The thick half red and half blue pencil is an object familiar to those of us who went to school in the 60s and 70s. Our teachers used to correct our tests with it. Blue mistakes, very serious ones; red mistakes, not so serious. Now, we teachers just use red-ink pens and make our students' papers bleed.
Marco Lodoli is just 4 years older than me and a high school teacher like me. He is a very good journalist and writer, too. He publishes his articles about school in the most important Italian newspapers andt has also published novels and short stories. Well, even an extraordinary man like him suffers from frustration at being a teacher nowadays. Even he has to cope with classes of disinterested, demotivated, distracted teenagers.
His school memories from childhood are my memories from childhood, his present experiences at school are my own experiences. This is why I loved reading this book. I found myself in it.
"IL ROSSO E IL BLU" ( the red and the blue colour of the pencil I mentioned at the beginning) is opened and closed by the same words. I'm going to translate them for you. I hope I'll manage to convey Lodoli's nostalgia and tenderness:
" Primary school Ugo Bartolomei, via Asmara, Roma, 1962-1967, a life ago. In fact, when I try recollect in my memory that time, I just find few fragments I can hardly connect. But Mrs Greco, first and second year, and Mr Castelli, from the third to the fifth year, I perfectly remember. They are the first people who taught me not to cry too much ( I don't know why, I was so easily moved to tears, everything upset me), to keep my things in order, to listen, to go the whole hog. It was a silent world, completely different from the world of our restless, yelling and shouting kids of today. Mrs Greco dictated and I wrote, trying to avoid making mistakes because I didn't want to disappoint her. Mr Castelli gave us long explanations about Maths and I listened to him carefully, lined up figures, solved problems. They called me Lodoli, they were strict, demanding, melancholic: they knew everything, all the rivers in Italy, all the capitals, all about Ancient Rome History, and I thought they were immortal".
The contrast between these sweet melancholic memories and his present experiences at school is clashing.
Here are some of his key-ideas.
1. Our kids and teenagers don't want to suffer at all, never, neither to measure their strength. Every noble illusion is immediately left apart because it involves an effort which is not considered worth making. Even a test is something to be rejected in the name of extreme hedonism.
2. To learn, actually learn something, costs hard work, while the religion of our time is laughing and enjoying oneself and hard work is an offence to good humour.
3. Nowadays culture and knowledge are useless but if they were really and deeply absorbed by ordinary people, they would be even harmful, they would sabotage the engine of the car we are travelling in and this can't be permitted. Culture and knowledge can be subversive and destroy our world , a market founded on compulsive wishes.
4. Those who want to make their best at school risk being mocked, emarginated, bullied. To make one's best is useless, if not dangerous. Our TV programmes are crowded with people who can do very little or nothing but are under the spotlight, become rich and popular.
5. The right attitude to life should be : "Here I am, I'm trying, I'm doing my best, I just want to defeat apathy and laziness. Life is huge and there must be a place for me too, come hell or high water".
6. Our teenagers are convinced wisdom is useless today, it is something belonging to the past. We only need money and technology according to them.
So teachers fight against windmills like Don Quixote in Cervantes's novel. But Marco Lodoli invites us to be hopeful, to insist, to start over each and any time we fail, even when it seems there is nothing to do. Even when it seems we've lost the match.
I'm convinced of that and I'm also very lucky. I've met and still meet many wonderful young people. Not the majority, but that minority is worth fighting for. Thanks Marco Lodoli.