On March the 6th, the teachers of an Italian high school run a very peculiar experiment. They presented the students with a new legislative decree concerning the status of foreign students in Italian schools. The fake law, inspired by the Racial Laws promulgated by Fascist Italy in 1938, stated the following:
Starting today, with immediate effect, all students with one or more foreign parents will follow lessons in a separate classroom. Moreover, at the end of the school year, such students will take two extra exams on Italian language and culture.
The intent of this experiment was not only to raise the students’ historical awareness, but also to bring their reflections and considerations to the present. A present made of refugees, walls and foreigners simply labeled as enemies.
The experiment was run in the last year of Junior High, where students are around 12-13 years old. Foreign students were made aware of the plan and instructed on how to act, but to all others the letter came as a shock. And caused a pandemonium. Most students tried to stop their mates from leaving the classroom or followed them into the “segregation room”. Some students called the headmistress to protest against the resolutions. The most resourceful ones asked to write a letter to the government and organize a protest. Whatever their actions, no one in the class remained silent.
At the end of the day students were asked to write on post-its what their impressions were. “ I know that if this really happened, my classmates would rise up and help me” writes one of the “foreign” students, while Marco’s first thought was “to enter the minds of those who wrote this barbaric and unfair law”. To sum up, the students’ final words were: “We reacted this way because they are our friends. But if something is unfair, it is unfair to everyone.”
This small test, which surely caused a lot of distress in the classes, made me wonder: what were my concerns at the age of twelve? Well, on the eve of teenage I was mostly concerned about my friends and the guy I was madly in love with who didn’t love me back. Getting good grades and choosing what high school to go to as well of course. But that was pretty much it. Of course we studied history, and I was fascinated by it. But it did not get much further than that. There was never a realization that it was not just history, that it might also be the present of other kids in some remote land. No. We never wondered much about the actual social and political situation of Italy at the moment either. We never had any awareness of this as something real, of what racism really meant. Racism was just very far from us. So why bother?
In today’s world people are not only trying to cope with economic crisis, globalization and lack of jobs but also with the access to often distorted, dismembered and manipulated information. Therefore I would have expected these young men and women to follow what they hear around them. And to involuntarily absorb this miscellaneous of fear, feeling of injustice and racism.
Nevertheless, they see it differently. They think outside this ethical and correct catholic society and gazed at the others’ eyes. “We are friends” they said. Not merely classmates, friends. And this means that they looked beyond appearances. They went one step further. We are all different outside, but similar inside. This is the conclusion these high school students must have reached in their young minds.
This unveils a bitter truth though: all these phobic behaviors are just creations of our own distorted grown-up minds. Distorted by nothing else than fear of the unknown. Just like we created religion to escape fear of death, we build imaginary walls to protect ourselves from what’s new. From what’s different. But thank God children have purer hearts and see differences as richness. Maybe we should just learn from them, rather than force them to learn from us.
Featured image: rwdownes