First Day of School

So. School. Axa’s first day at asilo (preschool/kindergarten) was yesterday. I had very mixed feelings about it. I never went to school myself, nor did I ever anticipate or picture sending my child to school. Yet, here it is. She enjoyed it, although she was quite nervous, and obviously didn’t understand much, since the entire reason we’re sending her is to learn Italian. The school itself is quite impressive. I never went school-shopping in La Jolla or Carmel Valley, but I imagine that an upscale preschool in one of those neighborhoods would probably look a lot like this, although admittedly without that extra Italian flair for style and detail. Everything, from the walls to the octoganal tables to the tiny toilets and sinks to the little lockers is color-coordinated in rich pastels. The shelves are bursting with nice toys and books, and the playground outside looks like something out of a Haba catalogue. It’s a brand-new building, designed and built by the former Mayor, who is an architect and Tony’s new employer.

All of this is lovely, of course, and the teachers are very sweet, and the other children are as sociable, charming and affectionate as most of the other Italians I know. The only problem was that Axa spent the whole morning yesterday at asilo playing with Rebecca, our neighbor upstairs, who speaks English. Rebecca also claimed that she had translated everything for Axa. Not the best scenario for Italian language development, even if it was nice for her to have someone she knew already to play with. So today Tony and I dropped her off together and stayed for a moment to discuss it with her teacher, Luisa. The teacher assured us that next month when they split up the different ages, she would put Axa in a different group from Rebecca.

So that worked out perfectly. Although nobody seems to really understand the fact that our top priority for Axa is learning Italian. The Italians are more concerned with her learning to read and write to prepare for school next year. Aside from the fact that she spends hours every day (her initiative) writing in English already, and is beginning to read quite competently, let’s stop and consider the logic of this. How would you like to learn to read and write Arabic or Russian when you didn’t speak a word of it? Try memorizing a new alphabet and using it to write and sound out gibberish, and you’ll see how enjoyable and useful such an exercise would be. Spoken language really must come first. I’m sending her to asilo to learn Italian, because it’s important to her life right now to speak Italian, and I’m not as competent to teach it to her as a five-year-old Italian (or an asilo teacher, for that matter).

Reading, writing, history, mathematics, music, art, science, and most other subjects, I consider myself perfectly competent to teach her. But not Italian, at least not at the moment. But home education is another can of worms best not mentioned in Italy. When I say she’ll be educated at home, the just give me a weird look and mutter something about scuola obbligatoria. And of course, they don’t for a moment believe that I could actually be acquainted with the laws regarding home schooling in Italy, of which they themselves (although they are Italian) are completely unaware. Sigh. The Italian concept of home schooling is basically on par with the American one twenty-five years ago when my mother started home schooling us. “But is that legal?”

Yes, it’s legal. I looked into that before I moved to Italy, because I wouldn’t have moved here if it weren’t. That’s why I didn’t consider moving to Germany or Sweden. Or Cuba or North Korea.