By Caneel Dixon '15
This is final installment of a three-part series from Caneel on her gap year abroad in Italy
One of the questions I have been asked the most during my time here in Italy is, “Which school system do you think is more difficult: Italy’s or that of the United States?” In reality there is no easy answer because there are so many differences, so I’ll point out some of the main ones. *Please excuse my excessive use of run-on sentences and poor English grammar, I’m thinking half in Italian and half English writing this!
Because classes are formed and remain largely unchanged for the next five years of high school, the students get really close and a class mentality develops. This "team" mentality also transcribes over to when you are taking tests, written or oral. I remember my host dad asking me, "Well, you guys help each other out, right?" (referring to helping each other cheat in class) and my host sister said, "No, they don’t have the same unity as us" or something to that effect.
Other examples include:
After my first day of school, I was starting to do some of my Latin homework (before the school had me change classes to take more italian classes) and immediately a group chat had been formed and the first question was, "Who did the Latin homework?" and within an hour someone had already sent it to the group. That pretty much set the bar for the rest of the year.
When taking a written test, it’s easiest to bring a "biglietto" or little note card with information in to cheat off of, but another common method is whispering. A teacher might be interrupted by the hall monitor and needs to sign something, whisper whisper; another student asks a question, whisper whisper. Everyone breaks out at once comparing answers and asking each other for help. It’s not subtle either, the teachers know what’s happening too, some try to rein the class back in, others just let them carry on.
For oral tests, students can sometimes choose how they want to orientate themselves in regards to the teacher. Often it’s to the side of the teacher so that the student can look out to his or her peers and see their classmates trying to mouth or "cough" the answers to them. It’s rather entertaining to watch.
Cheating really is a problem here and nothing is being done to try and prevent it. It just seems like another part of the school system. There is no honor code or real punishments if you get caught cheating either. Once a guy in my class was caught using a little note card on a history test and his test was taken away, but then he just took it again the next time the class met. Another time, a different student used Google to translate the entire Latin test, and the teacher knew because it was written how a machine translator would write it, thus still having a ton of errors, so the teacher corrected it as so and the student got a 2, which seemed to be punishment enough. One day, I walked into the room I share with my host sister to find her making a formula cheat sheet for math and copying notes into her translation dictionary to use the next day in her Latin test. It was so normal that I almost forgot it wasn’t actually allowed, since everyone else in the class was doing the same exact thing.
|Before a test, my math study group would
eat pasta and study together!
Today in my Art class, the other students asked the teacher, who is in her late 60s and planning on retiring after this year (also one of the more serious ones in regards to how she runs her class and cheating), "Come on, teacher. Didn’t you cheat too?" The teacher then replied something along the lines of "Yes, but at a certain level" - not sure if she meant middle school, high school or college, but she wasn’t going to try and deny her "cheating" past either.
Now I’m not so naive as to think that the U.S. or even my own high school didn’t have plenty of people who cheat, but it’s just hard to explain how normal it is here. After coming from somewhere that had an Honor Code and Honor Board that was taken very seriously (as I think it should be), this has been an eye opening experience of a different culture.
Some guys started stealing the math tests from our teachers briefcase when he would go out to get a coffee during or before class and take pictures of them and then send them into the class group chat. After, I was expressing my surprise at the fact that the teacher would just leave the tests in the room and that the other students would know where to look to find them (or that the tests were even there), when a guy in my class asked me, "Well you guys can steal the tests from your teachers' briefcases in America too, right?"
It is so different I didn’t even know where to start to try and explain, but now I’ve had some more time to think about it:
- Teachers each have their own classroom, which they lock when they are not in, so you would need to break in and then start looking.
- Everything is electronic at our school (in America), so the "briefcase" would be hacking the cloud, and good luck with that.
- U.S. students just wouldn’t even think of that because if anything they would try to buy past year's tests, not try to steal the current ones or compare answers with other classes who have already taken the test since friends are mainly outside of your classes.
The bathrooms took a little getting used to, being squat toilets instead of the western style, but by now it’s completely normal. I will admit to looking up how to use one after being here for three months, just to make sure I was doing it right. The teachers have what Americans would call "normal" toilets, except there is no seat on the toilet bowl. In the teacher's restroom they also have a small shower head hooked up with a drain in the middle of the floor.
In my high school, student's safety was always a priority. One way of providing that was having an unobstructed view into every classroom. This meant every door had a window in it that was viewable from the outside or doors were just left open in general. Here, I realized pretty quickly that there were no windows or other ways to see into a class because if you want to enter a class, you need to knock on the door. The class then lets out a chorus of, "Avanti!" meaning "Come in!" to whoever is outside (I believe it’s only supposed to be the teacher who says this and gives the outsider permission to come in, but in reality it’s everyone together). Sometimes these interruptions are from the hall monitors, bringing something for the teacher to sign about a change in schedule for the class (it almost never has anything to do with the teacher in the class at all, but they need proof that an adult was present to tell the students the change). Other times, it is other students asking for Latin dictionaries, calculators or art design tools. You really never know who is going to come through the door, but it always provides a small break in the class which the students always take full advantage of.
Private schools are generally thought to be for the students who would have had to repeat a year at Liceo or who are generally not as smart. Also, although "Liceo" is a public school, very few people transfer in from other schools or other areas because people generally move a lot less. Instead, families tend to all stay together in the same town. This causes some tense conversations for some families when students in their fifth year are deciding on the college they want to attend.
|The school-wide protest for better heat in the school
included marching around the school and lots of blankets
to stay warm because it was very cold outside.
School-wide protests still happen here. They are organized by the elected student government and seem to be very effective so far. We had one in December and another one is scheduled for the middle of February. The December "sciopero" was in protest of the lack of heat in the school since the school was trying to save money. The students came to school at 8 a.m., like any other normal school day, except everyone waited outside the main school gates. At around 9 a.m., everyone marched around the school and sang chants and held up their really creative signs. The local news station even came out to cover it. The next day when we went back to school, it was nice and toasty!
Side note: it’s funny to walk down the hallway during our 11 a.m. snack break because you will see clumps of students spaced evenly down the course of the hallway; all leaning against the heaters.
I want to thank you all for taking time to read this! Thanks for all you have done for me.
And we at Tampa Prep want to thank Caneel for sharing these insights into her time abroad!