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A difficult school year has just ended, made up of physical distances, fragmented times, endless hours spent in front of the computer. Difficult for me as a teacher, but especially for them, girls and boys who have had to deal with a different way of living the school and their own life.

The fateful moment of the polls has arrived and, like every year, I had to listen to words that I would like to hear no more: “They don’t want to study!”

But why doesn’t a kid study? What are the causes of the loss of interest in the world that is behind that ‘lack of motivation’ written on so many school reports? It is a statement that hurts me, it makes me feel all the impotence of the school in front of the life of a teenager who should be full of desire to find out and who instead gives up on studying.

This year, I too had students who have not found the desire to study, were not cheerful and happy for this. Someone lived in silence and solitude this strange period, someone else was a bit arrogant and provocative, maybe listening to music or spending time with some online games during DAD (distance learning). But all those who did not find the desire to study had in their eyes a suffering, alarm bell of something that was lost. I wonder where those sometimes nagging ‘why’ of a little child curious of anything has gone.

The school should have the function, as an institution of the Republic, to implement that beautiful article 3 of the Constitution that promises “to remove obstacles … that, by effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person…”. But what equality and what freedom promotes a school that is limited to state, in front of a student in difficulty, that “they do not want to study”?

It is not about the antipathy to one subject or the other, the difficulties of some in mathematics or in English, although even in these cases I think that curiosity can be stimulated. The ones who don’t want to study, simply don’t study. They find no sense in the thoughts they listen to and which unfold before their eyes from the pages of a book. They lost the desire to know.

That loss is the symptom of a greater and more devastating loss: the disappearance of trust in others, of the hope that someone can respond to those “whys” that were born spontaneous, the renunciation of the desire for relationships made of interest and love. A loss that has roots outside and perhaps before school, but that the school should have the task of repairing.

And what does the school do? In front of a student in serious difficulty I heard colleagues say, in view of a final question, “ask her questions so that it goes wrong”! An elderly and esteemed colleague quietly declares, without arousing reactions from the teaching staff, that during the lessons there is no time for listening!

Perhaps some teachers have lost the sense of their profession… “remove obstacles…”. It is not an easy task and certainly the school cannot do it alone, it should be supported by good politics that finally applies that wonderful article 3 giving the necessary time and resources and building around the school a network of figures – psychologists, social workers, associations – that collaborate to the removal of the “obstacles that prevent the full realization of the person”.

But the politics of recent decades have thought well to reduce the resources needed to give an answer to those who do not have, for their misfortune, a background that allows them to face the commitment to education, that “personal experience, technical or cultural training, and anything else (background, traditions, conditions, circumstances) contribute to the formation of a person”.

Environment of origin, traditions, conditions, circumstances. Words placed in brackets in the Treccani vocabulary, but which are the crux of the problem because they contain the reality that teenagers bring to the classroom and that we should keep in mind, honestly recognizing our shortcomings, instead of liquidating the problem with the same statement of a teacher from a hundred years ago.

Then there are the good teachers for whom a sufficiency is not denied to anyone. They are the heirs of the “political six” (the sufficiency guaranteed to students) which now is not political at all because it is no longer supported by a commitment that demands a serious transformation of the education system. It is a message that leaves the awareness of not having earned that six, of not having been enriched through the school experience. That six given without any commitment only increases the sense of impotence and inadequacy, but also the disappointment towards those who should have given the tools for that enrichment and did not.

They are two sides of the same coin in which there is no real and deep vision of the students’ needs.

This was an important year for me, it gave me time to think about the sea of contradictions in which the school is immersed and in which I tried to swim putting aside the anxiety for those pages of the non-opened book, to find time for listening and some answers when I found them.

It is true that everyone is committed to ensuring that school continues to exist, but perhaps this commitment has not led to a sincere consideration on the flaws of a system that fails to ensure those equal opportunities it should give.

DAD has meant, for those who did not have a proper background, in terms of material resources and personal conditions, a serious loss. Try to follow seven hours of lessons on the cell phone screen! Some students did it because it was the only tool they had. Some have missed days of lessons because they did not have a computer, and the cell phone, which now all of us have, did not have enough giga to allow a stable connection. The school has arranged as much as possible to provide devices, but those who could not keep up with others have certainly not increased their motivation.

To this must be added in some cases complex and suffocating family relationships, not easy to bear.

Those who continued to follow without losing blows were the ‘good ones’, those who did not require a great effort on our part. It’s in front of those who have not found the desire to study that we should stop and ask ourselves whether the failure was on the school.

The analysis is still long and we will find a way to deepen it, for now I conclude with the words of a passionate teacher:

“We have to go and pick them up where they are and put them in motion pushing on the taste of learning – even ‘wasting time’ -, on the beauty of disinterested knowledge – the most revolutionary of all -, on the emotion of the discovery of their talents.” (Giuseppe Bagni and Rosalba Conserva, Insegnare a chi non vuole imparare, L’asino d’oro edizioni 2015, p.80)

We must pick them up where they are, we can’t just sit behind a desk waiting for them to come to us. We have to waste time. Sometimes you have to walk a lot to find them. But to teach it’s necessary to be great marathon runners.

Mariantonietta Rufini.

Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article


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