In recent years, in Italy and in the world, many things have changed as regards knowledge, its dissemination and the education system.
For a long time, people have spoken about school reform, one of the many cases in which Italian bureaucracy has shown its slow and backward mechanisms. If on one hand Italian students were at a disadvantage in comparison with their “foreign” fellows, because the system was too far from practice and reality, on the other hand Italian school, which has always been public and non-meritocratic, had the rare quality to teach to think. Instead of creating workers and very ambitious people to employ in the industrial sector, Italian school churned out thinkers, philosophers, cultured people who used to rely on the effort and the exercise of their minds. It was said that their fellows from Europe and the USA, who came from shorter and easier schools and had more experience thanks to internship in companies and firms, were more prepared to orient themselves in the world of work with more familiarity in comparison with the desperate philosophers looking for their identity and lost in the corridors of the Italian universities for many years.
Shortly before the start of the reforms, a subtle form of ostracism, a hidden opposition to philosophical and literal studies that was disguised as technicality, crept into school classrooms; some stated: on one hand unemployment, on the other hyperspecialization. Were these wise words?
hen people, who have become fragments, do not see the system to which they belong any longer and do not know the process they contribute to spark off, why should they be surprised if they realised that they are the cause of all their woes? Avoiding asking yourself any questions and allowing other people to manipulate you is much easier.
Today it is still possible to meet, in the streets around the world, the survivors of that class of “dying-out poets” that are the last repositories of a tradition belonging to a past that maybe has been lost. These people, witnesses of the change, are hybrid individuals, because they studied in schools that are still based on models and syllabuses typical of the 19 th century, but they witnessed, at the same time, the IT revolution that involves an extensive spread of computers, a massive use of the Internet and the spread of electronic tools and accessories.
As Demons that, since they were born from Humans and Gods, have features and qualities of both, the Centaurs of culture, monstrous and limping beings, understand Prolog and Pascal, Homer, Python, Basic and Dante; as they are influenced by present, past and future, they read languages which do not exist any longer and their minds are full of sentences, sounds and words belonging to history. By using their thought as if it were a code, these people process Greek and Latin passages, looking for the root of numbers and words, as if time still had value and the word a meaning.
In an attempt to open a reflection on issues that today are not considered so interesting, such as education in schools, the search for solid knowledge, the dissemination or loss of culture and the manipulation of knowledge, I decided to interview Mr. Edoardo De Carli, the founder of the “Gilda degli insegnanti” (an Italian association of teachers) and, for many years, an Italian and Latin teacher in the great H course of the Liceo Classico Beccaria, the ancient one in Milan.
Edoardo De Carli: Market rules have changed it: students are clients and for this reason it is necessary to satisfy them; but knowledge (or a qualification, also without knowledge) is not only a product for students, but for all the community, present and future; also people without children pay taxes for a school system which should guarantee good plumbers, good accountants and good geriatricians for them, too.Eleonora Oreggia: How much has school changed in the last 30 years? And the education system?
And today, the market forces the industrial sector of the other products into short production plans (two to five years), whereas the investment in school has to take into account long-term plans: it takes from 12 to 18 years to begin to educate a good plumber, accountant, geriatrician
Eleonora Oreggia: In the last years there have been two extremely innovative elements: on one hand school reform and on the other hand the IT revolution Could you comment, according to your experience, on these two historical events?
Edoardo De Carli: Reform or reforms? Apparently, each new government brings in reforms with the result that the long-term investment becomes more uncertain, fragmentary, precarious. Moreover, school has started to organise on its own, to think only of getting by, to be more independent and all this was disguised as school autonomy. The aspects of the reforms that have caused more disorder have been exactly school autonomy (at the end of the several courses, there are very diversified results that cannot guarantee the same quality levels) and the abolition of the “esami di riparazione” (exams you have to pass if you have got poor marks in too many subjects): this has been the last straw of the clientalization of the students , because it confirmed the idea that it is the shop which must provide them with the product they are looking for. The sense of responsibility of the people who create their destiny on their own has got lost.
In most cases, Information Technology has become a facilitating tool: if you surf the Internet, there are many websites that give you summaries of books, paraphrases of poems, translations of Latin, Greek and English texts, ready-made papers. In short, the mostly used option is “cut and paste”.
Eleonora Oreggia: From what cultural model does school reform draw inspiration? What do students say? And teachers?
Edoardo De Carli: Cultural models? From the first reform of school-leaving examinations the “cultural model” had been saving on the budget of the Ministry of Education, although there are people who keep believing that this was a reaction to the 1968 protest movement! Then, the other “cultural model” was supporting potential members of trade unions and prospective voters: it is enough to see for example the recent progress of Religion teachers; or, shortly before, primary school with 2, 3 or more teachers: the CISL (the Italian confederation of workers trade unions), which encouraged this reform for its own interests, saw an increase in the number of its members among teachers from primary school; and the other trade unions urged other teachers to do the same.
The teachers who have known the previous school system are resigned, because they realise that they cannot oppose the strong powers of politics and economy; the association of which I am one of the founders the “Gilda degli insegnanti” tried in every way to stop this inexorable trend, but it was all useless. Young teachers are bewildered by this pernicious recruitment system that forces them into two-year refresher courses (schools of specialisation) and that, afterwards, leaves them in any case in a temporary employment for a long time: they succeed in solving the problem of a job and therefore they begin to take an interest in the school system only when they are elderly.
As they are young, students adapt quickly and readily: since they enjoy themselves, for 13 years, without working too hard and behaving like real consumers, why should they worry that, in the future, they will be poor people lacking in practical knowledge and outstripped at work by immigrants’ children, that are still deeply convinced that the harder you work, the more you get?
Eleonora Oreggia: To what extent do computers influence people’s learning ability and oncentration? What are the pros and cons?
Edoardo De Carli: About 10 years ago, at the Liceo Beccaria I organised a group of voluntary students for the use of computers: with the competences that everyone had individually acquired as autodidact, we wanted to create the school website and see what else we could do (as regarded organisation, knowledge and didactics) with the computers we had at our disposal. In short, it was a real workshop, we had plenty of ideas and we insisted with the possibilities we had (hardware, software, competences, time and funds). I think that that experience which I liked very much was very useful for many of those students, too. Afterwards, my colleagues started to teach regular courses, to give ECDL qualifications, and so on. I don’t know what are their effects: two years ago I left that school; however, when I look at the Arts students to whom I still teach Latin, I don’t notice any general improvement on their concentration and learning ability, quite the contrary!
Eleonora Oreggia: How is classical culture disseminated on the Internet?
Edoardo De Carli: Well, there are many classicist websites; I use them mostly for the search for texts and other similar material and for this reason I give university students lists of selected URLs (I don’t recommend Splash-Latino, the website full of ready translations, which an inexperienced grammar school student immediately knows). What is more, when I wrote an anthology on Livio for the school where I taught, I realised that the Thesauri on the Internet are really useful: they are enormous databases where you can quickly check the rate of hits of names, constructions, and so on. The former compiler of a grammar book or a dictionary, was influenced by human memory which focused on curious and interesting things that had, however, few hits (and therefore they didn’t deserve to be dealt with in my anthology because of a simple calculation of probability to meet them in a text); on the contrary, the extremely exact digital memory suggests what students are more likely to find in the pages they have to translate.
Eleonora Oreggia: What do you think about Wikipedia? And about the translation of culture from one medium to another?
Edoardo De Carli: Wikipedia is a good but dangerous thing: after reading some good-explained words, you trust it blindly or very nearly; but then you find an explanation that is full of nonsense; you make this known, but then you think: why should people trust you? Maybe you’re wrong. They had trusted the person who explained that word
The translation of culture from one medium to another makes things much easier: an e-book spares you many hours of waiting in a library; the “find” option allows you to find words quickly in a book without index; then, I’m used to consult many books at the same time and it is much easier to do it on the computer screen than keeping all the books on my desk with the risk they fall.
Eleonora Oreggia: How much of antiquity needs to be saved? How?
Edoardo De Carli: Everything that can be saved. How? Like English people do: by disseminating things without any mistakes; there, university students write books for children: if they write nonsense, their colleagues will shoot them down. Here in Italy, university students don’t soil their hands with dissemination; and those who disseminate want only to attract people’s attention at all costs (it is enough to see all those TV programmes, considered very interesting, with a lot of ignorant people; they reduce the audience of Piero Angela’s programmes, which are, on the contrary, very good).
Eleonora Oreggia: The truthfulness of the Internet is questioned by the Official Academy and cultured people don’t always help check and disseminate information. Is the Italian academic world ready for a free dissemination and sharing of knowledge? Why?
Edoardo De Carli: No, it isn’t, for the reasons I’ve just said: we still behave like Don Abbondio, who used the “latinorum” to confuse poor Renzo. So mere mortals don’t understand the juridical language because it’s incomprehensible for them, and the same happens with the bureaucratic and the medical language (maybe lawyers and accountants earn so much money, because they speak these “foreign languages”). All serious culture must be incomprehensible: otherwise, how could we distinguish between cultured and ignorant people?
Eleonora Oreggia: Could you comment on the following issues, taking into consideration the changes between past, present and future, the world of IT and traditional culture?
• learning with the Internet
Edoardo De Carli: I think it is very practical, but I don’t think it could originate a new “forma mentis”; moreover, we can find nonsense also in paper culture.
• the disappearance of cultures
Edoardo De Carli: Impossible! In spite of globalisation, in Italy there are a lot of wizards and saints, whereas in Sweden they don’t exist.
• unreliability of Google
Edoardo De Carli: Of course! When you enter the name and surname of someone who is not very famous in double quotation marks you are immediately given the link of my website on monuments and tombstones! It means that this search engine is very intelligent
• the free dissemination of knowledge
Edoardo De Carli: I agree with that only to a certain extent (and I’m not talking about censorship in China or in Muslim countries): if your parents, friends or teachers don’t teach you to appreciate knowledge, you won’t be encouraged to learn, you’ll think it’s boring and that only something repetitive and trippy is interesting
• the search for and the file of data
Edoardo De Carli: The accumulation of digital data should be more expensive.
• the manipulation of knowledge
Edoardo de Carli: It is something normal when culture is handed down from one generation to another, whether it is disseminated orally, through books or by means of computers.
Edoardo De Carli: We have it, but it is expensive. However, we can spare something else, for example time. In any case, it is true that we’ll get fat if we always sit in front of a computer .
Eleonora Oreggia: What do you think about technology, taking into account prospects, opportunities, risks, advantages ?
Edoardo De Carli: It will continue to exist and improve in spite of what we think about it; economy may influence it and stop it, make it disappear or improve it even more. Risks? There have always been risks (even when Cain used a donkey’s mandible to kill Abel). Now, we have only to understand to what risks we can’t find any solution; however, only technology allows us to find and to assess them!!
Eleonora Oreggia: Could you add a personal opinion about this topic?
Edoardo De Carli: We have to calm down
Eleonora Oreggia: You have spent most of your life with young people, could you tell us a sentence, the verse of a poem or give us a piece of advice, an image for those who won’t have the opportunity we had to witness the change from classical to digital culture ?
Edoardo De Carli: I would only remind them that Plato still disseminated culture orally: he recited Homer by heart (and so, sometimes, he made some mistakes); however, after Plato, there wasn’t any Flood; and Kant wasn’t stupid; I would tell them that the monks on Mount Athos continued to copy books by hand even after Gutenberg’s invention (until the 18 th century!!). And yet, it wasn’t the end of the world!! Computers can’t change so much our way of learning, living , can they?