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Summer is a time of holidays and lightness, so I allow myself the luxury of reflections on the school from the right distance.

I start almost as a game with questioning what is the etymology of the term “school”. I read on the Treccani website: “Term derived from the Latin schŏla (from the Greek scholé), which originally meant (as otium for the Latins) leisure, pleasant use of one’s intellectual dispositions, regardless of any need or practical purpose, and later the place where one expects to study, meaning the latter in which it is still in use.”.

I discover with surprise the beauty of a word: a time and a space free from profit dedicated to the development of their own interests and aspirations. I like the expression “free time” and it makes me smile because today no one would associate the idea of free time to school. In your free time you go to the cinema, you go out with friends, you listen to music, you play sports, you read novels, you don’t study. The study is the time of fatigue aimed at the “practical purpose” of training for future work.

Perhaps the original meaning of the word has never been realized.

Since ancient times and until not many decades ago the school was intended for those who could afford a free time because not forced to earn bread. Today the school has fairly become a right for everyone. But both in the elite school of the past and in the school for all “the pleasant use of one’s intellectual dispositions, regardless of any need or practical purpose” is not realized.

In the far away centuries education was a monopoly of religious power which, often allied to the political one, has always kept well the reins of formation. Its emblem is the control over the texts, which becomes particularly rigid with the invention of the press, so as to bring the Church to the institution of the Index. The only exception seems to have been ancient Greece in which democracy was born and one of apparently liberal formation. But the pederastia associated with paideia is the mirror of an even more severe negation of the freedom to develop one’s own identity.

I do not want here to deal with the history of education, even if it would be an interesting research, I simply think that the school, as outlined by its etymology, has never been realized and still it is not the case nowadays.

Article 33 of our Constitution states that “art and science are free and its teaching is free”. It’s a beautiful article, but what happens in reality? What is the real purpose of the training promoted by the State?

Unfortunately our school is not at all free and does not seem to aim to develop personal intellectual dispositions far from practical purposes. The introduction of alternating school work, transformed into the softening acronym PCTO (Pathways for Transversal Competences and Orientation), is the most obvious indicator of what is actually the purpose of education: to train future workers able to move from one activity to another without too many obstacles. The school must provide forces ready to face, with all the necessary tools, in an increasingly unstable and precarious labour market. That’s the logic of corporate school!

School is an institution of the state and as such can only be an expression of the politics of that particular state. If politics does not recognize the importance of free development, without practical purposes, of the identity of every human being will never be able to promote a true human formation.

Far be it from me any idea of privatization of education! I remain firmly convinced of the need for a public school, free and open to all, but I think that, for training to be truly valid, we should build a society and a State that recognises the importance of the realization of every human being.

For this reason, another problematic aspect linked to the terms “freedom of teaching” must be addressed. Are we sure that freedom is the most important element of teaching? Perhaps freedom is only attainable when one’s human identity is fully realized. If a teacher thinks that students are bowls to be filled, if he thinks that their identity arises from what he will put inside those bowls, he will never be able to see and develop their “intellectual dispositions”. What freedom can we give ourselves as teachers if we do not have a clear understanding of the human reality that we face? If human beings are seen as the cogs of a mechanism that must perpetuate itself, a true freedom will never be attainable but only a simulacrum of it.

The school, like all institutions, identifies with the figure of the father who draws, sometimes even in good faith, the future of his son and does not know how to give up his authority and power to step aside and become brother of the son leaving him free to build his own life. The institution cannot allow a transformation that would put an end to its power of control.

So, what can we do inside this cramped space, the only remaining sense of the etymology of the word school?

Perhaps the girls and boys who attend our classrooms are not fully aware of this state of affairs, but certainly their living the school as an imposition and not as a “free time” in which to develop their aspirations is the signal of a deep intuition.

How can we ensure that a maybe unconscious intuition is transformed into an alliance in the search for a real freedom that contains in itself the realization of human identity? We should set in motion a gentle revolution that starts from our classrooms, building real relationships, beyond the roles created, in which to put ourselves at stake first, consistently showing girls and boys what we are before even what we know.

As the beautiful letter of Angela appeared on this blog suggested, we should stand by the students to accompany them towards a future that they will then build on their own, different from what any father has already preordained for them. We should accompany them as long as our guide is necessary to allow them to open their eyes and then let them continue their own research, firm on their own legs. We should tell them that they have the difficult but fascinating task of building the future by fighting the deceptions of the present.

We should push them to the construction of utopia, that non-place that will be the time of their lives.

Mariantonietta Rufini

Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article


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