Massimo was 18 years old and was a grade 11 when, that day of February, he didn’t come to school. “Teacher, he’s been arrested”, his classmates told me. “He was caught with a bag full of ecstasy pills in his pocket”. I hadn’t experience an absence for arrest before.
How did Massimo end up in that situation?
Several times I wondered why I hadn’t particularly noticed this young boy: a little absent minded but good for sure. Definitely, he wasn’t among the annoying or noisy students – just somehow idle.
Indeed, how many times we adults don’t notice these details! We don’t notice people close to us and their discomfort – whether it is more or less evident. We tend to be too much focused on the issues that regard ourselves: finance, job, relationships with our superiors, with colleagues… and then, sometimes, there is also family. Yes, family.
Big jumble of messy relationships, often susceptible to a love masked by attention towards material needs rather than immaterial or spiritual ones. Adults who make their dreams come true, and realise their own visions on their children’s conscience.
It looks like a personal film, where the main character is the son/daughter with its difficulties that must be all overcome and overthrown. We keep on levelling roads of a desert of the Tartars that never leads to the war. Existential emptiness filled with material needs.
Longing for changes and school success, that are never going to come.
Thus, the private detectives, the lawyers, the private classes are all part of a world of answers given to the reasonable question of the kid.
Why not facing hard times?
Why being scared by the truth?
Why don’t we listen with ears attentive to the scream of pain coming from our table set with food but without affection and love?
Massimo comes back to school, he’s been released.
Among his classmates there is a mixture of admiration and pity: everybody wants to know what happened that bloody Saturday evening.
“Why were you arrested?”
“What happened next?”
“How many days did you spend in jail?”
“How was it?”
Questions spread throughout the school. The headmaster asks me what to do.
“You know, professor Casonato, the reason for the arrest frightens the other students’ parents – they are all really worried. Let’s allow the student at school only for the tests and oral interviews, then we can finish the school year with the missing marks”.
Communicating such a decision of the board is up to me. Furthermore, the headmaster asks me to be in charge of liaising with the family until the end of the year.
In my head, the title of Don Ciotti’s book keeps resounding: “Who is afraid of rotten apples?”. And, while I’m collecting the concerns of parents, classmates, fellow teachers in regard to the danger the school is facing because of a student-pusher, I can’t stop thinking: “who should we be afraid of?”
With fear, you cannot educate.
With caution, you justify.
With wait, you are purified.
With patience, things disclose.
With hope, you save.
With faith, you nurture.
With love, you live.
Massimo was in need of living.
Massimo wanted to find the reasons of the true love, not of the one masked by material attentions. Massimo wanted to find an adult able to contrast him, contradict him, fight him, and, conversely, he always found people giving in. Massimo finishes the school year and fails. He leaves the school. Being of age, he finds a job.
During an October evening, I receive a call from him: we arrange an appointment in a few days. He has some interesting insurance policies to suggest and he wants to meet again one of his former teachers, who dedicated him a couple of meetings while at high school: he remembered feeling heard. In that moment, all the bitterness for what happened and all the loved from his family came to my mind.
This last thing was enough for the moment. To him, not to me. At the time, the meeting with his mother was very disappointing. More than once I tried to convince her that his son made a mistake. Anyway, every time she answered me the same refrain: “My son is a good child. We all love him. The pills were put into his pocket by ill-intentioned. He has nothing to do with it”.
In these situations, hiding the events, sweeten them or even ignore them, is the prelude of an educational disvalue, that is not reckoning with the reality. I’ve ended up even hating these situations, over time. Hate meant as deep feeling of anger against an idea or a behaviour that doesn’t bring good. That doesn’t bring the good. That is an omen of misfortune!
Therefore, after that meeting, the relations with the family broke into a normality as miserable as absurd. In front of an extra-ordinary event, the family minimised the problem, trying to restore an extremely ineffective normal school routine. Working could be the solution. Therefore, it was with these feelings that I was going to meet Massimo. He talked to me using the language of an expert and experienced seller!
The meeting became almost immediately an oral test, all in all well done, but missing critical elements. In school bureaucratic language, they’d say: “The student uses a language appropriate to the context and reports the requested contents in an essential way”. Therefore, a full passing mark.
I didn’t sign the policies, but gave him a mark.
Massimo was interested in the mark and not the policy: he was looking for the confirmation that he was prepared. I warned him that he needed to make his presentation less mechanical and to be a little more interested in the client’s needs. He greeted and thanked me, and we left with the commitment to meet again in the future. Massimo had just turned 19.
Two years later the news came to school: Massimo was found dead in his car, destroyed by a car accident at 4 AM in Mestre. He had brought his girlfriend home at midnight.
No one can explain what happened between midnight and four o’clock in the morning of that damned night that cut off the life of a young insurance broker. Black out!
I reflect on Massimo’s history and I wonder whether those four hours of mystery are not to be found in that black out of conscience that the family wanted to trigger at the time of the arrest, three years before. Thus, I renew my conviction that I feel a deep hatred for all those times when adults, especially parents, detach the facts from their children to make their life easier.
Better a hard, still full life, than simplified and empty.
Don’t postpone the discussions with our children.
Let’s face them immediately with energy and passion.
Better a parent who annoys than a parent who allows everything.
Sometimes, loving someone means motivating the “no”.
Loving means telling the truth, no matter how demanding it is.
Living in the good means creating awareness of the truth, starting from the truth of the facts.
To make mistakes while acting is better than to make mistakes while omitting.
The consequence for the first mistake is forgiveness.
For the second one, it’s indifference.
On this sad event that marked my teaching experience, I feel the need to give a reflection on the theme of the educational awareness that adults, being them parents or teachers, should raise. We need to wake up, both pedagogically and educationally, from the social lethargy we are now experiencing. We need to take again the path of truth, to be able to fully love.
A school building alliances based on the truth is the right place where this awakening can happen. Let’s hurry up creating it, let’s hurry up asking for it. It will be a good way to build the foundations for our children’s future.
Head of GSO School