Worlds of Education

Photo: Alessandro Longhi / flickr
Photo: Alessandro Longhi / flickr

“The Italian school system is in danger”, by Francesco Sinopoli.

published 22 May 2019 updated 23 May 2019
written by:

The General Secretary of the Federation of Knowledge Workers of the Italian General Confederation of Labour reacted to the suspension of Rosa Maria Dell’Aria, a teacher from Palermo. The teacher was penalised in this manner because it was alleged that she did not supervise the work of her 14-16 year-old students whose video presentation on Holocaust Memorial Day compared the promulgation of the 1938 racial laws to the security decree of the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.--

On behalf of the FLC CGIL and the CGIL as a whole, I have written to Ms Dell’Aria to express our solidarity and compassion for what she has been forced to endure over the past few days; very upsetting and dramatic, during which she has had to do without teaching, without that relationship with her students and the school in which she has taught for many years.

It was important to let her know that she is not alone, and that her case has becomes our case, not only because we feel indignant, but also because the punishment inflicted on her and her students has punished the school system as a whole in its freedom to educate and instruct, in its autonomy of thought and in its ability to teach what really goes on in the world. The whole school community has been affected, not just the Palermo institution. The message is clear, and we must resist it, together.

The explanations provided by Palermo’s Provincial School Office, which issued the disciplinary measure, appear specious. It states that “freedom of expression is not freedom to offend and that comparing the racial laws to the security decree is a distortion of reality”. One wonders who was actually offended. One wonders if, in the public school system, critical thinking from students should be considered an offence by the institutions.

One wonders, entering into the merits of the evaluation “of reality”, whether the students committed some kind of “lese majesty” crime by comparing the inhumane conditions of today’s migrants –determined precisely by that infamous and racist law– to those of the Jews after 1938 in Italy on Holocaust Memorial Day; such a serious crime that the Digos (the General Investigations and Special Operations Division of the State Police) were called upon to intervene in the school community, a very dangerous and outrageous practice.

The perception of reality and an act of critical thinking by the students became a crime, to the point of suspending a knowledgeable, sensitive, experienced teacher. But what has “reality” come to? What limit has been exceeded? Who is being targeted?

For some time now, the Italian public school system has been the focus of the attention of certain politicians. Sometimes, intervention has taken place in a manifest, transparent way, and sometimes in a more subtle manner. In recent years, attempts have been made to transform our schools into companies competing against one another, giving school heads the role of “sheriffs”, an attempt we have successfully opposed.

An effort was then made to undermine and discredit the public school system using the government budget through continuous cuts to financial and human resources. Today, we are seeing the circle close. When the Digos enters a school, it means that the exercise of control has become police-like and repressive, leaving students in fear of straying from “mainstream thought” and of freely interpreting the world in which we live.

If it is the responsibility of Digos to decide what and how students can and should be taught, it means that Ms Dell’Aria’s children were right in highlighting the similarities between 1938 and the present day.

I will close with the beautiful words that Marco Pappalardo, a colleague from Catania, addressed to Ms Dell’Aria, published in the Avvenire newspaper: “I believe that we should move en masse – students, teachers, heads, staff, trade unions – to support her and to send a clear message.”

From our trade union, we are there and we are also there to participate financially to cancel out the economic consequences of this penalty. We do so, not as a charitable act, which could be considered insincere, but as a political gesture of considerable value just as the anti-fascists did in 1938 by making a connection with and showing support for those who were forced into exile.

Note: this text is adapted from the open letter to Prof. Dell’Aria signed by Francesco Sinopoli and published on Huffpost on 17 may 2019.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.