“The last thing what a school should do is humiliate students. You need to be like Don Lorenzo Milani taught us: authoritative teachers and affectionate friends even with the most fragile”. It’s the thought of Herald Refinesuccessful writer, high school teacher for years and founder of the “Penny Wirton“, free Italian school for immigrants. The Minister of Education and Merit, Joseph Vallettaraduring the Italy-North Directorate meeting, spoke of thehumiliation as a “fundamental factor in the growth of the personality”. Then the minister himself he apologized for his statements.
Affinati, several times finalist for the Strega prize, author among other things of several books on the prior of Barbiana and of The gospel of the angels, knows children better than anyone else but above all the most fragile and the schools that are in areas and neighborhoods at risk. We interviewed him – before Valditara’s apologies arrived – to listen to his experience.
Affinati, did you hear the words of Minister Valditara? “Only by working, only by humiliating himself – long live humiliation which is a fundamental factor in the growth of the personality – in front of his companions, it is he who takes responsibility for his own actions. From there comes the ransom“Said the minister. It’s really like this?
I think exactly the opposite of the minister. The great educators of the past, from Mary Montessori to Alberto Manzi to Mario Lodi to Don Milani, they taught us that ransom, redemption never comes through humiliation. This does not mean being do-gooders, as we are often pointed out. He thinks of the prior of Barbiana: he was very strict with his boys, uncompromising but affectionate. The most fragile should never be humiliated, never cornered but empowered. The school is not a court”.
Of course, but perhaps it is also necessary – I try to interpret the minister’s message – for those who make mistakes to examine their conscience, to use an old-fashioned phrase.
A reflection should be solicited but not passing through humiliation. Those who are strong can overcome a punishment of that type but the bully, who has a path already marked by the social or family context, will feel alone, even more beaten. The educator cannot afford to put anyone out of the team: that is his defeat.
What comes to mind when it comes to humiliation?
The personal experience of when, as a first child, the teacher put me behind the blackboard due to a spelling mistake. I was not yet six years old and I found myself thus humiliated in front of my companions.
The minister, however, also recalled the concept of respect: “We need to restore authority to the school and enforce the rules”. Is it really an emergency?
I see another problem: the loneliness of us teachers. Today we work without the support of families and other subjects, but this situation puts us in a position to have greater responsibility. You have to earn respect for yourself, you can’t expect it blindfolded. When you do your job well, kids and families respect you.
Maybe we need to focus more on training.
It’s a word that always makes me a little uneasy. When you have the knowledge of the discipline then you have to conquer the rest on the field. You don’t need many theoretical courses. We for example at Penny Wirtonwhen a new volunteer teacher arrives, we have him supported so that there is greater growth in the field, a comparison with those who already work with our kids.
Respect must be won every day in the classroom but in front of a bully what do you do not to exclude him, to integrate him?
We need knowledge experiences with him. You need to be authentic and also be able to step outside institutional spaces. You cannot put yourself in the position of the one who explains and puts the work and stop but you must enter the wild pile. Every time I’ve done it and put myself in the game, it’s helped. And then you don’t have to be alone. It’s not always easy but we need to act as an educating community not as individuals. Hence the importance of an educational team.
One last question: what do you think of socially useful jobs instead of suspensions?
If they are intended as a punitive element, they are useless. Attention must not be shifted from the educational aspect to the juridical one. The school is not a juvenile prison. And then you can not speak in slogans. What do socially useful jobs mean? When it comes to education, one cannot think in categories. You have to understand in which context you operate, in which school you are, in which territory you live, what is the story of that boy…