restricted access 11. The “Hot Point”
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C H A P T E R 1 1 The “Hot Point” The book Contro i papà: Come noi italiani abbiamo rovinato i nostri figli [Against Fathers: How We Italians Have Ruined Our Children] by Antonio Polito is a cry, a provocation, a question: Where are we leading our children? Many parents will identify with this interrogative. It is a question that often becomes worry, and sometimes anguish, because many parents do not know where to turn, where to look, in order to emerge from the impasse in which they find themselves.This is an evident sign of the confusion that dominates our time. We have seen the birth and development of many beautiful things, many scientific achievements. But we do not know how to offer something truly meaningful to those dearest to us, to our children, so that they can make their way amidst the confusion that surrounds them. Polito, an astute observer, grasps the greatest challenge that society is facing, which is the challenge of education, with respect to which the other challenges—economic, social, and political—are but 145 consequences. And he identifies not only the challenge, but also its origin: fathers. Or, more generally, adults, be they parents, educators, teachers, or clergy—that is to say, everyone who has proven to be, with some exceptions, incapable of offering a hypothesis of a response at the level of their children’s needs. From the very first pages of the book the author is trenchant in addressing the issue: “Who among us fathers . . . can deny to himself the truth that everything around us tells us that education (understood in a much broader sense than mere instruction) is the crucial factor for the success of a community and, within it, of our children? So why have we completely abdicated our educative role, to instead become our children’s awkward defense attorneys?”1 This is the challenge. How can we see that parents have abdicated their educative role? In two basic ways. A Misguided Sense of Protection Parents have wanted to spare their children the struggle of living at all costs. “Instead of being parents, we have gradually become our children’s defense attorneys, always ready to fight so that the road to nothingness is paved for them [strong words], because there is no ambitious goal without an arduous journey.This is a widespread cultural phenomenon, and it is becoming a trait of our national character. . . . And it is acting as a brake not only on the economic growth of our nation, but on its psychological growth, as well.”2 In other words, instead of launching our children toward an ambitious goal that corresponds to their needs, to their hope, to their heart, the path toward which is necessarily arduous, we have preferred to smooth the way for them, so that they don’t have to work too hard, so that they can avoid the uphill struggle. Instead of Steve Jobs’s “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” from his famous speech at Stanford University, we have preferred “stay satisfied, stay conformist.” “The fault is ours. We are the real ‘big babies,’” writes Polito. We have pursued a social model that is aimed at making life easy for our children, without realizing that by doing this in the name of our children, we are ruining them. “We don’t want them to be hungry even for an instant. Rather, 146 An Educational Emergency we have built our lives and our society around their nourishment. . . . Around protecting them from need, with social consequences that are significant and not always positive.”3 We have lived “a misguided sense of protection toward our children . Misguided because it actually betrays a collective distrust of their means, the fear of letting them swim with their own strength as soon as possible. And they feel this distrust, and it depresses their selfconfidence .”4 In my opinion, these are extremely astute affirmations of how we, by protecting them, give a judgment about their abilities, their possibilities to be themselves, to grow, to develop. We do not say it explicitly, but they grasp this judgment anyway. In short, we have practiced a harmful paternalism. Polito calls it the “slipper society,”5 directed at preserving our young people from any sort of effort. I am struck by the parallel with what Fr. Giussani said in 1992, in an interview for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: Italy . . . frightens me. . . . It is a societal situation where there is no adequate ideal, where...