Madeleine Johnson has a must-read interview with Roger Abravanel, author of the book Meritocracy: Four Concerte Proposals for How to Take Talent Seriously and Make Our Country a Richer and More Just Place (available in Italian):
One statistic in struck me: 68 percent of Italians think their culture is superior to others, compared with 47 percent of Americans and 32 percent of French.
It’s amazing. It my next book I contrast this with the life skills survey. Ten years ago, scientists from ETS [Educational Testing Service] and OECD decided to redefine literacy to beyond just reading. Literacy is what you need to understand, to think and elaborate documents, and problem solve – all essential for training people for jobs and citizens for life. Without life skills, the public is uneducated; people can’t perform jobs and citizens aren’t informed.
They studied five democracies: Italy, the U.S., Norway, Switzerland, Bermuda and Nuevo León, which is the poorest state of Mexico. In Italy they examined both north and south and ran tests in four categories with five levels of difficulty.
I just saw the results because of working with [Education Minister] Gelmini. It’s appalling. Eighty percent of Italians are illiterate by these standards. A literate country should be around level 3. Norway has 75 percent above level 3. The U.S. and Switzerland has 50 percent above. Italy has 20 percent and Nuevo León is at 19.
A long and winding road, you might say.
A frightening new law was recently proposed in Italy: in addition to the already fatuous “religion hour” in Italian public schools (and you thought “one nation under God” was bad) – which is really an hour in which students are obliged to listen to a handpicked Vatican mouthpiece mouth off (paid for by the State, naturally) – there has been a recent proposal to add Islam to the “choice” (I am quotating here – see sidebar) of religions that are taught. The reason is worth quoting: to avoid abandoning little Muslims “to the ghettos of the madrassas and integralist Islamic schools” (Corriere della Sera). Brilliant! So let’s bring integralist Koranic teachings into the public schools, where they can wage their eternal battle for children’s minds with the Catholic Church itself. Let’s let our children be the little soldiers in State-funded religious warfare. Otherwise – and here, I feel, is the real reason behind the proposal – they might become kamikazes.
For an alternative to the teaching of the Catholic religion (IRC), the UAAR (Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics) has proposed a program to abolish this propagandistic aberration from Italian public education.
Think about it: shouldn’t every single child have the right to personalized religious teaching in the classroom? The son of Wiccans, the daughter of Hidus, the twins born to Red-Letter Christians should all have the same right that is granted to the children of Catholics in this country. It would be chaos, as you can imagine. Muslims may yet get that taste of equality, but only because integration is so poor and Islamic schooling has the unfortunate tendency to churn out suicidal religious fanatics (and they have growing numbers). This really has nothing to do with integration or equality.
Religion should simply be abolished from the public sphere. You have a home. You have a church, mosque, synagogue. Use them to teach religion, and leave the public schools to teach science, math, history and perhaps even the history of religions. That would be a fair and necessary innovation. Anything else is bigotry.