Engulfed by the news about the tragic events that have shocked the world, one of the most important events for the cultural growth of a nation is passing almost unnoticed in Italy: middle school final exams. This week (there is no start date set on national level, each institution decides on the basis of school autonomy principle) thousands of fourteen-year-olds will be confronted with their own “knowledge.” It is an important act for a community worthy of the name. It allows us to look beyond national borders to understand how much culture (be it with a capital C or not) is crucial to creating identity, the first step towards relating to other people. The study of history, ability to understand one’s own history and know that of the others are the main tools to defuse misunderstandings that can lead to racial or, what is worse, religious hatred. Dialogue and tolerance are learned in middle school and it is vital that teachers – besides teaching their subjects – emphasize also these questions.
Besides, it is no accident – on the contrary – that in areas under the control of the Islamic State, propaganda starts from schools: subjects judged as incompatible with the most rigid interpretation of the Koran are eliminated, mathematics is explained using arms. The battle for the future of Syria takes place also in the classrooms and in primary school textbooks. Children do not learn to count with the help of images of ducks, fish, apples, and cups of coffee, but images of guns, Kalashnikov rifles, swords, and fighters. The strategy of destroying the historical, artistic, and archaeological heritage is based on a similar principle too: eradicating the traces of a culture means erasing history and it is easier to subjugate a people without memory.
It happens in places where the imposition of a regime goes hand in hand with changes in teaching programs, to raise adults with no identity other than the one imposed by the regime itself The latter, in its turn, offers work and an alleged stability “in exchange”. Provided that “reason” is forgotten, along with the idea of freedom.
That is why the date of the exams should be celebrated differently, not as a routine act but as an “event” that happens every year, like a rebirth, with the same value of a birthday that celebrates life. Also didactic and educational efforts should have the same motivation, both in the classroom and in the families. But we are losing also this value, allowing listless, uninterested, inattentive, and largely ignorant pupils to pass the exams. To say that young people today are not like they used back in time is simplistic and unfair. At present, it is up to us, adults, to make them understand the value of what they are doing, if we understand it ourselves in the first place…