An educational experience shared by Father Matteo, the principal of a school in Rome: four days spent together with students in order to learn to savor the surprise of understanding things, their beauty and goodness.

A student in the 3rd year of high school declared to me, “The school should give us less homework. In this way, at least, we would be able to enjoy the afternoon a bit more.” I answered with the intention of reasserting the value of doing homework, but I also underscored the right to enjoy ‘afternoon a bit more’. I assured the class of my interest in the problem, but I was left feeling guilty. It is unheard of that one claims to enjoy the morning, and this evidence bothers me a bit: the morning is condemned because there is school. Let’s save at least the afternoon! I told the students, “Imagine yourselves in front of the school entrance. You are making the best of the last few seconds before entering, when your friend passes by and says, ‘How come you guys are not running? Today, the philosophy teacher will be starting a new argument!’” The students laughed because, for them, the anecdote is absurd. “Or imagine yourselves”, I continued, “waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘Who knows what I will be able to learn today, how much more curious I will become following in class!” One of them nodded in agreement, assenting to the idea that desiring something from the day is a good thing. “Do I seem crazy to you? You all have to admit, however, that coming to school eager to know, to learn, to discover wouldn’t be all that bad.” All of them – really, every single one of them – stared at me with a smile as if to say, “Yes, that would be awesome. Yes, it would be awesome to think that the day begins right away, and that I don’t have to wait until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to enjoy it. And what ever happens anyway in the afternoon that is so impossible to miss? To be precise, nobody knows.”

Instead, these days one does his utmost to find new and fascinating ways to intercept the latest categories of social and cultural needs and to take into account that the students are not digital natives. One thinks that equipping the school like the entrance of the Enterprise spaceship in Star Trek could resolve the problems. It was once common to visit friends and socialize, now we hand out tablets to everyone; at least, we would have dealt with the problem of discipline – a tablet can sucks in anyone. Technology is the new chimera: no one bets on the idea that school could be interesting, a place to know and to learn, not the just the how, but about reality itself. On these lines, I ventured an experiment, which, I will tell you in advance, was a clamorous success. Together with other colleagues, I organized a four day outing with our 5th graders. The goal was not to visit new places, to take long walks and hikes in order to reflect, nor to rediscover the meaning of the relationship among us. The declared goal is to learn to savor the surprise of understanding things, their beauty and their goodness. We found a splendid place, an ex-Benedictine monastery near Frosinone, which seemed to have been built just for us. We were in need of adults passionate about their subject, and we looked to create silence and order. I prepared the program: Tuesday – Italian and myths; Wednesday – science and the classification of various plants that could be found in the area; Thursday – history, Sparta and Athens; Friday – summary of the outing. For all, a transversal course on sketching, and a science class in English, with teachers who were native-speakers who came from Rome to be with us. The evenings were imagined as follows: on Tuesday evening, a video about plants in English to prepare them for the Wednesday morning class; the following evening, board games; Thursday evening, movie night: a showing of October Sky.

The day began at 8:15 with the mass followed by a 45 minute class and a 40 minute review, alone or in groups. The schedule went on until 7 in the evening with snacks, breaks and various games in English. The real surprise was everyone’s enthusiasm– teachers and students – keeping in mind that the students were free to choose in which classes they wanted to participate. Returning to Rome, we showed to the parents a video of the days spent together with the students to highlight the goal: reality exists, and, before being something to learn, it fascinates us and moves our desire. And so, all of the new technologies and support systems of the world are welcome, as long as they help us to experience the way things simply are, and the marvelous possibility that we have to know them.

 

In the cover photo, a moment during the Way of the Cross at the Santa Maria in Domnica Parish in Rome.

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