Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chagrin d'école

Who would ever believe? Daniel Pennac, the teacher, when he was a boy he was a dunce.

But not a dunce-genius, like Einstein, who was bad at school because he had in mind something more important and creative. A dunce because he was not capable of understanding.
The self-analysis a posteriori of this experience helps the teacher Pennac to find out the dunce-saver teaching method. That, in fact, doesn't look like a great revelation. One needs only to identify in the dunce and find a stimulus for him, since he, alone, obviously cannot find any.
The problem is that as one understands less, the more he keeps on not understanding. He is not helped by school to comprehend subjects, but instead accused of not committing himself, or even to do it on purpose.

Daniel Pennac
The student for sure doesn't do it on purpose (he's no fool!). Instead he tries to find the way to understand, but, if not well driven, his path will be crowned with such failures to make him believe to be too stupid to do this. And this presumed stupidity discourages him to the point to give up trying to learn.
For the teacher, the epitome of the student is the intelligent young man that grasps subjects all of the sudden, asks interesting questions, and, enthused by the lesson, studies and prepares for the next one. The real function of school, instead, shouldn't be applied only to that student, but most of all to the dunce. The one that doesn't study because he didn't even understand how to study. In a school where the teacher feels rewarded by the easy success with the intelligent student, there is no space for the dunce, who will then feel excluded. He, himself, should instead be the one that needs school more!
The process of intellectual growth consists (also) in accepting the rules. But passively accepting the rules doesn't mean growing at all! So, an educative method based on the imposition of rules is doomed to fail. And for this, Pennac says, we need a thing that sounds almost like a blasphemy, in pedagogical environment: love.

In my school career i was very good in some subjects. I could say that on my behalf, the epitome mentioned above could be applied. But in other subjects i was terrible, and the reasons were exactly the ones described by Pennac in his book. If i had some teachers that showed me the way for History and Literature i could have an easier school-life. Nowadays i like those subjects. I can understand them! But at those times i didn't know i could. And i didn't know because nobody ever told me.
I can remember now the Italian and Latin teacher, and the English one (i was very good in Latin language and i had a good property og language in English, but Italian, Latin or English Literature!!!). I remember also the teacher of History and Philosophy. What a pain!
This last, in particular, was completely hopeless in teaching (upon Pennac's measure), but her enthusiasm for the subjects she taught could almost be touched in any of her lessons.
I couldn't understand, neither History nor Philosophy. Then, on a good day, i had a test about the philosopher Pascal (of which now i've completely forgotten). I remember that that day, instead of trying to repeat the lesson like a parrot, i decided to strongly support my own point of view (i always had a silent one), unfortunately it was never the orthodox one). Even though i would have a bad valuation, it was worth making use of my pride. I remember the surprised and incredulous expression of the teacher discovering my critical mind. In the beginning she looked almost condemning of my "arrogance", but then with the test going on, her belief that i was dumb begun to disintegrate. I remember that she asked The Nerd of the class to participate, and then it came out a discussion between me and him, under the disbelieving eyes of the rest of my classmates. It was the first good valuation in Philosophy. The first of a long list.
This episode for sure helped me in the average valuation for Philosophy, but it didn't modify anything in my results on Italian, Latin and English Literature or History. In those subjects i continued to be the usual dunce. It helped me, instead, to grow my self-esteem. I understood that if i wanted, i could make it.
But the English teacher, the Italian and Latin one, and even the the History and Philosophy teacher were so obtuse! My success in Philosophy clearly showed, in their mind, that i was a dunce because i didn't study enough. I did it on purpose! Not worthy enough for them to consider the idea of helping me!

It would have been nice to have a teacher like Pennac.

"Diario di scuola" ["Chagrin d'école"] is essentially the description of the educational method, applicable to the role of a teacher, but in my opinion also to the one of a parent. Sometimes the flow of the book becomes too much simplified: i don't believe that the teaching world could clearly be divided in goods and bads, and i don't even believe that "dunceness" is so easily definable. School and, in general, the young world is more complex than how Pennac shows. Anyway, in my opinion it's a book that is worth reading. The former dunces can stop to feel alone in their dunceness and discover that it is an experience common also to other people. Parents and teachers can be driven in the difficult task to help the dunce. Everybody else can see that they have been only a little bit more lucky not to suffer such a condition.

And what about you? Were you dunces or nerds? Or, like me, "so and so"?

By Pennac i've already read (twice!) the whole hexalogy (in the original language it was an eptalogy) of di Benjamin Malaussène: "Il paradiso degli orchi" ["Au bonheur des ogres"], "La fata Carabina" ["La fée carabine"], "La Prosivendola" ["La petite marchande de prose"], "Signor Malaussène" ["Monsieur Malaussène"], "Ultime notizie dalla famiglia" ["Monsieur Malaussène au théâtre" and "Des Chretiens et des maures"], "La passione secondo Thérèse" ["Aux fruits de la passion"].
Moreover i read also "Signori Bambini" ["Messieurs les enfants"], and the comics "Gli Esuberati" ["La débauche"].

I liked everything that i've read by this author.

1 comment:

Rowena said...

The dunce cap has never been one that I've ever worn, either of my free own will (playing dumb on purpose) or not.

Rather, I will admit to laziness in the fact that I put in only enough effort to get me a passing grade. A lot of the problems with teachers is that they are so boring. In fact, the job description of "teacher" is archaic and outdated. I like the title "Inspirer" instead. The inspirer inspires one to learn knew things, gives the necessary tools to help students to comprehend, and is aware that not all brains are built the same way. To be a good instructor, it really does take a lot of commitment, and for some maybe the paycheck isn't worth the bother.