Tag Archives: Italian education

A Travelling Show of Italian Classic I Promessi Sposi

The weekend of October 9-10, all of downtown Lecco was the stage for the Corteo Manzoniano, a “travelling” representation of that famous piece of local literature, Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), most of whose action takes place in and around Lecco and Milan. Groups of actors in gorgeous costumes paraded among five or six fixed Read More…

The weekend of October 9-10, all of downtown Lecco was the stage for the Corteo Manzoniano, a “travelling” representation of that famous piece of local literature, Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), most of whose action takes place in and around Lecco and Milan. Groups of actors in gorgeous costumes paraded among five or six fixed stages, or acted out scenes on small travelling platforms, or on horseback.

Tradimento! (Betrayal)

shot Oct 10, 2004, 1:17 mins, 3.7 MB

The betrothed couple of the title, Renzo and Lucia, attempt to trick the priest Don Abbondio into marrying them. Don Abbondio is understandably reluctant, since Don Rodrigo (a different use of the title “Don” !), the local Spanish overlord, has sent a couple of thugs (bravi) to inform him that: “Questo matrimonio non s’ha da fare.” – “This marriage should not take place.” (Don Rodrigo wants Lucia for himself.) Don Abbondio discovers the trick in time; much yelling and confusion ensue.

The Kidnapping of Lucia

22 secs, 1.8 MB

You can’t see it in this shot, but Lucia is being grabbed and bundled into the carriage, screaming. The horses didn’t like the noise and started rearing, which was scary, but after watching the scene re-enacted, I suspected that they were very well trained to look as if they were freaking out, but were actually under the control of their driver.

Procession

31 secs, 2.5 MB

I don’t know who all these characters are, but I liked the chanting and the pretty horses. Until my cellphone rang…

La Peste

1:55 mins, 5.6 MB

The plague (peste) ravages Milan. Bodies are carried away by the cartload. A grieving mother says farewell to her young daughter, placing her body tenderly on the cart, and tells the corpse-collectors: “Come back this evening to take me, and not only.”

Parade

1:59 mins , 5.8 MB

The first character you see here (with the leather banding on his shirt) is probablyl’Innominato (the Unnamed), the bad guy who turns good. The band and the music are totally out of period, but at least they’re Lecchesi – the theater company is actually from Bergamo.

The Grim Sweepers

44 secs, 2.2 MB

These stilt-walkers closed the parade. Black and purple are the colors of mourning in Italy. I have no idea why they had brooms, except the purely practical purpose of balancing the scythes on the other end.

Integration of Muslim Students in Italian Schools

The integration of Islamic immigrants into Italian society raises thorny problems. A Milan high school has announced that this fall it will have a first-year class composed only of Muslim students, at the request of their parents. These students have completed eight years at a private Islamic school in Milan. (This school is not accredited Read More…

The integration of Islamic immigrants into Italian society raises thorny problems. A Milan high school has announced that this fall it will have a first-year class composed only of Muslim students, at the request of their parents. These students have completed eight years at a private Islamic school in Milan. (This school is not accredited by the Italian education authorities, so why are 400 students allowed to attend it? By law, all children resident in Italy must attend regularly-licensed state or private institutions.)

In the past, students of this Islamic school would either stop at 8th grade (also illegal in Italy, which currently requires school through age 15), return to their countries of origin, or continue their studies with private tutors. Their parents asked a local social organization to help create a special section in a regular Italian high school where the kids could continue their studies, be kept together as a group, and the girls (17 of the group of 20) could wear the veil. The principal of a social sciences high school and the Italian social workers saw this as a step towards integration for these kids, who come from rigidly religious families that will not allow them to mingle with Italians.

Protests were immediately raised by both political extremes, the left denouncing the initiative as racist, while the real racists of the Lega Nord thundered that this was: “A very dangerous step towards the Islamization of our society, and a deep wound to the profoundly Christian roots of our collective religious and cultural identity.”

The educational authority for the region of Lombardy has now decided that separating students on the basis of religion is unconstitutional, and the project must be halted. The Italian constitution (modeled on the American one) insists on the separation of church and state, and especially the secularity of public schools.

It’s a difficult issue. I can sympathize with the idea that it would be better to take a step, however small, towards the social integration of these kids – although segregated in the classroom (by their parents’ insistence), they would surely still manage some contact with other students in the school. Following a standard Italian curriculum with Italian teachers and in Italian would also help them to integrate. And ensuring that they continue their education is preferable to letting them drop out, especially the girls. For women, the best road out of oppression is education: educated women are far more able to stand up for themselves.

On the other hand, I don’t like the precedent that would be set. “Separate but equal” was proven a failure in the US 50 years ago, and separation of Islamic students has already been tried and abandoned in other parts of Italy. The Milanese experiment would seem to be a step in the wrong direction.

One thing I am sure of in this situation: The Italian education system is very good at social integration. If anything, it sometimes goes too far in keeping all children in the same classroom, no matter their language handicaps (e.g., brand-new immigrants) or learning disabilities. These kids don’t always get the help they need to truly integrate, and some simply get left behind. But most of the time integration works. The schools place particular emphasis on the class functioning smoothly as a social unit, which forces the kids to rub along together. And they do. Violence in schools is rare.

The students in Milan’s Islamic school, however, are being allowed to study in an apparently illegal situation which is handicapping them for life in mainstream Italy, and bypassing the social integration function of a normal (public, or properly-licensed private) Italian school. This is just plain wrong. The parents, whatever their religious beliefs, have made a choice to immigrate to Italy, and are therefore obliged to live by Italy’s laws, including those regarding their children’s schooling. Allowing them to form Islamic ghettos creates misunderstanding and conflict, and allows them to avoid truly coming to terms with the country they have chosen to live in. It’s up to the Italian government to enforce the law and get these kids into regular schools, to the long-term benefit of all.

Corriere della Sera articles (also see links on the right of that page)

Being Bilingual is Good for Your Brain

There is a deep-rooted superstition among some Italian doctors and teachers that raising a child bilingual causes the child problems, such as slower overall language development, and academic problems later in school. Fortunately, I never fell for that line, as I had done my homework about bilingualism while still pregnant (above). And it doesn’t stand Read More…

There is a deep-rooted superstition among some Italian doctors and teachers that raising a child bilingual causes the child problems, such as slower overall language development, and academic problems later in school. Fortunately, I never fell for that line, as I had done my homework about bilingualism while still pregnant (above). And it doesn’t stand up to common sense and experience – in many parts of the world, including many parts of Italy, it is very common for children to grow up speaking a local dialect or language in addition to their country’s official tongue(s). Swiss children, depending what part of Switzerland they live in, routinely speak at least two major languages – sometimes languages as unrelated to each other as French and German – and learn another one or two at school.

But I know of some multi-national families in Italy who were browbeaten into raising their children to speak only Italian at least until school age, missing the perfect opportunity for the kids to become bilingual easily and naturally. These kids as a result could not communicate with half of their blood relations, and had one parent who could not speak to them in his/her own language. How terribly sad.

Fortunately, a new study shows that being bilingual, far from being a disadvantage, is good for your brain. Now we have ammunition against stupid interference from “authorities”:

School “Mortality” in Italy

Today is the last day of school (in Lombardia). Making the local headlines yesterday was a 14-year-old girl who threw herself off a bridge, because she knew she would fail her first year of high school. Her reaction is both extreme and unusual, because failing one or more years of high school – any high Read More…

Today is the last day of school (in Lombardia). Making the local headlines yesterday was a 14-year-old girl who threw herself off a bridge, because she knew she would fail her first year of high school. Her reaction is both extreme and unusual, because failing one or more years of high school – any high school – is common in Italy, and doesn’t carry much stigma. Ross estimates that 8 or 9 of her class of 28 (including herself) are likely to flunk.

Some likely reasons for this high failure rate (or mortalita’ scolastica – “school mortality,” as it’s called) include:

Between a heavy curriculum and often-incompetent teachers, students are left to make their own way through reams of material covered badly, if at all, in class. Sometimes they are even expected to study and understand a new topic on their own, before any mention is made of it in class. The lucky ones have parents who can help them, and/or can afford to pay outside tutors for help in one or more subjects. These tutors are usually teachers themselves, either just starting out (and lacking, as yet, a permanent position), or retired, or teaching at other schools. I am tempted to wonder whether the problems outlined above are wilfully ignored because they provide extra income (tax-free, under the table) for otherwise underemployed and underpaid teachers.

Even for the kids bright enough to get through it all on their own, 34 hours a week in the classroom, plus homework, is a lot of studying. And it’s exhausting for parents to come home from their own jobs and then have to spend an hour or two getting their heads around academic subjects they haven’t touched in years, in order to help their children with homework.

No wonder we’re all completely burned out. Today’s the last day of school. All the kids will be doing something to celebrate the end of a gruelling year, whether they passed or not. We parents deserve a pat on the back as well, for all OUR hard work. In fact, we deserve a party. But I’m too tired to organize one right now.

Results

Jul 5, 2004

Ross did manage to pass her first year of high school, with three “academic debits.” This means that she has lots of homework to do over the summer, and by early September must be ready to prove to her teachers that she has done it. She’s very busy at theatre camp in the US for six weeks now, so August is going to be a hell of homework and nagging for all of us…

next: private school

Compulsory School Age, Bought Diplomas

There have been two big pieces of news in Italian education this week: The Education Ministry has announced that the age for compulsory schooling will be raised from its current 15 to 18 years. Parents and communities will be tasked with enforcing attendance, on pain of fines. (This law already exists for under-15s, though it doesn’t Read More…

There have been two big pieces of news in Italian education this week:

The Education Ministry has announced that the age for compulsory schooling will be raised from its current 15 to 18 years. Parents and communities will be tasked with enforcing attendance, on pain of fines. (This law already exists for under-15s, though it doesn’t seem to be enforced with much success.)

The law further requires that everyone leave the system with some sort of diploma or qualification. There is more flexibility in choosing which qualification you come out with, because the new law mandates complete transferability of credits between different kinds of institutions. There will also be a work-study/formal apprenticeship program, in which on-the-job experience can be translated into scholastic credits and, again, transferability between this and classroom programs is supposed to be guaranteed. I don’t see how, in practical terms, this will be accomplished. Even the “experimental” liceo artistico now has a curriculum heavy with academic subjects such as physics; how could a student transfer from an apprenticeship program INTO a liceo without the background courses needed to keep up with the current year’s work?

The other piece of news, in ironic juxtaposition with the first, has been a scandal over hundreds or thousands of high school diplomas that were purchased rather than earned. 23 people have been arrested in several cities for their involvement with accredited private schools which guaranteed a diploma for anyone willing to pay fees up to 8000 euros. The “students” never even needed to show up for a class or test; everything was taken care of, from falsified attendance records to papers and exams written for them and graded by compliant teachers. In one case, an institution was accredited on the basis of a building, complete with “students” and “teachers,” specially hired for the day.

The clients of this system were naturally wealthy; the list apparently includes the children of VIPs, and some soccer players who materially were not able to spend time sitting in a classroom. This gives no comfort about the qualifications of a bank financial adviser of our acquaintance – a former soccer player.