The first question most Italians asked me was, "But won't the school over there be taught in English?" I'm serious. Instead of answering that with an exaggerated "Duh!!", I would patiently explain that that was the whole point. I would then explain that Italians never really colonized anyplace way back when, so Italian is spoken only in Italy. In Italy it was also mysterious to people why I chose that my children studied Spanish as their second foreign language (after English). I mean who cares about Spanish? It's only one of the most important languages spoken in the world today... Why not French? Just in case you ever go to Paris or Algeria?
The next question was about how I would ever be able to afford an American school. Italian media is saturated with fallacies about the cost of living in America, most of which are just to make Italians not feel quite so bad about the astronomical cost of living over there. As I've written here many times before. one of the major reasons for our leaving was the cost of doing just about anything. So I would usually counter this with something like, "Well, I don't think I'll pine for the 245 Euros that I shelled out last year for my 7th grade son's text books." I'm serious. That's roughly $330!
Americans, on the other hand, would routinely ask me if I wasn't worried about my children eating in the American school cafeteria... the food in Italy is so much better. Well, the food in Italy is better, but the big problem with that notion is that kids over there go home for lunch, and guess who was cooking at home! Aren't you worried about drugs and sex? Well, yes. But kids do drugs and have sex in Italy, too. Duh!! American have a very idealized vision of Italy in general, with sweet curly headed boys kicking soccer balls in the piazza. Those sweet boys do kick soccer balls in the piazza, but behind the piazza you often step on syringes and used condoms...
My experience in the Italian school system was a good one, academically speaking. My children were lucky to have excellent teachers and what I believe is a superior academic preparation in their elementary years to what you might find in American elementary schools. In math in particular. My youngest son was the "Math Wizard" in out northern Italian region, and he had a teacher who really knew how to push him.
I also think that the social aspect of school is sadly lacking in Italy. There are no ball games, no after school clubs or sports, no student councils, no dances. There is a crucifix in every classroom, something which I never could stomach. There isn't an Italian flag to be found anywhere. Only the gory crucifix. The buildings are usually falling apart and have no decent sports facilities. The foreign children who have just arrived in Italy and do not speak a word of Italian are thrown in with the Italian students, creating no small amount of chaos and often slowing down the entire class, all while the foreign children feel frustrated and alienated.
So how's it going? Well, we are basically living in a school district that we totally can't afford, but the school makes it all worth it. My kids' middle school is a gem. The view from the school looks like this...
They broadcast a newscast by students every morning on the widescreen TV's in every classroom. They have a computer lab with a laptop for every student. They have a rock climbing wall, ropes course, football field, two beautiful gyms and auditorium. They have more sports programs than any other school in Colorado, including cross country skiing, mountain biking, ice hockey, rugby, marathon running, and all the rest. They have a Spanish club, French club, and, yes, an Italian club! They have an incredible chemistry lab with Jimmy Neutron-like equipment. They have pep rallies and cheerleaders. My youngest son recently led the Pledge of Allegiance on the loudspeaker. My eldest is trying out for the basketball team on Monday.
And best of all, in honor of my eldest son's 13th birthday (well, not really, but I like of think of it this way), tomorrow night is the first school dance! With live music!
Are my children happy? Well, what do you think? All of this seems the norm for the jaded American kids... but for my little Italians, they feel like they're going to school at Disneyland.
Addendum - I forgot to mention the most shocking thing of all. In Italy, kids go to school on Saturdays! Seriously.