April 24, 2007

Classroom dynamics

A comment left anonymously on this entry:

"that's ridiculous... maybe that's why Italians don't feel they can be held accountable for their actions. I think that's a very ineffective way to "discipline" kids. they'll never learn about being responsible for their actions within a group/class/community!"

I recently received an email from my son’s class representative (mother) stating:
“I professori, con l’eccezione della prof.ssa R. e della supplente di Italiano, continuano a lamentarsi del comportamento della classe che, in generale, rende difficoltose e faticose le lezioni, comportamento che evidenzia un certo disinteresse nei confronti delle materie insegnate nonch√© una scarsa propensione allo studio. L’insegnante di scienze ha riferito un certo miglioramento. Manca uno studio sistematico di tutte le discipline e in genere lo studio √® superficiale."

Basically that “the class” was being disruptive and not studying enough etc.. The math teacher is one of those on the rampage, but when I saw him the other day, he seemed quite surprised that I might think “the class” behavior might pertain my son – “of course not”, he exclaimed. Actually I hadn’t imagined so, but I was just checking, since “the class” had been indicted.

Back to the comment. In school, Italians develop a different way to be held accountable for their actions – not the Anglo-American way that stresses the individual – but a much more subtle “group” way, peer pressure. The WHOLE class gets indicted, and therefore the same group of 25 odd students is forced into finding its own equilibrium during long, endless hours in the same classroom for years on end (five hours a day x 6 days a week x 37 weeks a year x five years). They have to figure it out, work it out, find a balance and get on with it, and they often do --- a true lesson in group dynamics, compromise, consensus building, the power of peers. Discipline often comes from within the group instead of from above. Is that less effective in the long run? Boh. They certainly are accountable to their group.

Until very recently, youth drinking wasn’t an Italian problem. We all know how effective “rules” are in this area. Instead, the concept of the bella figura and the fact that you had to face your peers the day after (and after and after and after) made for a much more effective deterrent to getting wasted and making a fool of yourself.

To each culture, its approach to discipline.

A domani,


Anonymous said...

interesting... but as we well know, the group rarely manages to find "its own equilibrium" so how effective is that?
Also, after living in italy for 12 years, i'm not so sure this "group" mentality actually has any influence on what happens in day-to-day life, which is basically the proof of the effectiveness of this technique. for the most part, i find italians (or rather romans, seeing i live in rome) to be rather oblivious to people around them. i find there is less of a sense of community and common courtesy here than in many parts of the world i've lived in. it has become very much an "each man for himself" kind of place. banal examples: ROMANS litter like there is no tomorrow. this, in my opinion, is a blatant lack of respect for the community, it's a very selfish, self-centered gesture. Romans do not know how to enter and exit public transportation in a polite and orderly manner- again they are oblivious to those around them. Romans let their dogs poop everywhere in the city CENTER without blinking an eye. Romans take their dogs out for walks without leashes or muzzles (yes, i even got mauled by a huge attack dog that was casually strolling with his owner- no leash, no muzzle) i could go on and on with very basic examples like this, which in my humble opinion, completely demonstrate how this "teach them to be a group" school technique does NOT pay off in real life- actually it seems to do all the opposite!
and don't even get me started on individuals who break rules but always try to get away with it because they have an excuse or a reason why they had to do it... sorry, but this is anything but a community-focused society!

Alec said...

It's interesting reading about this group-centric culture in Italy, a country which I thought would be very individual-centric because of its latin culture.

Japan, one of the safest and most orderly countries in the world, is famous for placing so much emphasis on groups, companies, schools and families rather than individuals. You depend on your group and your group depends on you.

- In Japan, a friend/relative of a criminal will often pay reparations on the criminal's behalf if the criminal does not pay (as we've seen in the recent trial of Joji Obara for murder).
- People usually call relatives by their relationship ('mother', 'older brother'), friends by their surname, and colleagues by their role in the company. First names are usually known only to relatives and friends from primary-school-age.
- If a company fails to make a profit the president will take the blame on behalf of the firm.
- It's near-impossible to rent an apartment, open a bank account, get a visa or do anything without a friend/relative to act as guarantor and vouch for your integrity.

Just a few examples of how Japanese society places so much emphasis on the group. Interesting to hear how similar it sounds to Italy. I wonder if more countries place emphasis on the individual or on the group.

US society in particular treats the individual as sacred. This is great in terms of people being creative and independent and having more freedom, but I think that this paradoxically makes people less responsible for their actions. How many times have we heard people respond to criticism with "Well, that's just the way I am and you can't change me!"? Because the individual is so important and because "we're all special and unique", it's almost as though people feel they have a license to be antisocial.

Sorry for going off on such a tangent; I hope there's something in there someone might find vaguely interesting!

sognatrice said...

Very interesting discussion, and I have no answers. There's probably a happy medium somewhere, but the group mentality in Italy can't be denied. Sure, sometimes that stops progress, but other times it also stops destructive behavior. The American way doesn't seem to encourage responsibility for one's actions, especially in present day--I come from the legal profession where someone is always ready to sue someone else even when an incident/accident is his or her own fault.

On the other hand, I'm a huge fan of individualism, so I can't imagine how differently I would've turned out had I grown up here.

Alec, I found your comment more than vaguely interesting, and wanted to add another similarity at least here in southern Italy--many people refer to each other as their relationships within the family instead of by name: sorella (sister), fratello (brother), suocero (father-in-law), etc. Also titles are huge here--if you're a lawyer, you're called "avvocato" and that's that. Never thought of it as a function of a group vs. individual mentality, but now that you mention it, that does make sense in the society as a whole.

Elizabeth, I hope your son's class finds that balance soon.