Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Here Comes Alvin

Alvin and the “Immigrant Student Quota”

English translation by Wendell Ricketts
[Read the original in Italian here.]

I have a theory. If we want to understand the true impact of Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini’s new quota system (yeah, that quota—the 30% limit on immigrant students in public-school classrooms), we need to try to get inside the head of one of the guys who most favored the idea of quotas: an Average Lega-Nord-Voting Working Stiff[1] (from now, just to keep things simple, we’ll call him Alvin).

Alvin is not a racist—just ask him. In fact, down at the shop one of the trainees is from Moldavia. He’s a good guy and he minds his own business. But ever since Alvin, Jr. started his first year of middle school, Alvin is having a hard time digesting this business of immigrant kids in Italian school classrooms.

At first, everything seemed normal. Sure, Alvin, Jr. occasionally dropped some odd name or other when he came home with one of his “what I did at school today” tales, but Alvin has a lot of Italian friends who’ve chosen to name their kids Brandon or Sharon or whatever. And then, during the very first parent-teacher meeting of the year, the teachers told Alvin and his wife, “The group that Alvin, Jr. is in is proving to be quite a handful.” But they wouldn’t be teachers if they didn’t find something to complain about, right?

The real shock didn’t come until Alvin saw his son’s photos from the first class excursion of the year. What he immediate realized was that his son’s class was a zoo. Three Africans, each one blacker than the next. Some sort of Martian with a cowl over his head (“No, Dad, he’s from India, but he’s a Sikh”). An indeterminate number of Romanians, Poles, and who knows what else. Six or seven out of twenty-seven.

“It’s a multiethnic group. A marvelous opportunity for your son,” the teacher told Alvin. The same teacher who’d said it was a difficult group. As far as Alvinwas concerned, something smelled bad. If multiethnic classes were really such a marvelous opportunity, how come his neighbor, the engineer, didn’t have his daughter in one, too? She’s the same age as Alvin, Jr., but she seems a lot more advanced. His wife told Alvin it was nothing to worry about: girls always do better in school than boys.

One morning, as Alvin was drinking coffee at his local café, though, he couldn’t hold back any longer, and he started in on the school situation with the engineer. Eventually, of course, they wound around to the fateful topic, immigrant students in their kids’ classes....

His liberal-minded neighbor had his answer ready. “They’re better students than the Italians,” he said. “In my daughter’s class, for example, there’s this Hungarian kid who’s a real whiz with computers, you know?”

“There is? Sure, but there’s also the ones ... I mean, some of them are having a hard time even learning Italian, which slows down the rest of the class. Your daughter must have some classmates like that, too.”

“No, not that I know of.”

And that’s how it came to light that Alvin, Jr. had eight immigrant classmates but the engineer’s daughter only had one (the computer genius).

“Of course,” Alvin’s wife said. “The engineer enrolled his kid in the bilingual German class.”

“Why? They don’t allow foreign kids into that class?”

“Theoretically, I don’t suppose there’s any reason why they wouldn’t.”

“So why aren’t there more of them?”

“Because German is a tough language. Besides, there’s a waiting list.”

“A waiting list?”

“Not much gets by you, does it?”

“No, I mean ... they have a waiting list to study German in a middle school? What’s so special about the German class?”

“Maybe it’s that all the pupils are white.”

And voilà, the mystery was revealed. There hadn’t been any invasion of immigrant students. The problem was that they’d all been concentrated in a small number of classes, one of which was Alvin, Jr.’s. In the other classes (Alvin had checked the role sheets posted outside the classrooms when school started in September), kids with foreign names were extremely rare. That was when something in Alvin finally snapped. Or maybe it was when he heard his son’s teacher say for the fifth time that Alvin, Jr.’s group was falling behind in its program. Whatever it was, the first chance he got, Alvin voted for the Lega Nord.

When his guys in parliament proposed instituting so-called “transition classes” (a separate, remedial-Italian track where foreign students would remain until they demonstrated sufficient language skills to join the normal educational program), he got into a heated argument at his usual table at the café. “It’s the return of Racial Laws!” the engineer thundered. “The truth of the matter is that you’re all terrified of foreigners, even though a lot of the time they’re sharper than our own kids.”

A few months later, the Lega Nord started talking about quotas, and the engineer predicted that forced deportations couldn’t be far behind. But guys like the engineer always have something to say about everything. Because they’re Communists. Alvin, though, the more he thinks about it, the more it seems reasonable. Finally (he thinks), immigrant kids won’t be piled up in one or two “classroom concentration camps” but distributed fairly throughout the school. And Alvina, Alvin, Jr.’s sister, who’s starting middle school in September, won’t end up in another ghetto of illiterates. Way to go, Gelmini!

Next Fall, though, when Alvin reads the role sheets outside the newly formed classrooms, he’s going to have a heart attack. Out of twenty-nine students in Alvina’s class, sixteen have foreign surnames. And at that point, he’s going to go ask the Principal: “What’s going on here? Are we being invaded? What happened to the quotas? It must be true what people are saying, that this school is nothing but a den of Reds where you ignore the regulations of the Minister of Education anytime you want!”

And what’s the Principal going to tell him? “First of all” (he’ll say), “please let me reassure you. A multiethnic classroom like your daughter’s is a marvelous opportunity.”

“Blah blah blah. I’ve already heard this song. What I want to know is how come you’re refusing to abide by the immigrant-student quotas.”

“But we do abide by the quotas. There are nine immigrant students in your daughter’s class.”

“That’s still more than there were three years ago! What about the quota?”

“The quota is 30%. The problem is that, as a result of budget cuts, classroom size has grown larger. There are thirty students in your daughter’s class, and 30% of thirty is nine. We’re within the quota.”

“Hold on a sec ... right here, I’m reading at least sixteen last names that aren’t Italian. Not nine. Sixteen.”

“Naturally, because the class also includes students with immigrant families but who were born in Italy. Minister of Education Gelmini has made it clear that those students aren’t to be counted in the quota.”

“Ah, you don’t count them.”


“Okay, but why do they all have to end up in the same class as my kids? I mean, it’s not like I’m some racist, but I don’t understand what’s going on here. How come you don’t put a few here, a few there.... For example, why don’t you put some here in Classroom A?”

“Classroom A is studying German....”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s a waiting list. What about Classroom B?”

“B is working on musical experimentation.”

“So? Are all the immigrant kids tone deaf?”

“No, but there’s a waiting list for that group as well.”

“What about Classroom C?”

“That’s a high-demand group. They don’t come back after lunch for the afternoon session. It’s for children who are involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. You know, swimming, horseback riding....”

“There’s a wait for that one, too?”

“Let’s just say that immigrant students aren’t involved in as many extracurricular activities. I hope our little chat has cleared things up.”

It sure has. Things in Alvin’s mind are clearer now than ever. It’s not Minister Gelmini’s fault. She did what she could. The real problem is that these Communists are devils. Pass a law, find the flaw. They make sure their kids study German or learn the flute, take horseback lessons ... anything to keep them away from the colored kids. And Alvin’s children are the ones who are paying for it. Damn those Communists. Their day is going to come though. The minute our guys manage to get into power....

[1] Once a slightly marginalized, radical far-right party dedicated mainly to the secession of a large swatch of Northern Italy from the rest of the country, the Lega Nord (the Northern League) has come to play an extremely powerful and influential role in Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling Popolo della Libertà (the People of Freedom) coalition, including the control of four cabinet-level ministries (Interior, Legislative Simplification, Agriculture, and Reforms and Federalism) and five under-secretariats (Infrastructure, Interior, Economy and Finances, Health, and Legislative Simplification). The Lega Nord is directly responsible for Italy’s increasingly draconian approach to immigration, the closing of mosques and, at various local levels, the creation of public buses for Italian citizens only, proposals to create armed neighborhood posses designed to “increase public security,” and door-to-door roundups of illegal immigrants. For more on the Lega Nord, see Dreaming of a White ChristmasWhat If It’s True We Get the Politicians We Deserve?None Dare Call It Racism, and One Ronde Doesn’t Mean It’s Spring, or visit Wiki’s Lega Nord page (in English)—most of it is obviously a translation of an Italian page sympathetic to the Lega, but go to the bottom to see information about “Violent Rhetoric” and “Accusations of Xenophobia.” For more on Minister Gelmini and her educational reforms, see The Monster Reduction and Simplification Act (Wendell Ricketts).

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