Two thousand six hundred years separate the first and the last of the passages mentioned. A profound common thread unites them in a possible comment and is enclosed in a question: what is it that really counts for life, for work, for the fatigue of a human being?
From this question, because in the Blog I deal with School and not with Transcendence or Beauty, I derive another: what is it that is really important for a student who attends a professional institute for gardeners, or a technical institute for tourism, or an industrial technical institute or, again, a classical or scientific high school? What is really essential in what each of them studies?
And then, considering that it is first of all the questions that count, since it is fundamental to pose the problems even before providing the solution to solve them (they are in large part in agreement with this idea but I also have, in this regard, some deep reservations that, sooner or later, perhaps, I will present), I want to move on to other questions addressed to teachers but which also affect students.
- Should a teacher look for an answer to why the study applies to all school curricula?
- Who teaches a discipline – in my case who teaches Literature, or who teaches History – how should it indicate what is essential in his teaching activity?
- What is the use of what he teaches?
First of all I propose some brief answers to my questions, then I will try a brief analysis about it. As mentioned on other occasions, I remain within the field that is specific to me: I teach in a Classical High School but if I taught in a Scientific, my arguments would be substantially identical (for other scholastic addresses the discourse would certainly have to be reformulated).
- The study of literature is based on the tools of linguistic communication. Students must master these tools, they must be able to communicate consciously and effectively.
- Literature, as I have said elsewhere, makes us enter into the “infinite sea of being”, that is, it speaks to us about human life, knowing literature is knowing man.
- Knowing the man implies reflection on its contradictions, on the complexity of its actions, on the differences that dot its existence. Literature helps us to get into this complexity, it forces us to reflect, it calls us to take a stand.
- I have repeatedly said that I hate to talk about “skills” to explain what is happening at the School but I can make an exception: to reach the goals indicated above the student must use the brain, here is the only “competence” that is really care.
- The study objectives, and not only those, are achieved only if we are able to put an order in the study itself, in our way of communicating, in the work projects we undertake. The knowledge of the great literary works cannot be separated from the discovery of their deep structure, of the order that the author has been able to impress on the pages: here is one of the greatest merits of the “classics”
- History makes us know who we are, our origins, our values, our diversity. History is complex, it is both wonderfully and dramatically complex; looking for its meaning, even in this case, it accustoms us to use the brain, to distinguish before and after, cause and effect, opinions and facts, true and false.
- Studying History is not easy, and even studying Literature is not easy, but for a high school student, for a student who spends at least 11 years (if not 13) of his life to go into these subjects, only going in depth serves to grasp the sense of time spent at school.
- The questions I have just asked admit of course other answers besides mine. The research can and must continue and a student must not disregard it; study, reflection and personal sensitivity can (and sometimes must) lead to different solutions, in whole or in part, from those I have proposed. In other words, a student at the end of the high school must also be able to proceed alone.
I realize that what I wrote on this page can be connected to two synthetic questions repeatedly proposed (especially the first one) inside the Blog.
What is literature for?
What is History for?
The solutions that in this case I propose can be further explored in the light of two other articles of the Blog “What is the use of Literature (recovery)” and “History, illustrious unknown”.
To conclude, I explain and briefly analyze the quotations at the beginning.
The poetry of Sappho, together with the fragment of Archilochus that throws the shield to save life, marks the real birth of lyric poetry, the contrast to the collective values of the epic to claim the reasons of the ego; not only the reasons for love but, more generally, the defense of an individual space, I could say the reasons for the freedom of choice. Here, however, the quotation serves me in a somewhat different way, in fact it reminds me that Sappho calls each of us to look for what matters most to him, not to conform to what in other contexts has been for us decided.
The first verse of Matthew is taken from the Sermon on the Mount and proposes detachment from material goods, from all that is ephemeral, even though it may seem beautiful, useful, attractive, because, as they say a little earlier, “life is worth more than food, the body is worth more than the dress ”. The message should not be read as a devaluation of food and clothing; the evangelist sees in the teaching of Jesus the invitation to work according to a scale of priorities, looking for what is really essential and that gives meaning to everything else.
The message is even clearer in the second of the proposed verses, in a section of the Gospel of Matthew which contains a series of parables. In the face of the treasure that man has found all the rest of his life he loses value. The man sells everything because he is able to choose, because he has understood what really counts for him.
I have already mentioned elsewhere the joke contained in “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, a novel that I loved a lot and that still seems to me to be worthy of great attention. The protagonist, who had once been a university teacher, remembers that one day a humble woman had, in fact, asked him: “But she teaches quality”. Faced with the question, he begins a process of reflection on the action of a teacher who has an overwhelming effect on him, because it leads him to challenge all official certainties, to question his own life, because in search of quality, in search of what is essential, it is necessary to sacrifice every other project, every other research.
I hope that it is not necessary to explain how the analysis of the four citations is linked to the schematic list of the points which are essential for me in my work as a teacher or, better to say, to the list of what is in the first places in the goals that I have set for myself, and that I still set myself.
It is certainly not even necessary to comment on how my way of seeing the function of teaching moves me away from the “School of the transition from knowledge to skills”, from the “text analysis” that forget the synthesis of the text, from the “days of memory “In which the ignorance of History is not fought, by the” POFs “who triumphantly proclaim a myriad of objectives, proposing them to students in a language that is often incomprehensible to most, from” active citizenship projects “in which students appear to me like so many soldiers. led to inspect the barracks, from the “alternating school work” initiatives in which the School as a formation disappears and in its place advances a sequence of disparate information, devoid of a unitary sense, connected only in a process of accumulation of fragments.
It seems to me more and more difficult to look for what really counts, but my “deprecatio temporum” does not bring with it the renunciation of ceasing to do so, urging the students to do it.