On School Books

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.

On the Necessity of Homework (again)

homew1

Roaming here and there on the internet I have actually realized that the homework issue is not only Italian but it has become a trend topic all over the world.I had already dealt with this subject a couple of years ago, but having read such an enormous amount of “qualified” opinions lately and followed “high quality” debates on the matter, I cannot but update my point of view about it.
First of all, you have to know that last summer a serious rebellion took place in Italy against the annoying summer homework habit in particular and homework in general. This rebellion was led by many defiant parents armed of paper, cameras and Facebook . Yes Facebook, after all, any age has the kind of rebellion it deserves. However, these enlightened fathers and mothers decided to give evidence of their acts posting the letters they had sent to the teachers of their children, with which they informed them, that  they had gone on a sort of homework strike that summer, of course, giving adequate reasons. One them went viral and this is the glorious text:

Varese,  September 11th 2016,

Good morning, my name is Mario Peiretti and I am Mattia’s father. I would like to inform you that this year, like every year, my son has not done the summer homework. We have done many things over the summer, however: long cycling rides, camp life, managing the house and the kitchen. We built a new desk together and I helped him, listening and giving advice, in his primary interest: electronic programming. He has made considerable progress. I am increasingly convinced that summer homework is deleterious, in fact, I have never seen serious professionals taking  their work on holiday. You have about nine months to teach notions and culture, while I have three full months to teach him to live. I am convinced he will approach the new school year fresh and rested and therefore; more well-disposed. Several teachers, psychologists and lawyers share my thoughts. However, I am available for a meeting , if necessary. Marino Peiretti.

I am sure, those teachers were looking forward to talking to Mr Marino Peiretti. When we read such letters, we, teachers cannot but feel a little humiliated and frustrated as well. Of course, we understand that modern generations require different learning approaches, but homework cannot be considered a pointless deliberate moment of torture only. When we were students, we detested homework as well, but despite boredom, fatigue we understood that it was good for us after all.

But the point is, teachers of the world, do you want to keep on spending your time to try and convince rioting parents of the goodness of your intentions? Is this really our battle? Because, you know what? If they don’t want to do their homework, well, feel free, don’t do it ! Try to imagine, my friends, our life would improve a lot: no homework to plan or correct, no drama to face every time you find out someone who didn’t accomplish his duty, no more improbable excuses to hear ( modem implosion, permanent printer unavailability… new generation excuses, of course). Imagine, we would be loved and appreciated, we could live peacefully and maybe we could even receive thankful letters that could go viral on the internet too, with thousands and thousands of likes. Imagine. We will finally reach that state of bliss, we have always craved for, and then I’m sure, my friends, only then, “our” day will come. The day, when somebody like Matteo’s father will show up to ask your advice on how his child could improve his Maths grades, for example. That day, you will welcome him with a bright Buddha like smile and you will tell him these words: ” How strange?” ” Camping didn’t work, right?” “What about trying with fishing, this time!”