Everything I Know About Education I Learned From Italian Food

Have you ever eaten an Italian meal?

I don’t mean Italian food like the kind you get from your favorite eatery; I definitely don’t mean ordering the Tour of Italy from the local Olive Garden (which is so far removed from real Italian food that I hesitate to even mention it in this post). No, no…a proper, sit-down meal made in the old country-style, served to a delighted and adoring crowd. A never-boring occasion. An event.

When we ate on my trip to Italy, we enjoyed multiple courses, a bite from here and a bite from there and drawn out over hours. My friend K came back from her study abroad session in Corciano bearing a hand still recovering from the chocolate frenzy in Perugia, recipes, cooking styles, and a wealth of Umbrian food knowledge. Everything she made was created from simple ingredients, fresh as can be and of highest quality, served artfully and, most importantly, savored.

There is no finer meal on the planet than one served in Italy…and they don’t mind telling you. It’s okay. The confidence is earned.

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In deciding to educate at home instead of in a formal institution, we have spent a lot of time studying the current American model and brother, we are totally hosed. In a rather typically American fashion, we are choosing to glut ourselves at the buffet of fact-drilling in order to vomit those facts into the basin of standardized testing. Our kids are educational bulimics; absorbing a bit of nutrient here and then expelling it in a rush in order to pass to the next level of acceptance. “Do well on this exam, this course, get this degree, start that degree, and it will all be okay. You’ll be loved, you’ll succeed. It will all work out.” Except when it doesn’t.

Few calories are retained, the systemic damage compounds every year, and we still don’t have an answer to Bush’s question: “Is our children learning?” (Raise a hand if you still have a bump on your forehead from hitting yourself in the head when you first heard that question.) No, I don’t believe that they are.

Some are; some always will. But the majority are not really learning, and the real crime is that they don’t care as long as they can stuff themselves, get through the next portion, and forget that they ever had to glut themselves at all. There’s no zest and no passion; just as there is no American food culture and we are killing ourselves with meaningless empty calories, so too are our children suffering an early death of the soul from a bankrupt educational climate. In a society where I just read “Get Live Updates About The Royal Wedding!” in a banner above a news article about the political turmoil in Egypt, we can hardly blame the kids for becoming the empty-yet-bloated products of their culture.

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So…back to the food. Our goal is to keep Maggie’s curiosity and passion alive and her desire to learn fully intact. By homeschooling, we can prepare her educational feast ourselves. We know what’s going into it; she can help us as we prepare it. Educating a child SHOULD be just like a good Italian meal: hours of sampling delectable courses, created with the finest ingredients, consumed in the company of those invested in your enjoyment and well-being. If something doesn’t work, we’ll find a different way to serve it. If more time is required to acquire a taste for something, she can have it. If we want to make a cheese plate and spend the day comparing regional specialties while the rest of the world goes through yet another drilling of the times tables, we can do that. Oh, she’ll learn the times tables too; but she’ll learn it on her own time and in between courses of whatever else life has to offer.

This is not a proclamation; I don’t want to say “We will NEVER send our kids to school!!! #^(*#(%@^%@~!!!!” It’s just a goal as we start moving in to toddler years and thinking about things like preschools and classes and activities. I know close to a dozen adults who were at least partially homeschooled, and the ones I’ve asked agree that the internet has made it infinitely easier to take on a project like this. It is nothing to find plans, materials, and last but definitely not least: local homeschooling cooperatives and groups with other kids her age doing the same things at home. Most encouraging is the fact that all of those adults are social, happy and normal people and most would do it the same way again if given the choice. If homeschooling stops working for us, we’ll adjust accordingly and send her off with the knowledge we’ve prepared her as best we can, but faced with a row of American buffet tables and a proper Italian feast, what would you pick? We’re thinking she’ll go for the latter.

And now I’m really, really hungry. We better have some mozzarella in the fridge.

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6 thoughts on “Everything I Know About Education I Learned From Italian Food

  1. I don’t have children, so I can’t really weigh in on the benefits of homeschooling. I will say one thing: there were times when, in the screaming, shouting, noisy free-for-all that was recess, I thought, “Man. This is just like home.” 🙂

    So as long as you have that dose of wild, crazy Baccanalia for, say, half an hour each day, Maggie will be just fine. And for the record, it sounds like you already have it (which I mean as a compliment). 🙂

    P.S. – my cousin’s fiance just made me a grilled panino with brie, chocolate, and basil. Details to come.

    • That sounds magnificent. And yeah, it’s a goal of mine to spend at least an hour of every day in the company of other people’s anklebiters. Except Thursdays. Thursday is my do-nothing day.

      You don’t by any chance have any crazy relatives who run around the house in short-shorts, a winter hat, and shoes a size too big while they bang a pot with a stick, do you? Maggie might have what it takes to stage her own Bacchanalia.

  2. A thoughtful post on where to become educated, Deanna. I’ve long since departed the primary / secondary education mill. Did it work for me? Sort of. I got my gentlemens’ C in an environment that offered college prep, general studies, industrial arts for boys and business for girls. I know that I was not a very inspired student. One size did not fit all, or most, back then or now. Today we have those same sizes plus IB, Magnet curriculum, AP, and Fundamental. Yet school systems still struggle to educate all who enter the system

    In recent years, my personal experience with education has been through contact with HS students we recognize and work with through the Rotary club. I’ve seen a lot of sharp kids with 4.0 plus GPA’s, killer SAT’s, solid extra curricular activities, and vigorous community service cred. Passing a standardized test is something they can do before breakfast with ease. They will do well in life. But, they are the few in the public schools. And even with the many achievements they have garnered, I detect they still share a common shortcoming. They all want to go to UF, FSU, or “down the road” university. Where, I wonder, is the sense of adventure or desire to look beyond the state line?

    I think a home schooling plan is a good means of providing attractive alternatives beyond a strictly public offering. For a person of my generation, home schooling first and formost was a means to keep your kids away from “those people” and out of the “Godless classroom”. Parents sought to segregate and isolate their children from a diverse world. How ironic that now home schooling is a means to take children beyond the boundaries of a classroom and the bondage of standardized testing.

    Education is becoming a commodity. A commodity that can be acquired at the public market, in a boutique co operative, from an internet source, and effectively at home or traveling with parents. It is not just a process that occurs from 8am till 3:15 while the kids are in the presence of our dedicated and caring public school teachers.

    You and Tom have considered the tasks to be undertaken in giving Maggie an education that prepares her for the world as you see it. Huzzah! Home, private, public, co operative, and educational opportunities yet to be identified are means to your end. It is commendable that so many young families seek to take greater responsibility in educating their children. I wish you well in your endeavors. Finally I’d like to ask that I be given the opportunity to teach Maggie about motorcycles, birds, ropes and knots, rocks, 60’s muscle cars, Frank Sinatra, bears, the Beach Boys, kayaking, and fire trucks.

    • Thank you for the well-wishes! And as for your chosen topics of interest, have at it! Our hope is that Maggie learns to see all people as potential teachers; what better way to start than by studying cool stuff with her beloved grandfather?

  3. Love this post, Deanna, especially the comparison of the public education system to our (mostly) tasteless and culture-less cuisine!

    Congrats on your decision!!!!!

    • Thank you!! I definitely don’t mean to say that all public education is bad (certainly, I think it did fine by you and me ;D) but I definitely don’t feel like it’s a great fit for us. And perhaps one day we can take a mother-daughter yoga retreat to Vermont…

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