring be far behind?”

Giving a Helping Hand to Allah

A little raft with three shadows in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. No more
fuel, nothing to drink, no land in sight, only cold and fear. The outline of their
homeland is now too far; the only noise: the beating of their young hearts. Till a
light, a ship, a helping hand and the warmth of a friendly voice: “Està bien chicos?” They soon find themselves on board in one of those NGO ships which patrol the sea to rescue those desperate who seek their fortune in foreign lands venturing into dreadful journeys.

They are three siblings and the youngest is only 14. It is for him that they have left
their country and risked their lives, because he is sick. He suffers from leukemia
and there are no chances to be cured from where he comes from: Libya. His name is
Allah and when he was rescued, he still had the drip attached to his arm.

It is the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms that intercepted the small boat off Libya at dawn. “Happy night in the Mediterranean,” says Oscar Camps, “three brothers with a lot of love and 200 liters of gasoline have gone to sea to have the chance to give their brother who has leukemia, the hope of reaching a European hospital. True heroes “. And the same NGO tweeted: “ What a hell Libya must be and how one must live if the only hope of a sick child is to escape to the sea? And Europe continues to feed that hell … We must react! Now Allah is taken care in a hospital in Siracusa. It would be heartwarming to believe that “all’s well that ends well”, that he will be fine, but this is the third disease recurrence, and I think everybody knows what that means at such young an age.

This is an age of fear. The fear of losing our comforts, identities, certainties and it is rather weird, considering that we are in times of peace and a very long one if we have studied our recent history well. That’s why we plan to build walls, either material or political, in order to secure our little spot. However, if you read that history book well, you will find out that peoples have always moved from one place to another, and their drives have always been the same: hunger and desperation. These drives are so strong that no wall will ever keep those people out. They have nothing to lose, while we do have a lot to lose. A helping hand might do far more.


Sublime is………………………

If you think about your entire working life, can you spot the most memorable
moment you have experienced? When did you feel to have actually reached the top? Well, in my honorable 25 year teaching career I have no trouble to say, that it happened a couple of years ago. The occasion was a lesson on Burke’s essay ” A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas the Beautiful  and Sublime“. The topic was quite challenging considering that the average student of that class was not much into philosophical debates on aesthetic dualism, but rather into erudite discussion on the best possible scheme to adopt for the next football match. On this they had no rivals and could speak for hours, in any language, if necessary. On such a topic, what kind of feed-back might I have expected?  Very likely the only one I could have had, if I had been in a stadium and started to discourse about the kind of emotions Beauty and Sublime may convey between the first and the second half of the match, I guess.

Whoever has ever read some of my articles is well aware that football is very important to me.  Whenever the subject of the post allows it, my football passion echoes between the lines. I am a supporter of one of the two teams of Rome, in fact: S.S. Lazio. Now, it happens that the class above mentioned, actually, belonged to the other club : A.S. Roma. You have to know this football dualism does not represent only the eternal fight between enemy factions like, Romolo and Remo, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, the Capulets and the Montagues etc. , but it is more. There are psychological traits that attract you on one side rather the other. The Roma supporters are quite dogmatic: they firmly believe that A.S.Roma is a sort of faith that cannot be discussed, but loved only. That is why they start the season with the utmost certainties of victory, which are regularly shattered after few months. The typical Lazio supporter, on the contrary, is more pessimistic, less dogmatic and open to bitter criticism. They are the yin and the yang of Roman football passion, in short. In  more than a century of disputes even the number of trophies won by both teams is quite similar: just a few. As a rule, if we take 10 supporters, 7 of them usually belong to A.S. Roma and  3 for S.S. Lazio, but in that class the presence of the latters was even below average : one out of 25, as far as I can remember.

Going back to Burke, at the end of the lesson, I could not actually make out the real feed-back, as I mostly saw dumb faces, which looked like masks, the masks of politeness they usually wore whenever they wanted to seem attentive, while they were actually thinking to something else. Therefore, I decided to assign a homework: choose a picture, a drawing etc. which represents the concept of sublime for you and write a comment; hoping they wouldn’t come up with a picture of a pizza Margherita. I had not considered that the day of the assignment, was a Monday, or better, the Monday after what we call the”Derby”, that is, the match of the matches: Rome vs Lazio.

We lost: 4-1 and it was the third time in a row. You may guess how unwilling I was to face all the jokes and mockeries that are the inevitable follow-up after a lost match and I felt that particularly those “scoundrels” might have prepared something. However, when I came into the class they looked a kind of indifferent: no shirts and scarves of their team or pictures scattered around as usual. Nothing. As I knew them well, I didn’t trust this apparent nonchalance and I decided to make some hints, just to excite a reaction, but in vain.  All I had in return was: “Oh, the Derby, yes, we won“.Stop.

So much the better. Since there was nothing to be said about the match I started to check the homework and I said: “Daniele, show me the picture you chose to explain your idea of Sublime!” “Of course“, was his prompt reply, but with an evil smile which I couldn’t miss. And there it was his Sublime. He had a sheet with a patchwork of images of the victory. There was a sneering captain Totti right in the middle and a big inscription at the top in bold : “Sublime is……..Roma 4 – Lazio 1″. As soon as I had finished to read it, I realized that all his other mates, even the girls, were exhibiting the same leaflet with a big smile. They had won, again.


Foolocracy Made Real

I voted, eventually. No need to say I am not happy about the outcome of these elections and no need to say I was not surprised about it. I will leave my comment, in fact, to a post published on this blog (with a little editing) 5 years ago. It was my very first timid attempt of writing about politics and I did it under the mask of what I am: a teacher of literature. After all I firmly believe that “all world is a stage“.

Every time it was the Fool’s turn to go on stage there was a great expectation in the audience. The most important actors wanted to play that role in fact, because he was not only one who juggled or made you laugh with trivial jokes or puns but he was also charismatic, witty, shrewd and, above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule, king included (with a certain prudence obviously). People laughed with him, people were with him because after all he was one of them, one who could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it, but I’m sure that not even in his wildest dreams he would have ever imagined one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but it was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want.

However, when fools leave the familiar setting of a theatre to seek a better fortune, they seem to suffer from a curious disease: the “all world is a stage” syndrome. Its symptoms are easily recognizable: they keep on acting or speaking  freely without realizing that in the real world acts and words have consequences on people. This happens because they can’t perceive the difference between the fictitious and real life. Problems arise when one of these fools happens to have received the responsibility of ruling a country or anyhow making or sharing a political project with the elected non-fools. He will inevitably have to face an identity crisis, because his job has been for years that of ridiculing, attacking those he is supposed to work with. A fool is very good at destroying, but once he is demanded to reconstruct,his mocking laugh fades away and he starts to display a certain agitation and becomes even aggressive, because all of a sudden he realizes that he just cannot keep on playing his favourite game off the stage. But the question is: can we expect a fool to be responsible and decide the destiny of a country? If the answer is: “Well, yes, why not?”, just follow Italy’s next political vicissitudes and we will see.

A Portrait of an Eligible Ruler

From the comments of the previous post, everybody knows what they dislike about their rulers, but let’s try and be constructive: what makes a politician fit for being in charge of a country? Would you like him to be a sort of shrewd leader as the one suggested by Machiavelli, a heart inflaming dreamer or simply an honest anybody, as it seems to be so “en vogue” here these days? Well, my answer is: a sharp-witted accountant, and by accountant I mean somebody who knows exactly figures, understands present situations and pursues his goals according to the real possibilities the State budget offers him and nothing more. A leader with such skills would make the fortune of his country, and I know this is to be true as in the past there was a ruler I do admire, a king, that somehow had many of these characteristics: Henry VII Tudor.

When Henry became King, he had inherited a nation shattered by a long civil dynastic war between the noble families of Lancaster and York. For what concerns foreign policy, the importance of England in Europe had become quite marginal especially after the loss of the Hundred Year’s war and furthermore, he was aware that his claim to the throne was shaky, plots and conspiracies were, in fact, always behind the corner. Differently from the other European countries, we have to remember that English kings did not rule by Divine Right, hence, they could not act as freely as they would, because their actions were submitted to the Common Law and the Magna Charta. Apparently weak, in charge of a country torn to pieces, what could he do? Not much, it would seem, but Henry accepted the challenge. First of all, he didn’t search for the limelight with great, noble actions that would have made his people dream, he was not a man of dreams, but facts, hence, he put on the clothes of the inflexible “accountant” and set to work.

He targeted two main objects: unifying the country and centralizing the power in the hand of the monarchy. Being an attentive “accountant”, he accurately pondered about what was advisable to do and not to do. First of all, he aimed at avoiding troubles with foreign and more powerful countries, as any other war would have made him at the mercy of Parliament. He chose to make commercial treaties with France and The Netherlands, thus opening up trade with both countries and arranged the marriage of his children to the crowned heads of Europe forming stronger alliances.

Stability was the main goal of his domestic policy.  First of all he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Then he deprived the noble families of their private armies, enforced royal taxes, modernized administration, promoted trade and the making of a fleet, thus demonstrating that he well understood what was necessary to face the new era marked by the discovery of America. When he died, he left a safe throne, a solvent government and a prosperous and reasonably united country. Of course his son Henry VIII and his grand-daughter Elizabeth I are more interesting and well-known sort of rulers, but it was Henry VII, who actually laid the foundation of modern England.

I can’t imagine of any ruler with such determianation and clarity of purpose nowadays and certainly not here in Italy. Sunday’s vote has nothing to do with innovative or clever politics of enlightened candidates, but rather, it will end up with choosing between the frying pan and the fire and we are well aware that you might get burnt with both of them, unfortunately.