June 25, 2007


Holed up in the AC this afternoon -- it is just too hot out there!

So, after lunch, I took the opportunity to read the newspaper cover to cover.

In the "Business and Finance" section, I found an article, "Living with a computer; and technology becoming a drug." That is, kids segregating themselves in their rooms and only dealing with the outside world via a mouse -- a particularly American and Japanese problem it seems. Although a prominent contemporary Italian philosopher, Umberto Galimberti, is alarmed at these developments, and the possibility that man will become a function of technology and not the other way around, he does not believe technology creates addiction as other drugs. My son's liceo friends, anyway, prefer their cell phones and meeting in the piazza to "facebook".

"In any case," the article continues, "in America, there is talk of eliminating computers from the classroom."

That's not a problem here, because computers have just barely found their way in the door and are still looking for a place to sit and a plug or two.

Resistance to change is sometimes a good thing, because what goes around often comes around. Sending the Americans out to test-trial new ideas and learning from their mistakes is an effective European tactic. Americans love change, anything new must be better, because it is new and because change is intrinsically good. Then if it turns out not to be so great after all, well, you can just change again, back to what you had, and call that a "new" idea too. This way, you don't even lose face! About 10 years ago I attended a presentation on the future of computers in classrooms -- elementary school classrooms -- by an "education expert" traveling through Rome on an MAIS tour (Mediterranean Association of International Schools). Although the audience was a bit sceptical, she did a very good show and to our surprise, what she preached has come true. Only to be reversed.

Italians are resistant to change. Very. Anything new will certainly be worse. There is a saying that goes, "the bad things you know are better than the bad things you don't know." At least you have figured out how to live with the bad, circumvent the worst of it and bide your time. The new, in the form of change, would alter that balance and then who knows what would happen. Everyone talks about the need for educational reforms, but whenever new ideas are put forth, the "fear of change" syndrome steps in, and puts an end to that.

My old high school has developed a "new" Latin program over the past eight-ten years -- studying Latin, experts discovered, develops logic and reasoning skills. My Dad studied Latin too and my Grandfather actually taught it as a four-year mandatory course, until 1968. I went to school in the 1970's when the "new" idea was its abolishment in favor of modern languages. It seemed like a good idea. But the pendulum has reversed its arc.

In Italy, Latin has never seen its demise in the liceo tradition and the Italian liceo classico is the only one in all of Europe to still study ancient Greek. Change was too hard to enact, and the pendulum hangs in balance.

a domani,


Peter Haslam said...

Interesting that there is such a difference in approach. Not one I had considered. Thank you

Anonymous said...

"Italians are resistant to change"
Yes, and that's why Italy has a failing economy... that's why we have a system with so many obstacles and knots... that's why racism is widespread... that's why doctors and scientists have to go ABROAD to do research or get advanced training.
not exactly a benefit, in my opinion.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Peter,
You are right, it is difficult to recognize the role our cultural values, assumptions and beliefs play in establishing our approach to things. Especially for Americans because we come from the most individualistic culture of all so we assume everything we do is based on our personal choice! We assume that things are simply the way they are without thinking that our cultural values are at work behind the scene.
We love change for change's sake --that is a cultural, not a universal value.
keep stopping by...I will even respond to comments!

cultural values can and do change over time and I have seen enormous changes here over the past 20 years. That said, there is a positive and negative side to every cultural value, (I did a nice post on "utopian dreaming" about this). Change for change's sake also leads Americans to destroy historical buildings to put up a parking lot, believe that Iraq can cast off its past and become a functionally democracy overnight and eliminate Latin from public schools.
No good, not bad, just interesting differences, each with its good and bad sides.
stop by again - I love getting comments from Italians.