Monday, April 15 2024

The whole world is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and in many
countries the health crisis is still a threat. In countries where schools
are still closed, many students are left in “educational poverty” without
the means to access social distance learning. In the northern hemisphere,
the end of summer vacation this year was marked by uncertainty: will
schools reopen or not? Group chats amongst parents became panicky, leaving
those who have more than two children in difficulty to keep up! All parents
suddenly became epidemiologists, virologists, statesmen; each one shares
his or her idea, and there are many, too many opinions. From the catastrophists
point of view, for whom schools shouldn’t have been reopened until 2023, to
the moderates, who calmly state that, after reopening, it will be closed ad libitum, to the inexorable optimists, for whom the virus no
longer exists (if it ever existed to begin with!), so there was no reason not to open.

But in the sea of messenger chats in which we swam, without finding
refreshment in the heat of August, for me, a woman and a mother, it was
helpful to keep the course by focusing on those directly affected: the
schoolchildren!

We have lived without school for many months ­– without a reference point,
especially for children and teenagers. It was a void that, at the
beginning, was accepted with joy, but in the long run left them feeling
lost. Yes, lost – because we are not islands, and relationships are
essential for growth and for defining our identity as men and women.

This is why the school, before being a place of transmission of knowledge,
should be a place of personal development. If you simply see it as a
didactic field, it is easy to fall into the race for efficiency, which
unfortunately in our country is like a mirage. Then you think only about
sanitizing, re-arranging the classes, buying single student desks (with or
without wheels…), and a thousand other organizational issues.

If this were the case, then you could do schooling using the now-familiar
social distance learning: students at home and teachers at home, but how
would they relate? Where would be the transmission of that knowledge, not
only technical, but also human, which comes from the experience of the
adult who is basically holding the lives of our children in his hands?
Where would be that wonderful duty for the teacher, which is to educate, to
bring out the best and the beautiful from each student, and to impress, to
leave an impression not only on the mind but also on the soul?

We are going through a crisis, but a crisis requires real renewal when it
passes. How could the school renew itself? We could think of it as of a
living organism, made up of people: the pupils, who are the
generation of the future, and the teachers, who have to take care of them
(and the parents, too, why not?), and knowledge is like the blood that
circulates in the organism to give children vital energy to face life’s
many challenges. Young people are an explosive force who will be one day
adults, and who – like totipotent cells that must differentiate themselves
in order to have each their own specialization – each of them must find
their own identity.

Everyone is wonderfully unique, full of strength, life,
and enthusiasm; they are like sponges that absorb everything they see. For
this reason, the best teacher is the example; school should not be a boring
explanation of concepts, but rather should teach about beauty – the beauty
of life. And this cannot be conveyed by books, but by the testimony that a
teacher should give, so as to capture the pupils, motivating them and
grabbing their interest. From their interest in life then spontaneously
arises the curiosity for knowledge; if, instead, we start from having to know, everything becomes unbearably boring and
pointless, and this results in the apathy that many young people display
nowadays.

But the testimony we are talking about is made of flesh, so it cannot be
transmitted online. Rather, it passes through the physical presence of the
teacher, who has to be he himself a lover of life, truth, and people.

Technology helps, and it helps a lot! Thanks to technology, our children
were able to move forward and finish last year’s courses. However, abusing
technology in an already hyper-technological society can only lead to
loneliness and prevent that direct contact (but always 1.5 meters distanced
in Covid times…) from which the example arises and which propels the
passion for knowledge, something that will never come out of a computer.

Those classrooms, empty for months, those hallways left deserted are, at
last, again full of voices of excited children running through them and
steps of boys and girls full of adolescent emotions, who are the future of
our societies. Let’s take care of them!

Reopening schools was important: it meant giving young people hope, but not
on the whim of a mere slogan like “everything will be all right” (“Andrà
tutto bene” in Italy) that sounds a bit like a happy ending of a movie. If
you have experienced the fear of Covid or the death of a relative, that
phrase is simply not enough. Our children have a thirst for hope, which is
not given with optimistic phrases, but is transmitted by voice, by actions.
And they hunger for the meaning of life and for someone to give them a
taste of it.

This new start, uncertain and unstable, with many schools still unprepared
to welcome students, with classes half in attendance and half at home with
bad internet connections, with teachers who see their enthusiasm undermined
by the thousands of bureaucratic and practical difficulties they face, it
teaches us that life does not always run smoothly, but that even in the
most difficult situations you cannot lose hope, and you have to move
forward with the means you have, doing the best you can do. “He who stops
is lost,” as an old proverb goes: to start again means to grow, to get
involved in the difficulties, to take the difficult moment as an
opportunity to grow and renew oneself.

As a mother, I was happy that my daughters, started going to school again. I
saw the joy in their eyes. Now, it may have only lasted two days, but it
was really quite different than the sad faces they made in the past just
thinking about going back to school! This alone is enough to understand the
indispensable importance of school in our children’s daily life.

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