In these days I have come across the observation of Daniel Pennac on the students who “are bad at school”, those deemed “without future” that, too often, the school leaves behind, condemning them to failure at school. The author represents them as an “onion” that enters school with “several layers” of dissatisfaction and frustrations accumulated over time, brought to class as a burden hidden in the backpack, heavy and misunderstood by adults. As I read Pennac’s words, my thoughts inevitably go to the students of my Institute who, at the end of this school year, were not admitted to the next class. At the end of the polls, while in my office of the vice presidency one after the other the cold forms filled with the names of the “rejected” arrived, an obvious malaise rose together with a single question: «Why?»
The answers of my colleagues to whom I asked to explain the reasons for these failures, which seemed to me too numerous, given the complexity of the past school year, were always the same: “they do not want to study”, “they chose the wrong school”, “they had too many gaps”. In none of these answers was the pupil’s vision, the understanding or the research of what had not worked in the educational process, where the school might have been wrong, what was lost in the relationship with the student or with their family. There was no evaluation but only a negative judgment, for which the pupil was the solely responsible.
It was a very hard school year, between quarantine, lockdown and DAD (Distance Learning) the risk of nullifying the teaching action was around the corner every day even for the most methodical or motivated students, let alone for the others! To keep or build the class group at a distance, especially in the first classes that began a new school and life, without knowing each other and without being able to interact all together, would have required a didactic revolution from the teachers and an ability to be affectively present and not everyone had it.
But in a year of pandemic the educational goal of the school could really be, again, only the transmission of knowledge and skills? As if the pupils were containers to be filled, a deposit bottle, of which we do not know the experience or the reality outside the classroom, nor do we understand that that life and that reality have a fundamental weight in determining the success or not of learning. And then, the famous “competences” are linked only to knowledge, to notions? To physically and psychologically resist a world pandemic, to survive the distancing of relationships, the limitations of freedom, the family difficulties perhaps amplified by forced cohabitation, the impossibility of new encounters, to do sport, to live the “normality,” isn’t that a terrible, absolute formative experience at that age? Did we teachers really see and understand what was happening to those kids who were hiding behind an off camera? While they renounced to interact, to listen, to exclude themselves? Maybe not.
Of course, the school alone cannot load all the responsibilities, nor titanically think of solving every cultural or social problem, but I as a teacher feel all the weight of the failure of those kids who “are bad at school” and I know that finding answers to these questions is also up to me, because as Pennac says: «(…) those men and women will still have spent one or more years of their youth sitting in front of us. And it’s not a small thing a school year gone to hell: it’s eternity in a jar.»
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article