Some time ago, a family came to me to understand how to face the son’s school troubles. The family was very careful to his needs, to the point that they used to spend whole afternoons doing homework together. Weekends spent at home and delayed holidays only to be entirely at their disposal. The son used to say: “I attend school classes only to make you happy”.
School struggles seemed insurmountable and parents’ support didn’t help achieve barely sufficient results. The parents came one day to tell me about one more school insufficiency (4/10 in Latin) and to evaluate what to do in case of a failure.
“Sir”, the father said, “my son keeps on being badly graded in almost all subjects, no matter how much we try to help him during afternoons and weekends. He isn’t committed! He doesn’t do his homework! When he reaches the end of the term he is exhausted and doesn’t want to come to school anymore. We have to leave him home several days to recover from often-useless efforts. Teachers say he has the abilities, but lacks motivation. More than once we talked with teachers and tutors but, after a generic declaration for commitment, he falls again into insurmountable difficulties, discouragement for a bad test and finally, the sense of defeat and self-abandonment. We try to help him in every possible way but there is nothing to do. He seems to enjoy the subjects he studies, but he thinks he cannot make it, thus he gives it a rest”.
“Have you tried to let him go astray on his own?” I venture with an undetermined tone.
“When we told him he should make do, he started to spend entire days idling in front of his computer, he’s not responsible and he always needs our support”.
The mother piles it on: “You know that the other day I spent a whole afternoon with him doing his Latin homework, and as a result he got a 4 in the test. It could also be that my Latin is rusty, but I assure you that the problem was not so much in the difficulty of the test, as more or less the test assigned in class was as difficult as the task on which we had prepared. The real problem are the emotions that blur his sight when he faces the test. A blank notebook and nothing else. All deleted. Energy wasted. I feel very disappointed. We are really fumbling around. We can’t manage the situation. What do you recommend us to do?”
These situations, when we see people who are culturally very prepared and also very passionate about their children, make us realise how hard the educational work of parents is.
Eric Berne, in one of the texts that made him famous, Games People Play, argued that, inside the family, there often develop some games. If these games are repeated over time, they become real scripts, within which everyone plays his/her role. Each one takes on a precise part and continues, over time, to practice it without great variations.
In the script you therefore expect everyone to play their role and have reactions corresponding to the expected behaviours. If this does not occur, conflicts arise. Thus, are the father and mother in despair about the child’s school results? As a consequence, the son is saddened, he thinks he disappointed them and therefore tries to please them by accepting their help.
Relationships continue over time with a balance that cannot be scratched, in which the role of the parent-savior becomes important for the child-victim, against the persecutor-school that is the cause of the discomfort (Karpman’s drama triangle).
In the scripts, only if the roles are respected there are no conflicts and therefore, apparently, everything seems to work. Everything except the Latin task. At this point one wonders why the child is unable to pass a test that normally does not require great effort.
Then, here is the first reflection: it is completely useless to look for a solution to the problem within the school. The solution to the problem is to be found inside the family.
It is from this reflection that I developed the profound conviction that the school can offer parents, in this state of disorientation, a complementary service to the school activity but fundamental to obtain the student’s scholastic success: the Service of Psychology and Pedagogy.
I have always been firmly supporting the strategic line of a school within which there is a consistent Service of Psychology and Pedagogy that isn’t external to the school reality.
Professor Z.A., who coordinated this service in the private school I used to manage, assisted by the psychologist Tito Sartori and by more than twenty specialists, realised this plan and therefore convinced himself and me that the future challenge for our schools is not only the professionalisation of skills, but also and above all the access to the personal resources of each student.
Yes, because every student must be seen as a resource. Every student has a talent inside him/herself. Each person grows within a family environment that sometimes hinders the development, enhancement and formation of talents. The idea of being unique and unrepeatable is written in our DNA, for those who love Science, while it has always been written in the Bible for those who have faith.
There is therefore a mission that we, educators and school staff, should have: to start to broaden the horizon of our solutions. We often live surrounded by problems, conflicts, difficult situations, complex relationships, and focus on situations that cause us emotional stress.
In our Italian culture, the analysis of the problem is very detailed and precise. We always know the causes of problems, but actually, few are focused on the solutions. The school is afflicted by this disease, which, due to its everlasting problems linked to staffing, blocks any search for new, fresh, vibrant and passionate innovative solutions. Therefore, if I had to think of new solutions, I would certainly not search within individual institutions, rather in the effective collaboration between institutions: it is there that strategic perspectives for old problems can be found.
The systemic logic is what helped me the most to understand complexity (Gregory Bateson docet). Of this complexity, the system of interpersonal relationships is the essence of the solution. I therefore dream of a University that integrates with the school starting from some observation points:
• Family issues, as in this case, where, for example, the presence of parents on the child’s school choices seems excessive due to a misunderstood will to be supported.
• The recruitment and training of teachers that could take place, such as in Finland where university students who are preparing to become teachers perform a demanding internship during the schooling, under the direct supervision of the school teaching staff. Yes, that’s it: the teacher-tutor supervises the lesson of the teacher-student to the class, sees the skills and attitudes of the future teacher on the field, in such a way as to provide the University with direct observation. This allows university professors to advise the student-trainee whether to continue the training path or to look for other professions. And all this before the university ends, not after.
• Problems of Specific Learning Disabilities, or Special Educational Needs, and integration with the social services of the NHS, singled out to solve problems and perhaps to bring some projects into schools. Of course, it is a matter of good practices, beautiful experiences of collaboration, especially if they are carried out among people in harmony with the good of the student or of the class. Too often, however, such experiences are left to the will of the individual principals, teachers, officials or staff, who, in the silence of the good that is practiced and often not communicated, leave good and meaningful signs for the people involved, but who are also too weak to equip themselves for systematically dealing with an ever-increasing complexity of psychological, pedagogical and educational problems in schools.
• The theme of orientation on which one could build real task forces of inter-institutional collaborations on two strategic areas:
– Teacher training, which could take place on pedagogical-psychological-relational contents with professors-professionals of proven experience in the sector.
– The integrated educational offers of para-university courses for grade-10-to-12 students in order to help them make the choice for their future University on the basis of a talent development path, thus overcoming the age-old question of admission tests to the Universities, not very effective in verifying the motivation and the vocation of the students.
• The theme of pedagogical approaches and the impacts of neuroscience studies on school organisation, in order to develop researches that verify the theoretical appropriateness of the studies in the existing system. Exactly as it happens in Finland when the University builds school schedules, physical spaces, learning programmes and structuring of lessons in full collaboration with primary or secondary school. Over time, the research models are refined to acquire a certain stability and the necessary and regular updating.
I consider that in writing this book of dreams and visions someone can argue that there aren’t the resources to achieve all this and that they will probably never be found.
I allow myself to challenge this statement because resources are not the weak link in this chain of issues of integration between the university world and the world of education, rather the self-referentiality of these systems and the mutual mistrust developed over the years.
We should reflect on the fact that attempts of collaborations among systems such as the IFTS (Istruzione Formazione Tecnica Superiore – Higher Technical Education Training) post-diploma path, have turned out to be marginal and too oriented to the professional world. Even their statistical negligence does not prevent me from considering them as embryo tools to be improved for a possible integration among different worlds.
However, I believe that the point is not only the integration among different systems, but that of opening a new constituent phase of the school, which rethinks together School and University.
It would certainly be useful to abandon the institutional school hierarchy in such a way as to recover the dialogue among schools of different levels and order, including the university. A new Vision, therefore, built together between Universities and Schools and defined in roles in a dynamic, open and collaborative way. In one sense, we could say: a school systematically rethought without hierarchies but with different roles within a single design.
In short, a new season of research with the school and for the school and not on the school, made by the academic world. A new season of curricular, didactic, relational reorganisation that starts with a dialogue on one or more of the topics mentioned and takes advantage of the financial possibilities offered by the European Union and usefully built for real systematic actions on the whole National territory.
So what advice should we offer to our family waiting to understand how it should help the boy pass his Latin test?
I would say that in an ideal world (although already realised in the school of which I was the manager), we could have redirected the issue to the psychology service inside the school and from it we would have drawn the possible answers to the problem.
Meanwhile, an intermediate solution was found.
“Dear parents, I have developed a new teacher figure: the teacher-tutor who, after having attended a training course organised by the School’s Psychology and Pedagogy Service on how to motivate listless children, will take care of your child. It is not a matter of private lessons, but of meetings to look for the motivations for study and study disciplines. See you in a couple of months to see how it works”.
The mother replies: “I have the feeling that you have perfectly understood our son’s problem, we hope this can be the solution”.
In my heart, I know that this solution is a fall-back, ideally we should work with the family to change the family dynamics that underlie the problems of the children. However, this may be a different intermediate solution from giving up and telling the family “your son is not suitable for high school, it’s much better if you help him choose a vocational school”. This way, we can quickly remove the problem without too many idiosyncrasies. I think it is convenient to ignore the nature of the problems, but in the long term we are doomed to find them again.
Head of GSO School