Haven’t you ever wished to have a Benjamin Malaussène in your family or circle of friends? That is, somebody always willing to take all the blame, even if it is you who has been caught with your hands in the cookie jar? Well, in case you have never heard about him, Benjamin Malaussène, is the protagonist of Daniel Pennac’s popular saga of crime thrillers, and he works as ……scapegoat. Actually, he is in Quality Control of “the Store”, but de facto he is the person called upon to take the rap when customers come in with complaints. It works more or less like this: Malaussène manages to assume all the blame, confessing his guilt in such an affecting way that customers take pity on him, so, “the Store” doesn’t have pay for any refund, and everybody is happy.
Being the scapegoat is Benjami’s fate outside “the Store” too. Even if the situations he finds himself are caused by a series of interests and precise logics which have nothing to do with him, he ends up hopelessly guilty. This scheme, which I would like to call Malaussène scheme, is fun on books, but when you realize that what you call fiction is nothing but the reality, you start to look at it with a different eye. In short, the scheme in constituted by the following 3 main steps : 1) spotting a problem, 2) finding the scapegoat, that is, demonstrating that somebody/something else caused the problem, 3) using the scapegoat as means to go back to the status quo ante or simply to upset the status quo, as scapegoats can be used both ways. The field of application I want to use to demonstrate how this pattern works is the one dearest to me: school.
Step 1: PROBLEM. Every year in Italy there is a learning assessment that we call INVALSI. It is aimed at measuring the level of competence in Italian, Mathematics and English of different groups of students: in essence, it photographs the state of health of our school system. Well, it seems the Italian school system is far more than sick, it has a foot in the grave, actually. Just to give you an idea 44% of high school students do not reach satisfactory levels in Italian , 51% in Mathematics, 51% in English-reading and 63% in English-listening in 2020/21. The figures for Italian and Mathematics are shocking, as for English, well, everybody knows there are no good English teacher in Italy, so, no surprise.
Step 2: THE SCAPEGOAT. If data were taken seriously, after such an outcome new strategies would have been studied, and quickly, but, of course, effective strategies have a cost, particularly, if we think that there have been no investments on the school for decades here. Furthermore, I wonder whom the strategist might be, as I detect no such mind capable of drawing the guidelines of the new school or somebody who is not in the pay of political forces. As it was crystal clear that there was no intent for a change and , of course, no money on the table, a scapegoat was necessary to justify such a downfall. It was not so arduous to find one, but quite the opposite, it was handed on a silver platter. Since these were the first tests after the outbreak of the pandemic, the designated scapegoat couldn’t but become what had characterized education in the years of Covid 19: on-line learning.
Step 3: THE SCAPEGOAT EFFECT. Hence, on-line learning has become the source of any ill regarding school and more. Is a student depressed? It’s because of on-line learning. Anorexia or bulimia? On-line learning. Demotivation and frustration? The same answer. Even when talking to parents, on-line learning has become the perfect justification to any behaviour and achievement below the expectation, thus demanding indulgence on my side. The consequence? On-line learning has been banned. We are about to go back to school with more than 200.000 Covid cases per day, in small classrooms with about 30 kids, with no ventilation system working and with the most absurd plan to follow in presence of Covid cases in class. In short, 6 months of on-line learning in two years have caused a drastic drop in the levels of competence of Italian students and mined their psychological stability. Is it to be believed?
THE VARIABLE. Scapegoats cannot always work, as sometimes significant events, let’s call them variables, happen. These variables contradict mainstream narration so manifestly that they can neither be overlooked nor hidden. The fact in questions was the selection of magistrates held from July 12 to December 2 2021: out of 5,827 candidates only 88 passed, and most of them were “rejected” because of the written test. The writing skills of the aspiring magistrates were regarded poor, as there were not only technical but also grammatical deficiencies . We are talking about candidates who have a university degree and a master at least and, this is no small detail for what I want to demonstrate, they must have been in their early thirties, so they could not be the product of on-line learning, but rather the clear effect of years of policies made of cuts only and reforms at zero cost. For years all the methods concerning education have constantly converged to one main goal: inclusion. What’s wrong with inclusion, some of you may ask? Absolutely nothing, it is a very daring objective, but the only way we have to include all, and avoid what today is considered a mortifying selection, is by lowering learning standards. There is no other way, no other miracles can be done, unless governments decide to invest on education. Hence, in order to avoid depopulation, universities couldn’t but lower their learning standards too. And this is the result.
You may now object that all this talking didn’t but demonstrate that scapegoats are ineffective. Quite the contrary. In case of variables, strategies have only to be integrated a little: you overwhelm means of information with contrasting data, thus creating chaos and wait till the event is forgotten. And this is how we keep proceeding to nowhere.