In Loco Parentis: Supervising School Trips in Italy

I wrote earlier about the traditional gita scolastica (school trip) which Italian kids take every year throughout their school careers.

This year Ross’ class, along with another class, took a three-day trip to Arezzo (the town in Tuscany where Life is Beautiful was filmed), accompanied by their three favorite teachers. During the day they visited cultural and educational sites, such as a museum of diaries. The evenings, however, became a problem. They couldn’t stay in the hotel, because the hotel owners complained that they were noisy and disturbed other guests (what did they expect when they booked in 50 teenagers?!?). So the kids roamed the town until they found a bar they liked, where they settled in and had drinks. Yes, alcoholic ones.

This isn’t in the least surprising: 15-year-olds are routinely served alcohol in Italian bars, and most of them handle it maturely. But I was surprised when Ross told me that the teachers were with them, also drinking, and everyone got a bit tiddly. I was amused to contemplate the probable results had this happened in the US: arrests and lawsuits for the teachers, and a press siege of the town and the school, with interviews with outraged parents, church leaders, and (especially!) politicians, until some other tempest in a teacup came along to distract the media’s attention.

But it seems to me that the teachers did the right thing: they were with the kids every minute of the evening, on hand in case of trouble. Although most Italian teens aren’t interested in binge drinking, the presence of the teachers undoubtedly curbed anybody who might have been so inclined. Relaxing and enjoying together with the kids, however, their disciplinary presence was low-key, so none of the kids felt any need to sneak away and get into trouble elsewhere. Most of the kids’ parents would have done exactly the same, so the teachers were truly acting “in loco parentis.” It’s amazing how well society can work when you trust to common sense and civility instead of trying to legislate everything.

Meanwhile, America continues to go to the opposite extreme. Trying to drown out distracting noise at the office the other day, I thought I’d listen to some online radio, and chose KGSR, a cool station that John introduced me to in Austin. It was morning news time in Texas, no cure for my distraction problem, especially when the top news item was that the Texas state congress had just passed a law banning “sexually suggestive” cheerleading routines (is there any other kind?) in high schools, and authorizing the Texas Education Agency to “punish” schools that allow such. Many Texans are wondering why their legislature doesn’t concentrate on more urgent and important matters.

Texas does have a common-sense approach to kids and alcohol. Although the drinking age in Texas is 21, as in every other US state, kids can go anywhere and do anything WITH their parents. Ross was allowed to accompany me (and her uncle Ian) into a tapas bar in Austin, and was even given complimentary Valentine’s Day champagne, since I am obviously her mother, and I gave permission.

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