Grade 12. Year of the Diploma. Carlo is a student in energy-saving mode. Often, he borders on passing grade. He switches between brilliant tests and barely passing grades. He looks as if he is afraid of being too good – therefore, as soon as he gets a good mark, he needs to immediately set for a passing one. The nerd syndrome scares him a lot: his mates should think he’s not an idiot, nor an over-studying one.
In school language, we would define him as a skilled student, not very constant in the study, on and off interested to the subjects, who has room for improvement in the scholastic commitment. He’s good but could apply more.
As the school could not provide a computer for every student, Carlo managed to have his lab mate work for him, because he really wasn’t keen on IT. He gets to grade 12 and, thinking about the project to develop for the final exam, he feels put under pressure by his Business Management teacher, who wants him to develop the IT skills as required by the school.
“But teacher, I’m not into computers”
“But how is it, that in the digital age, you have no interest in computers?”
“No”, he answers decisively.
“But, you know, the school has to make you work on these skills: the future of work is made by computers”
“Yes, I know, but I don’t care”
“What are you interested in, Carlo?”
“Nothing that I do at school”
“And about what you don’t do at school?”
“How is this connected?”
“Answer my question!” I insist in an authoritarian tone.
“But, you see, I have a passion …”
“Tell me Carlo, it sounds interesting!”
“Yes, but it has nothing to do with school”, he replies in a lazy way.
“And what is it?” I press him.
“It’s the passion for parrots”
“Yes, I told you teacher: it has nothing to do with school”
“No, come on, this intrigues me!”
“Yes, every day I feed the parrots I have at home, I have more than thirty different species”
“Yes teacher, but what does it have to do with Business Management and IT?”
“Well, for example you could create a website on parrots”
“You got it right: a website on parrots”
“And how can I make it?”
“Well, the school is going to organise an afternoon webpage-creation course: join it and then build your own site”
“I’d say yes!”
“But is it possible?”
“I’m suggesting it! Are you in? ”
“Yes, I’m very interested, even if IT is not the best”
“Ok, it’s settled then! You will build a website on parrots and you will show me how this site can support itself from a Business-Management point of view”.
At the exam, Carlo’s project is deeply appreciated by the external members of the examination board, who curiously admire how beautiful the pictures of the parrots are and how many details there are in the descriptive windows of the different types of parrots. The most beautiful-sounding thing, however, is to hear the boy telling, with great passion, the work done. For the first time I can see Carlo turned on, active, passionate, he gets excited as he speaks: something very hard for him, as he was used to a lukewarm attitude at school.
He comes out with a good grade, and in the end I ask him if the job done was satisfactory.
“Of course teacher, I was glad I did it”
“Ok, then what is better? The parrots or the computer?”
“The parrots for sure, but, all things considered, also IT is not bad. I quite understood the programme used to create the websites, but I was also helped by a friend”.
The interesting thing about this story is that the numerous attempts of the school to get Carlo passionate for IT were all unsuccessful. A personal dialogue was needed in order to listen to the young, lead him to a broader reasoning than what he kept on doing on his own and try to convince him starting from one of his specific interests, in order to acquire a competence.
And the surprising thing about this story is that a school that listens very little to its students, all focused on its programmes, its goals, its educational aims, its ministerial references, is an inefficient school.
The school celebrates itself within a self-referential system where, from time to time, one remembers that the student can have his own interests, skills, attitudes that are only waiting to be discovered and valued. Clearly, we would have several types of school curricula, but seeing the world colorful is better than seeing it black and white.
I have a strong desire to offer my suggestion to teachers: try to ask, personally to each student, to offer a lesson to the class about something of great interest for them.
Or try to ask what dream they would like to achieve in life.
About these questions, I have always been shocked by two things:
-The answers like: “No teacher, do the lesson yourself, I have nothing to say and no dream to realise”.
– The concerns that this was wasting time and that, therefore, it was better to go back to fulfilling the duty as students who supremely obey to the orders of their teachers.
But how, when I offer you the freedom to choose something really yours, that deeply interests you, you do not know what to tell me and you hid behind the … ‘you do the lesson’?
How do we teach autonomy to our students?
How do we educate them to bravely grow, discovering their inner selves?
How do we get them to the awareness of their own means in order to offer these to someone else?
How do we educate them to choices?
How do we enhance their dreams within the school?
A line of ‘how’ that hide a big ‘why’: why can’t kids build their training path in a personalised way?
What purpose does our school have?
I have been working in the school system for over twenty years and I can say, with great conviction, that putting yourself in the hands of the students always leads to great results, more than those that the teachers themselves can imagine.
So let’s trust the students! With trust based on responsibility, great results can really be achieved for students and families as well as for schools. Seeing is believing.
Head of GSO School