“The Best of Our Breed”

This year I have a brand  new class, let’s call it….5(I)D. It is the conclusive year, so when you take a class at this stage, it is like adopting a full grown up child: the room for action is quite thin. Nonetheless, I could not resist the allure of 5(I)D as soon as I learnt about its existence. Why? Well, because it is a small group, very small, a selected one, apparently. Hence, I did whatever it was in my power to come into possession of this rare gem. The reviews about the 5(I)D were not that inviting, actually, but rather ” bizarre” I would say, and, strange indeed, there was not a single voice to controvert them. Yet, I was not in the least intimidated, after all, for someone like myself who has had the fortune of working in both the best and the worst school in Rome and nearby, how could these young scoundrels be of any problem? So, even when fate seemed to have taken a different turn, as I was informed that the principal had planned to direct me to another class, I headed straight to her office and said decidedly : I WANT THE 5(I)D. And so, I had it. 

Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes, when I first saw them – we are talking about adolescents of 18/19 years old – as before me there was displayed the most incredible bunch of weirdos grouped all together as I had never seen before. Apparently,  they didn’t – and don’t – seem to respond to the norms of proper behaviour to be followed in class, or better, they do respond, till their basic needs come pressing such as: watching or even answering the cell phone ( “May I? You know, it’s really important”), eating ( “God, I was starving”), talking  loud ( “But , we were just discussing about what you’ve just said) , sleeping ( at least they are silent) , fixing makeup and…. having breakfast .

This is a typical scene at around 8:20 a.m.:

Curly boy : “Excuse me, Mrs Tink!”

Mrs Tink : ( while explaining and deluding herself into having caught his attention), “Do you have a question?”

Curly boy: “Yes, may I go to the bar? I haven’t had my breakfast yet and I’ m not feeling that well”.

Mrs Tink : “Of course”.

Yes, I say ” of course ” , which is of a caustic, sarcastic sort ( in the hope they will understand one day), of course you can go and have breakfast, of course you can a bite to your sandwich or fix your makeup along many other things while I am teaching a class. Of course. After all, do you think I should still explain what is right and what is wrong at their age, or sanction them? No way. All things considered, I never sense their way of behaving as a form of opposition, this is just what they are. If I may say so, this is a class where the “EGO” fails in balancing the urges of the “ID ”  and  the impositions of the ” SUPEREGO”.

So, when it was time to introduce  them to Freud’s tripartite theory of mind and apply it to the characters of Wuthering Heights, I decided to go just a little out of the box to catch their attention, thus using one of my tricks. 

On that occasion , I theatrically took my wallet out my bag and picked  a 50 euro note. I placed the note on the desk and I addressed them with the following words:

Mrs Tink:”Let’s figure that this note has slipped out of my bag. You know it is mine. You are alone; nobody can see you; I could never spot  you.  No cameras, no witnesses. Well, would you keep that note or would you return it to me?”

Curly boy : ( with no hesitation) “I would keep it! No doubt.

Ginger girl: “Well, it depends!”

Mrs Tink: “On what?”

Ginger girl:  “Well, it depends on whether I like you or not!”

Mrs Tink: “And…. do I meet you approval? “

Ginger girl (blushes, mutters something indistinguishable I can’t understand, but I feel I’d better not investigate further).

Curly boy: (while trying to convince the others) “I would keep it, if she can’t spot me, I would keep it.”

Mrs Tink: “All right, let’s say, and I want to include myself in this, that we all would share the instinct of keeping that note for ourselves, so, what would prevent us from doing it? As I am truly confident that eventually you would hand it back to me.”

Curly boy: ” I would not!”

Hooded boy: ( reawakening from his torpor) “C’mon! If you knew to whom it belongs, you’d hand it back!

Mrs Tink: “So let’s say that either a moral imperative, Kant’ s moral law, might press you to give me back my note, or simply fear, the fear of being caught, as somebody might have seen you and report it to me. This would not be a crime, to be sure, but if I knew it, I would eventually  see the “culprit” with different eyes, wouldn’t I? So, this is how the superego works.”

Curly boy ( decidedly): “I would keep it, no way!”

Well, at least I had gained their attention. Eventually the bell rang, I put my 50 euros note back in my wallet and while I was heading to another class, I realized that I had left on the desk something more precious than money, that is, my packet of paprika flavoured crisps. I turned back, but I saw one guy running towards me holding my packet. He handed it to me smiling: ” You see? The superego is at work!!!” 

P.S. When I said I would have produced an article about them, they seemed to be very pleased about it and one went: ” I am surprised, it took you so long to write something about us” . I guess I’ll have material enough this year to develop a series.

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The Ministry of Merit

It’s been quite a while since I published my last post and it seems that a lot has changed. Most important of all, Mr Run is back to competition and to victory too; another school year has started and we may say that on-line learning is definitely dead; it has been a never ending summer here, no sign of Autumn yet, and  let me think, what else, oh yes, Giorgia Meloni is the new Italian Prime Minister, a woman, would you believe it?  This predictable outcome has been a terrible blow, a shock, for both Italian and foreign press. Since election day, the ghost of fascism has been evoked on papers constantly and the constitution of a new authoritarian regime with it. Well, I would like to tranquilize my readers that there is no such thing, or at least, nothing I am aware of at the moment. You should remember that this is the country of “The Leopard”, hence, everything seems change so that nothing actually changes, and, mark my words, this is one of those cases.

The fact that the press keep reminding us, with ominous tones, that Giorgia Meloni’s election happened  exactly 100 years  after Mussolini’s “ March on Rome”  has had only one consequence so far, that is, making everybody remember an event  nobody cares about at all or it was almost forgotten.  Now, thanks to this continuous bombing, we are able to promptly answer that the above mentioned event happened on October 28th, 1922, displaying the same degree of certainty and precision we may have when we are asked about our birthday.

I have to say that in these first days the new government seems to have been very much more occupied on rephrasing the name of Ministries, rather than organizing black shirt troops waving truncheons or exhuming the old racial laws, if these are the fears. Words are important to define politics, hence, the Ministry of Agriculture has become Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, the Ministry of Economic Development is the Ministry of  “Made in Italy ” too and last but not least the Ministry of Education has become the Ministry of Education and Merit. ” Yes, Merit, here is the rub.

This latter has become the object of a harsh debate as you have to understand that “merit” has been for long, a word just whispered along school alleys and with trusted colleagues only, as “inclusion” has been the only religion to be practiced these years. In this inclusive school, teachers, endowed with super powers, employ any possible strategy so that learning goals can be achieved by EVERYBODY and  NOBODY is left behind. NO ONE is supposed to leave the school system without the necessary skills, thus  making sure that  the  school does not contribute to increase the differences in the perspective of success among individuals.  Of course, all this should be done demanding students the minimum effort at home and in class, without forgetting to be entertaining. Well, all this educational conduct has had a cost, as, to include EVERYBODY, there is only one recipe : lowering learning standards and objectives. There is no other way. There is no magic; and in so doing, we will deliberately exclude those who can aspire to a more solid education and in particular those who belong to the lower classes. 

It is hard to believe that in our competitive society, the importance of promoting merit is denied right in the place deputed to prepare the new generation to the upcoming challenges. Merit has become synonym of unfairness. Hence, the school is just a huge pool where everybody is expected to jump in, but there are no lanes, no rules, no training or coaches only some lifeguards. Just stay in, then, when it’s time to jump out, we will see.

I chose the metaphor of a swimming-pool on purpose, as I used to be a swimmer, and a good one too; but I was not that good at all styles. It was the task of my coach, through the right amount of work, to understand where I was more competitive, where I could have my chances of success and, eventually, after years of hard training it was clear that backstroke would be the answer, actually, I was better at swimming 200 mt  backstroke than 100 mt . That was my natural talent and there I could have found my reward, hence, I had to accept that in all the other styles I was just ok and nothing more. In that pool the lanes were divided according to merit and everybody worked hard in the hope to succeed in being  included in that one with the best swimmers one day. Nobody ever thought that the best ones should have swum a little slower so that anybody could join in, thus avoiding the risk of undermining their self-esteem.

That is why I applaud the choice of word, but this was the easy part. To give consequence to what promised, thus succeeding in reforming an obsolete and gangrenous system would be such an incredible achievement that could make me even vote Giorgia Meloni one day. After all, if she deverves it, why shouldn’t I do it?

The Dark Side of Talent

There is one infallible and quick way to determine the language level of  non-native speakers, that is, detecting the way they more or less nonchalantly use bad words, but also their reaction when they become the object of that language too. Hence, when the most common Italian  swearword, for example, the one which begins with a “V…”  , to be clear, is translated into the equivalent in English which  begins with an “F…”,  well,“ its native hue of resolution is sickled o’er the pale cast of translation and loses the name of swearword” for an Italian. Of course, one understands the meaning, but somehow it is as if it were blunted in its effect.

So, when I accidentally came across an Instagram page with the name of my school preceded by that word which begins with the “F”, the options were just two: either the owner of the page wanted to soften the effect of the word, fearing the impact of the one with the “V” – and that would make this person an excellent English speaker – or simply, and more likely, only the poor knowledge of the language was the reason of  that choice, thus underestimating the inevitable consequences.

On that page there was also a sort of manifesto where the owner blabbed about the absolute necessity of changing the school system introducing new subjects  – those you don’t have to study, of course –  to replace the old ones, pleading also that this revolution should have been made with the teachers. One thing in particular really struck me: the core of those words was the necessity to speak and to be heard by adults, which could be a good thing but for the fact that the name of the page began with the word which begins with the “F” and the few pictures that had been posted represented all threatening people holding a gun.

Something had to be done. It was decided to give CSI Casalpalocco/Roma the charge of the investigation in order to quickly spot the rebel out of 1.300 students. Despite all the efforts, after weeks of inquests the crime division came up with nothing – actually, I have to say I was quite disappointed, as this Italian unit seemed to be much below the standards of the American ones. However, there is one thing I have learnt watching series, namely,  these kind of minds enjoy being tracked down just to demonstrate how smart they are in eluding any attempt to spot them , but in so doing they often make a mistake and this is what happened. Our rebel, in fact, yielded the temptation of sharing the shot of a note from the electronic register. Even if names were deleted, it was easy to identify the class, so, after some cross interrogations and a few threats we found our culprit.

Yet, I am sure that had the name of the page started with the “V” rather than with the “F” the fate of our “hero” would have been a tad more trying, as, after all, everything ended with no much fuss: the page was deleted, one day suspension and not much more than that, as far as I can remember. This was four months ago.

After a few  weeks, while I was examining some videos, 253 actually, of the students who were taking part in a challenge I had organized ( https://makeiteasychallenge.it/) which aimed at selecting the best candidates for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, my attention was particularly drawn by one of them. The subject was not that challenging but that guy definitely knew how to nail the attention: he looked straight into the camera, relaxed, with a confident smirk, he definitely enjoyed what he was doing.

The video was extremely accurate, he had even subtitled it and that meant he had clearly in mind the effect images and words had to have on the viewers. He wanted to be heard and understood.  I had never seen him before, so I checked his name as it sounded, somehow, strangely familiar. I am sure you have clearly understood that it was our guy we are talking about. It could not be otherwise, in fact , I had not  noticed before, but even in that video there was the stamp of his rebellious nature, that sordid pleasure one must feel in daring break the rules, even for one second.

The second I am talking about is the one I resolved about censoring, as while talking about Dopamine effects, he had  thought necessary to mention and show  the name of a porn site. I  had not said anything to him, after all, it was just a second. “He’ll never notice it”, I was sure. Well, he did notice it. One day, in fact, he came to visit me, claiming his second back.  He did his best to explain his reasons. Apparently, without that precious second the balance of his work so meticulously achieved was lost forever. He was absolutely determined, and as he didn’t mean to listen to my reasons, so, I had to tell him that the price for having that second back was being out of the competition.

It was an effective argument, and you know why? Because he cared about it and a lot. He cared, and when he learned he was among the 25 finalists in the school, he soon shot the most amazing video demanding the vote of his mates, friends and relatives for the following step of the competition, showing a great deal of pride for his achievement. He cared, as when we eventually were in more friendly terms he helped me promote the final award ceremony. He cared, as in that ceremony I noticed he was definitely the most elegant among the finalists and eventually, no need to say, he won.

Few days after his victory in a video on TikTok he had made for other exciting plans he was pursuing, he mentioned these four crazy months of his young life . “We decide what we want to be” was the moral he had learned from this adventure and now he had decided that it was much more rewarding being constructive than destructive, that he could also be, nay, he was an “excellence” of this school and even more. Way to go, Gabriele!

A Glimpse of Truth

Back to school after Christmas break: new rules, old madness. Post-Christmas  on-line staff meetings  have reached unbelievable levels of senselessness this year. Here is a sheer example.

Principal (smiling): Welcome back to school. Can you hear me? Yes? Good. I have had some problems with my connection this morning……So, we are gathered here today to implement the new dispositions from the Ministry of Education which have just been dispatched……

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Maria) : Here is yet another scam! To be sure. Ready?😤

 ( Mick) : You bet!😤

Principal:  (keeps talking)….. the teaching activity will continue in presence, with the obligation to wear FFP2 type masks….

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

( Mick) : With 220.000 cases per day, in presence!!!😤

 (Susan) : They want us dead!😲

 (Maria) : Wear the mask and go to war, well, I mean, to work! 😆

Principal: (keeps talking ) …….yet, I am afraid  we have no such masks at the moment. We have piles of boxes full of chirurgical masks, actually, nobody wants to wear, but I am confident  FFp2 masks will be sent soon.

Mick: Soon, when?🤔

Principal ( a bit annoyed): I don’t know. Soon!

Mick : That means never.😤

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Marco): Good point, Mick!👏

 (Susan): So it is mandatory to wear masks we are not provided with!

 (Maria) : What did I tell you?

(Lory) : I have been wearing FFp2 masks since… ever, so  far nothing new .

(Marco) : If it is mandatory at work, I expect  my employer  to  provide for them.🤨

Pricipal: (still talking)“that is all………..Do you have any comment?”

Teachers (at unison) : Nope.😑

Principal: (hesitating) And…….there is the question  of  the recess. Starting from tomorrow students will be allowed to consume their  meals only  outside school. As a distance of at least two meters is to be  guaranteed……

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Maria) : Two meters?🙄

(Lory) : Can you figure the scene?

(Marco) : It may work only if we were provided with a whip too!!

(Mrs Tink) : We could make marks on the ground!

(Susan) : We could even play green light/red light like in Squid Game!🤪

(Mrs Tink ): I would like to be that doll! 🤣

(Mick) : A class a  thirty should require 150 square meters to keep such distance, multiplied by 26 makes……………3.900 square meters!😧

Principal (keeps talking): ………. the mask outdoors can  be  lowered only for the time strictly necessary to eat meals….

Mrs Tink: What if it rains?😒

Principal: In case of rain, students  will remain inside the school premises.  Of course, they won’t be allowed to have their meals, unless  the two meter  distance is  kept.

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Susan) : So now you need two meter distance to eat, after having  abolished school distancing. This is madness.

(Mick) : I will never be in class while they eat, for sure.

(Marco) : This is just ridiculous!😤

Principal (scanning the screen) Any questions?

Teachers ( at unison) Nope.😑

Principal: Yet.…we have studied  a way to save  recess………….😏

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

( Mick) : Have they? I can’t way a second more!🤨

 (Maria) : Are you ready for another chaotic procedure?

Principal: First of all, the rooms occupied by the students are to be carefully ventilated….

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Marco): nothing new, what have we been doing so far?

(Susan): there is more, for sure.

Principal (keeps talking) : ……………. student could  have  their  snacks  in turn….. in alternate rows,  and …. in each row………..every two desks . Of course, they will never  have to move from  the assigned station and they will be allowed to lower their masks  only for the time necessary to eat.

Mrs Tink: but as we have only 20 minute recess,15, actually, or less if you consider the time we need to have the rooms ventilated, they would have only 3 minutes to eat, more or less.😮

Principal: More, Mrs Tink,  as there are many of them quarantined  and follow classes from remote.

Mary: But they will come back from their quarantines sooner or later!

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Mrs Tink) : I don’t give a damn, I will let them starve .😈

(Susan)     : So will I. What have we become? Guardians? Cops? Janitors?

Principal (cutting short): ……talking about quarantines, I want to remind you that with two Covid cases in the same class, on-line teaching must be provided for those who have not had their booster dose yet . In  case more than  120 days have passed  since the vaccination cycle has been completed or virus recovery, the quarantine will last 10 days and it will be possible to come back to school only after being tested negative.

Mick: And what about the others?

Principal :  All the others will continue the  activities in presence wearing  FFp2 masks for 10 days . If the cases in the same class are three, on-line learning will be provided for ten days for the entire class.

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Mrs Tink) :More than 120, less than 120….I am lost!😵

 (Susan) : My head spins.😵‍💫

Mick: But what about the matter of privacy? We had been clearly told at the very beginning  of the school year that we were ABSOLUTELY forbidden to make enquires  in matter of vaccines, and now I am entitled to pry even  into the timing of their choices!😠

Principal: Things change!

Teacher WhatsApp chat (Mick): For worse!😠

Principal: One thing more….😇

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Susan): it’s not over yet!

(Maria): this is a nightmare!😲

Principal: Well, in case, you, dear teachers,  haven’t  had  your booster dose yet  and more than 5 months have passed since your last jab, if  you are quarantined (hesitates) …ehm… you  won’t be paid……ehm…. for the time you have to stay at home (coughs).

Mrs Tink: What?🤬 You mean that if a couple of these brats from one of my classes are infected, I  may end up quarantined  and unpaid, despite my booster dose has been scheduled for the end of the month,  because more than 5 months have passed?

Principal: It is the law.😑

Mrs Tink: it is the law of two days ago, nonetheless,  my Green Pass won’t expire before February.😠

Principal (smiling): Sorry I can’t hear you. There must be some problems with the line again. I see you want ask que…..que……..stions, but , really………. I can’t hear……………. you. (The image freezes. The principal vanishes).

Teacher WhatsApp chat:

(Susan) :This is outrageous!😤

  (Mick ) :This cannot be endured!😤

  (Maria) : This cannot be borne!😡

 (Mrs Tink )  : This …….ahhh…I see  there is a chance I might anticipate my jab on January 20th   6:15 p.m.!

  (Susan) : It’s today!

 (Mrs Tink) : So, I have only 20 minutes…. Byeee!!!🥺🙋‍♀️

 After all the show……oopss…… school must go on.

Malaussène Scheme

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.

There is Always a Bright Side

Here comes the time of yearly wrap up, and now that I think about it, I have really no  particular achievement to share. This blogging year has been pretty much  the same as the previous one: not many posts written, same amount of visitors, the “Mythical Method”” is still the most read article, which makes me ponder a bit, actually, as that means that I have been unable to write something as interesting or useful since 2014, ah, yes, I have one thing worthy to be mentioned, I reached level 10.000 of Candy Crush, which makes me a world class player indeed.

 I have nothing more to say about  the topic, but  I would like to make a wrap up still on the positive side  of this pandemic year –  there is always a bright sight even in the darkest moments -,  as resilience made me develop new interests, habits, opportunities,  some of which will not be altered, I hope, when everything ends, because it will end someday.  So, here is my top five list of facts, for which I have to thank Covid 19:

N°5 I  SAVED  A LOT OF MONEY ON MAKEUP .  As I wear a mask most of the day,  lipstick has become useless. Why should one put on something nobody can see and that, besides, stains the mask?  Talking  about stains, the first time I saw a friend of mine taking off her mask, I found it so repulsive, as there were not only the marks of  red lipstick left on it,  but also those  of brown foundation. No need to say,  I immediately dropped using foundation myself. When we wear masks, after all, only our eyes can be seen, so make up must focus on eyes mostly, any other effort is a waste of time. On this purpose I have watched an endless gallery of tutorials on how to obtain a glam,  sexy  smokey  eye effect with lots of glitter, which, I might rightly define chic, but not that fitting for one day at school. What a shame.

N°4 MY SKIN QUALITY IMPROVED DESPITE MASK ALLERGY. I have spent a fortune on masks as I soon developed a tremendous mask allergy, which took the form of a sort of acne or rosacea on my  nose and cheeks. After many months of skin disaster, during which I had to use topical antibiotic and cortisone,  I came across a blessed cream : Ceravè ( I don’t know if it has the same name outside Italian borders). Well , “cera” is the Italian word for wax and this is exactly the effect produced on your face and body: a soft , moisturising wax which forms a barrier between skin and mask. I have not had a single blemish on my face since I started to use it.

N°3 STAFF MEETINGS AND SCHOOL MEETINGS OF ANY KIND PLANNED FROM REMOTE ONLY.  Schooling has been in presence these last months, but all meetings have been planned from remote to avoid dangerous school gatherings. This means  I can now  enjoy a certain freedom during these inexorable rituals, which cadence teachers’ lives , as they have  become the occasion to put into practice all those little tricks I have learnt from my students during  online classes: freeze  effects when boredom reigns, so you sneak out  and make a coffee;  disturbing noises whenever you are asked to give your comment;  pretending the line does not work if you are caught unprepared because you were somewhere else, or just quitting unseen if the session  is too prolonged.  

N ° 2 I  LEARNT NEW TEACHING TECHNIQUES. During online classes months, I had to reorganize my way of teaching and communicating in order to be more effective, as the atmosphere and learning environment is not the same as sitting in a classroom with lecturers and classmates. I imagined that my words needed to go hand in hand with images in order to be catchy. Hence, I have learned to use GIMP, a cross-platform image editor, to make my power- points as attractive as possible. I have now become addicted to GIMP. I could spend hours and hours refining, cutting, colouring, giving effects, editing pictures. GIMP is my new totem.

N°1 THE KITCHEN HAS DEFINITELY BECOME MR RUN’S KINGDOM.  Weren’t my husband named Mr Run, he would certainly be known as Mr Cook. Cooking has always been one of his greatest passions, which he develops to such a level of accuracy and perfection , that could actually be considered a professional on this matter to all effects . We have dozens and dozens of pots, pans , the most disparate cooking tools, one of which, in particular, has always  been the target of my mockery,  as to my eyes  it completely useless – we have two actually – : a sort of big plastic spoon with a slit, with which you can divide the yolk from the egg white . It is a must have, he assures. When lockdowns came to an end and I was back to school in presence, as my husband was still allowed to work from home,  I thought it had arrived the right time to make a definite handover of kitchen responsibilities. Nobody  has ever regretted my cooking talents so far, if there had ever been any.

That’s all for this year. I hope we will be able to see the end of this endless tunnel as soon as possible. Happy 2022 everyone!!!

Lady Bracknell’s Wisdom

II do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)

Far-sighted  Lady Bracknell had wisely identified the virus which would have endangered her world made of privileges one day: education. Masses could not constitute a problem so long they were kept ignorant, hence, untouched by schooling which was spreading in the 19th century. Just  like any other virus, Lady Bracknell thought it needed to be circumscribed otherwise: 

“… it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)

Hence, if education  were effective in England as elsewhere,  it would threaten the established order, Lady Bracknell feared. And the grand lady was right to be worried, because this is exactly what happened in the following decades of the early twentieth century. Education actually tampered worldwide ignorance  making no distinction amongst gender, social class and colour of the skin, thus providing access to that “social elevator” thanks to which anybody could be allowed to reach a station different from where he was placed at birth. Till something changed. Lady Bracknell, as conscience of the advanced “Western civilization”, made her voice  be heard again: “ Are you really  sure that increasing to such extent the number of educated people would result into an improvement of mankind? Can’t you see the dangers of giving anybody the tools to fully understand the schemes on which societies are founded?  You mean to fight ignorance, and this is commendable, but then, in such world of cultivated people, who would accept to stay at the bottom of the social ladder– unless you admit  immigrants in your “advanced countries”, who, on the other hand, once part of the democratic educating system you planned, would also expect to advance socially eventually? “

When these kind of doubts started to surface towards the end of the twentieth century, it was too late to  go back. The right to education  for anybody could not be discussed or circumscribed again to station, gender etc. , hence, other ways should have been found to satisfy that conscience with its ominous speculations.  Eventually, three strategies were detected : a) re-defining the objectives of education and educators; b) proving that education was not the only “social elevator”; c) lowering learning standards.

If the sacred fire of teaching placed you in a school, because you romantically thought to educate, forge personalities or simply to  give the basis for future opportunities, I am sure you have grown a bit disappointed, like myself, as today  a teacher is mostly required to be an entertainer. The quality of courses is measured on how lively and fun these are perceived . That is why we are kindly suggested  to get a degree at the Barnum Circus Academy , which we eagerly do and you know why?  For fear of being labelled with scarlet letter “B” of boring. If you demand neatness, correctness, insight you are BO-RING. And what about the knowledge of dates and rules? SACRILEGE!!!! Knowledge has no longer reference points such as time or space, it ..floats in the air.  After all, is it really important to know when  the French Revolution  took place? Isn’t all the effort to memorize dates a waste of  time ? It seems it is, underestimating the fact that, for example, while memorizing you could notice that the date in question is  a sequence of 789 (1789), thus stimulating the neurons which rule associations and being able even to create nets of knowledge. In fact, I could also venture to say  that 100  years before another important revolution had taken place: the Glorious Revolution and compare the two. With one effort, two dates and two revolutions.  But it seems I am obsolete in having such expectations and this why the majority of our students roams in “meaninglessland”, as they  have grown unable in time to give the necessary  time and space frame to what they apprehend. Those dots of knowledge, if not connected, end up inevitably engulfed  by the abyss of ignorance.

Of course, any measure of learning,  such as tests or more, must take into consideration the sensibility of the student, who must never perceive that measurement as too oppressive or frustrating . Homework is mostly seen unnecessary and pointless and should never conflict with the truly useful time our students spend in their many activities. When I try to make my point asking if Usain Bolt would have been such a champion anyhow without training , they are all aware that talent is not enough to reach such goal. “Well, learning is the same”, I reply . “What did you say?” Ah, BO-RING.

Maybe they are right. I am boring. After all, our society has opened to a myriads of “working” opportunities which are not strictly connected  with schooling. The new “professions” such as youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker etc. provide this generation with what they believe to require : money and visibility. Here in Italy, for example,  being a “tronista” has been one the most craved “positions” amongst the youngsters these last 20 years. A “tronista” is a young  man or a woman  who sits on a throne for weeks till she/he decides to pick one among the many suitors who are, episode after episode, eliminated. If this is what they have in mind, how many chances do I have to make them be interested in what and epiphany is, for example? Epiphy…..what?

That is why, we teachers have given up in time. We have given up tilting at windmills preaching effort and dedication  and accepted to do what we are demanded : lowering learning standards and we did it, no need to say, with the approval and great satisfaction of parents or at least the majority of them. Those parents believe that the aim of education is just getting the diploma, what we call here contemptuously “a piece of paper”. That diploma is nothing but a toolbox ,and what makes the difference is the number of the tools you have collected during the school years, rather than the box itself. If the toolbox you are given is just an empty box, unless the student in question is a youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker, “tronista” or any other excellence of this “social” era , he’ll need money and time to obtain those tools, in short, those who have means and connections can anyhow manage their way in the world , while all the others will be left behind to follow their dreams of effortless success.  So, after more than one hundred years it is reasonable to say that Lady Bracknell’s fears have been crushed: the privileges of the upper classes are secured today more than ever. The wise lady can look at the future with great confidence.

The Labyrinth of Knossos

Have you tried to talk to an operator these days? One thing is for sure, you need a lot of time and patience, the patience of Job at least. In fact, when the recorded voice starts to speak with that gentle, hypocrite tone of one who pretends to be of help, while, in truth, means only to confound and make you give up, you are well aware that a very long journey is about to begin.

Press 1, press 2, 3,4,5….9, the numerous options are only a way to distract from the only and real object of your search, which they know well to be: a flesh and blood operator. Instead, if you are lucky enough, you may end up attempting to make useless conversation with a virtual dog named Toby, which seems to have been created only with the purpose to make you feel dummy.  Yet, we know, we feel, that the flesh and blood operator of our dreams is somewhere there and we keep searching in that labyrinth of Knossos, made up by the alternatives that we are generously given, but no way. Heaven forbids, that you press the wrong number!  You’ll find yourself with only two options left: starting again from square 1 or giving up. I often give up, I have to confess.

It is the very same story whenever you need to talk with your bank, insurance, hospital, principal : you always find a wall in the form of a switchboard before you. No need to say, all categories but one: teachers.Teachers are required to be available 24 / 7. We must be ready to  inform, listen, reassure, pacify, advise ( even on fashion matters in my case) any time. This happens as  the norm that regulates our duties in this matter is ambiguous. It generically says that we must keep the lines of communication with parents open, but they end up to be so open that, eventually, we can be reached through meetings, mail, voice mail, WhatsApp,  phone calls, even stalking if necessary; festivity included, of course. If a parent believes to have an  urgent need to confer with a teacher, the latter is expected to be at the parent’s disposal.

The point is that since the advent of the electronic register the lines of communications should have been open enough to limit such pressing requests only to extraordinary events. Families would be constantly informed about grades, comments about grades, lesson topics, school attendance, homework, activities and more, if they read the electronic register. But they don’t. In fact, I always have an endless line of people who want to talk to me anyhow.

Hence, I believe there is only a way to put an end  to all this : a switchboard for us teachers too, after all, I don’t think we are less deserving than other categories. Once skimmed our agenda from the unnecessary meetings, we should be able to focus only on the situations that really require our attention and effort.  I figure it might work like this:

Voice mail: welcome to Mrs Tink’s parent-teacher communication area; if you want to be informed about your son’s grades, press 1.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 1): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to get information about your son’s school attendance, press 2.

Mrs Tink’s voice( after pressing2): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to get information about course books and syllabus, press 3.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 3): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to talk about teaching methods, personal experiences and suggestions, press 4.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 4): Dear parent, you can book an appointment through the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to book an appointment  with Mrs Tink, press 5.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 5): Dear parent, you can book an appointment with Mrs Tink through the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you do really want to talk to Mrs Tink, press 6.

The line goes dead.🤭

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.

Smashing Mr Thornton

I couldn’t believe my eyes  while I was reading a comment of one of my students to a post on Gaskell’s “North and South”. It was not a comment, actually, but rather, a deliberate attempt to pull apart piece after piece the romantic aura that surrounds Mr Thornton,  who actually shares the top step of the podium along with Mr Darcy for the most iconic and beloved male character of 19th century  English literature. He found faults in a man who has always been considered fault proof; he regarded weak the one who has always been the epitome of strength for any woman; he even found immoral traits in the uncontroverted  picture  and quintessence of  moral behaviour.

LADIES (angry): To the gallows!!!” “Blasphemy!!🤬🤬🤬

MRS TINK : “But, my dear ladies, calm down! I believe that even  this irreverent  young  man has the right to be tried first, so let’s hear what he has to say. He asserts that our minds have been clouded by the romantic charm of this character – well, that could be, especially since  Mr Thornton took the semblance of Richard Armitage, we must admit it –  and that, let me read, “the man appears systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”.

LADIES (super angry):To the gallooooows!!!🤬🤬🤬

MRS TINK : C’mon ladies, don’t rush into conclusion. He may have some good points! Let him speak his mind first and eventually we will decide what to do. Just cool down!(whispers) Ohhh, good ….so, he was just saying that some of Mr Thornton’s decisions were wrong…..

STUDENT (aside): All!😑

MRS TINK (To the student): Oh! Shut up! I’m m trying to save you from this angry bunch of ladies!🤨

STUDENT (boldly to the ladies): It is under everybody’s eye  that Mr Thornton’s business fails, can you prove the contrary?😏

MRS TINK and The Ladies: No, we can’t. But…..😧

STUDENT (more audaciously): Furthermore, he does not prevent the strike and hires the Irish in the mill provoking violent reactions.😏

MRS TINK🤨 : How could he have prevented the strike? He had no means to give the rise in salary the workers demanded and he was not alone in this, after all, there were other manufacturers.

STUDENT: “Yes,  but he was the most influent one, wasn’t he the magistrate of Milton? But, I have not finished yet. He proposes to Margaret even if he knows that she will probably refuse him and then he commits an abuse of power deciding not to investigate the same Margaret!😧

LADIES (in unison):  But he did it for love! He wanted to protect her! How insensitive!😮

STUDENT : I know, but that was actually a crime, or do you have another word to call it?😏

LADIES: We cannot listen to this nonsense any longer!😤😤😤

STUDENT (raising his voice): One more thing! He does not join his brother-in law’s speculation  and doing so, not only he loses all his wealth, but he also does not overcome the trauma of his father’s death. The very few good decisions such as hiring Higgins, for example, derive, directly or indirectly, from Margaret. Please forgive me ladies, but I did find hilarious seeing your romantic hero, the strong self-made man, the passionate lover with the endless sideburns, saved by a presumptuous 20-year-old girl from the South. Now I’m done. Thank you.😏😑😑😑

LADIES:(silence)😲😲😲

MRS TINK: (trying to break the silence). So you mean that Thornton is a loser .🤨

STUDENT: That’s what I mean.😑

MRS TINK: Well, I guess you should have thought about what makes Mr Thornton a loser first, in your eyes at least . To make you understand my point, I want to compare him to one of the greatest “losers” in world literature.

STUDENT: Who is it?🤔

MRS TINK: Hamlet. If you remember his story, we may say that Hamlet, to use your own words, appears “systematically unable to take a single good decision in any field of his life”: father, mother, Ophelia, the revenge plans etc.  He, actually, never truly acts, and if he does, it’s just because he cannot avoid it. Three seconds after talking to his father’s ghost, the initial flame of rage starts to put out and soon he feels unfit for his demand of revenge. Even in the last act, when he finally revenges his father’s death killing his uncle, he doesn’t even know how he found himself in that situation, as the duel with Laertes is actually his uncle’s trap in order to kill him. Have you ever considered Hamlet a loser?🤨

STUDENT: A victim maybe?🤔

MRS TINK: In a way he is a victim, but he is the victim of his conscience and conscience , he says, makes us all cowards, that is, unable to act freely, because we cannot avoid the burden of the moral implications of our actions. The ethical dilemma between what is right or wrong consumes our will, and thus “ the native hue of resolution, is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. Undoubtedly, the name of the comet star that guides Mr Thornton’s action is: ethics. He always tries to do what is right, even if he knows that it will not end up as he wishes, as in the case of Margaret’s rejection or when he hires the Irish. Had he been ruthless, he would have employed them much before, it is also because of this delay in taking this decision that he loses all. It’s in this constant search for the correct thing to do, his attempt to overcome the trauma of his father’s death.🤨

STUDENT(puzzled): So you mean that ethics and success cannot go hand in hand?🤔

MRS TINK: Correct.🙄

STUDENT: And that Mr Thornton‘s comet star is ethics.🤔

MRS TINK: Exactly.🙄

STUDENT: So, he is a loser.😑

MRS TINK😒: If you measure a man by means of his profits, yes, he is. But a man is more than the money he can make. I’m talking about other qualities such as sensibility, reliability, courage, sacrifice, the capacity to love; Mr Thornton is all this and more. Hence, he could never be a loser for us all, my dear. Never.😍😍😍

LADIES: To the gallows?😡😡😡

MRS TINK: No…….Student, stand up! You are sentenced to watch the BBC series again twice and read the book. You will produce then another comment on the topic and if we can spot some evidence of your redemption, we might even let you live. Off you go!

(Exeunt)