On School Books


With this post, the trilogy about teachers’ frustration, or at least my frustration, for what concerns parents’ expectation from the school system comes to an end. Hence, having analyzed old and new attitudes towards the “pointless” habit of assigning homework, I would like to add few words on school books and how they have changed in time according to the new methodological requests.

As soon as you open a school book of your children, I guess you may promptly spot what’s new: pictures. Nowadays school books are mostly made of pictures rather than words. Even books of subjects which are less likely to require pictures, as for example, philosophy, are assembled with colorful paintings, drawings, fun activities and such. Books must be engaging and attractive, and to be attractive pictures work better than words, of course. I do understand this, because in my school days books were dull. When my philosophy teacher, for example, assigned us 12/15 pages to study, my first thought was: are there any pictures? We were really lucky if there was at least one, as once, books were made of words. If I had to study the Socratic method, for instance, I would have read pages and pages about the way Socrates succeeded in eliciting knowledge in the mind of a person by interrogation and insistence on close logical reasoning, plus extra essays on his famous disciples like Plato, plus notes at the bottom of every page without a trace of a picture. All grey.

Nowadays, it would impossible to propose such a book and I would not do it myself either. All these words would cause a shock to the Instagram , Facebook, “Why bothering about writing, there are emoticons” generation. The same topic, very likely , would be better and easily explained on modern books just using three drawings, yes, three would be enough. The first one would show Socrates while speaking to his disciples who look at him in silence😕, then in the second one he starts to asks questions and questions thus catching his disciples’ attention 😮and the final one the enlightened devotees eventually start to speak while Socrates displays his satisfaction 😄. His method had worked 👍.

Teaching has become mostly visual nowadays, which is fun for us teachers too. However, I have noticed that too often when our students are asked to read, because it happens sometimes, and analyze a text, they don’t understand the meaning of many words. For example, one day in a class with students of about 19 years old, we were talking about the “welfare state”. I gave for granted that they knew the meaning of the word, as even if we have borrowed it from the English language, it is commonly used on newspapers and political debates every day. However; nobody, and I say nobody, knew exactly the meaning of the word “welfare”and things did not improve significantly, when I translated it into the correspondent Italian “stato sociale”. A thick fog surrounded them. They were 19 and potential voters.We are so focused in transmitting knowledge with the help of images that we do not realize that words are starting to become meaningless for many of them and us too .

Hence, I cannot help but wonder, when every now and then we are asked to give our opinion on such “irrelevant” matters like Brexit in the U.K. or to vote the reform of the Italian Constitution, as it will happen here in Italy on the 4th of December, we should assume that all these people are informed as they can read and fully understand what they read, otherwise, upon what ground will they choose? I guess that the 40 something millions of citizens who are demanded to decide to vote YES or NO for the reform of the constitution, should, as prerequisite, at least be acquainted with the 139 articles which form the constitution plus the various sub-paragraphs and then analyze carefully the amendments to form an opinion. All this without the help of explanatory pictures? I have my doubts.

Should I stay or should I go

bre3There has been a lot of debating about the words Giorgio Napolitano; former Italian President, used to comment the so-called “Brexit” :I am among those who hoped to the end that  the desire to remain in Europe would prevail. The outcome of the referendum in Great Britain is a very heavy blow, a great element of economic, financial and political destabilization . We should reflect on how imprudent it was to propose this referendum on such extremely complex matters. ” “ Napolitano spit on democracy“, “the old communist has finally shed the mask“, were some of the angry reactions to his words, but even Mario Monti, former Italian PM and former European Commissioner reinforced Giorgio Napolitano’s concept.  During his speech at the Council for the United States and Italy relations meeting in Venice, in fact, he said:I disagree with those who think that EU referendum is good expression of democracy. Cameron abused of democratic power giving the referendum. Good that in Italy the Constitution prohibits the referendum on the EU’s treaties”. It seemed such a display of arrogance and distrust, of course. However, I cannot help but wonder: are we really submitted to the politicians’ will, who do not allow us to vote on such important matters? Is this a leak in our democratic system? Had I had to vote, upon what ground would I have made my choice? Do I possess the required know-how to vote in a responsible way?

bre4At this point I have to mention a survey which dates back to 2015; however, I don’t think those figures  have changed significantly this last year. The survey states that 80 % of our population are “analfabeti di ritorno” that in English could be more or less: those who have” relapsed into illiteracy”. 80 people out of 100 may be able to write and read, but they don’t fully understand given messages on various matters, graduated included. I don’t want to discuss the causes of this glorious outcome here, but this is a fact, and I am sure that even in those countries which may exhibit better figures, the percentage of those “analfabeti di ritorno” would still represent a majority. Politicians know these surveys well, that’s why their speeches have become a sequence of catch-phrases in time: they talk to that 80% of people, to their hopes, dreams and above all fears.

bre1Yes, fears. The Brexit campaign, whether you were for the “remain” or “leave” side,  was all about fears. For those who voted for” leave” there was the fear of immigration and  that being part of the EU meant accepting the free movement of people without being able to limit or control them ; fear of losing national sovereignty, as half of the laws in force in the United Kingdom are approved by EU bureaucrats who nobody elected; fears of the restrictions of European burocracy, hence Britain would boost the economy freeing itself from the bonds imposed from Brussels and be free to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with developing countries like India and China. For those who supported the “remain” side was pretty much the same: fear of isolation; fear of giving impulse to nationalistic and populist movements around Europe; fear of losing the advantages of the common market; fear of being economically more vulnerable in the age of globalization; fear of the risk of separatism. Whatever you wanted to vote, there was something you had to be afraid of. Hence, the most deep-rooted fears won.

bre2The European Union we live in today is not the result of fears but of a dream of some visionary leaders, who possessed that degree of foolishness Steve Jobs talked about at Stanford University. That meant going beyond the troubles of a disastrous present with its post war political, economical and social instabilities, to imagine and work for a peaceful, prosperous Europe and above all united, as that could and will be guarantee of peace and stability. But this is forgotten and we give for granted the hard reached stability to welcome populisms and nationalisms of any kind with all that means. I don’t mind if a democratically elected politician acts as guide of a country rather than giving voice to its basest fears. Very likely, modern politicians don’t possess that kind of foolishness, that’s why they seek the comfort of democratic exercise, causing ….who knows?