February 12, 2007

How to tell time

Visiting my son in Trento is always like a short trip abroad. The bus outside his apartment complex passes at :10, :25 :40, and :55 every hour on the dot. Stores close at 12:00 sharp and open at 3:00. People walk faster, drink more beer, eat dinner earlier and conversations have a crisp, pointed quality to them. Austria is not far away.

He is doing his “maturit√†” year (5th year). At school, he says that there is less conflict between teachers and students in Trento than in Rome and more mutual respect. He has a math test this morning that has been moved forward three times, the last time at the student’s request. The teacher agreed and then just went ahead in the program, today’s test is on earlier material.

Italians learn time orientation at school. I don’t remember ever having a test or paper date changed or cancelled during my school career. Here it happens all the time. My other son in Rome just studied for an important biology test that was cancelled because the teacher’s home printer didn’t work that day. She finally gave it to them as a take home assignment a week later. Does that get your back up? It didn’t bother him, “pazienza”. When the test actually does take place it will just cover more material.

School is not about learning to work within deadlines, but about learning the material. You are expected to be prepared, and the timing of the testing is not relevant. “Interrogations” are oral exams in which a few students are randomly called to the front of the room to be literally interrogated. You may know when an interrogation will take place but never who will be called on any particular day – talk about stress, but it doesn’t bother my sons, just me!

We were trained at school to work towards dates and deadlines broken down into programs and assignments; as adults we need fixed guidelines, and the lack of them drives us crazy. Italian school teaches tolerance of ambiguity, prepares for the whims of fate, and trains for flexibility -- very useful cultural traits indeed when living in Italy!

A domani from Trento,

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