Italian education minister Francesco Profumo ignited a controversy this week by proposing that Islam be taught in public schools alongside the traditional teaching of Roman Catholicism.
The interesting thing is that Mr. Profumo didn’t actually mention Islam. In fact, none of the news stories excerpted below used the I-word or the M-word. The ministers and cardinals and spokespersons referred to pupils “from different countries, cultures and religions,” and a “more multiethnic” “multicultural” curriculum.
Yet these are code words for “Islam”, since the Jewish population of Italy has not increased significantly in recent decades, nor are hordes of Hindus and Buddhists pouring into the country.
No, the minister is plainly referring to Muslims, specifically Muslims from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and Albania, whose numbers have been growing steadily in Italy over the last few decades. One assumes that everyone who reads the Italian papers or watches the news on TV knows exactly what Mr. Profumo means.
Here’s what he said in his first announcement on Tuesday, as reported by AKI:
‘School Lessons Must Reflect Multiethnic Population’ Says Minister
Rome, 25 Sept. (AKI) — The teaching of religion and other subjects in Italy’s schools needs to be overhauled to be relevant to immigrants and their children living in the country, education minister Francesco Profumo said on Tuesday.
“There are students in our schools who come from different countries, cultures and religions,” said Profumo, opening a new library in Rome.
“We need to update the religion curriculum but also the geography curriculum to reflect this.”
Italy’s traditional school curriculum needs reforming to make its schools “more open, more multiethnic and able to be relevant to the world,” said Profumo.
On Monday, he visited a school classroom in Italy where 50 percent of its pupils were from other countries, he said.
The integration of non-Italian pupils in Italian schools has been a contentious issue in recent years as the number of immigrants has continued to rise. Around 4.6 million or 7.5 percent of the population are foreign residents in Italy according to the central statistics office Istat.
During the conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi which fell in November 2011, its junior coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League party proposed allowing schools to have separate classes for immigrant children who do not speak the Italian language or fail admission tests for Italian state schools.
Immigrant leaders, Italy’s centre-left opposition and Catholic leaders criticised the Northern League plan, which also wanted mainstream classrooms to contain a ‘proportionate’ number of Italian and immigrant pupils.
Leaders in the Vatican hierarchy were not uniformly in favor of Mr. Profumo’s proposal. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, while ostensibly welcoming “innovation”, made it plain that religious education in Italy should remain focused on the history and doctrine of the Catholic Church:
Cardinal Ravasi on Religious Education in State Schools
(AGI) — Holy See, 25 Sep — The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, today welcomed Education Minister Francesco Profumo’s latest proposals concerning religious tuition in Italian state schools.
With religious education subject to Concordat agreements between Italy and the Holy See, the cardinal welcomed the minister’s proposals to inject innovation in the subject’s tuition methods arguing, however, that the core content of religious education should be the Christian religion.
Ravasi said ‘it is important that we innovate methods,’ adding ‘the Gospel and the greater Christian teachings will continue to warrant teaching, but there is always room to latch on to changes within society, the times and culture.’ Ravasi went on to suggest that the issue of innovation would be the subject of follow-up discussions.
Teachers of religion had their own objections:
Religion Teachers Against Min. Profumo: “It’s No Solution”
(AGI)Rome — Teaching the Catholic religion “is in school curricula because the Italian Republic acknowledges the value of religion. This is because the principles of Catholicism form part of the historical heritage of the Italian people, teaching them according to the objectives set out for schools”.
Orazio Ruscica, the President of the Italian Independent Trade Union of Religion Teachers (SNADIR), comments on the controversy on the teaching of religion that exploded following the statements made by Minister Profumo on the need to update school curricula and recalls that “at the end of June, the Minister signed two agreements on the teaching of the Catholic religion in public schools, including teaching guidelines, without however having paid much attention to what he signed”.
But the minister stuck to his guns, repeating and extending his remarks on Wednesday by saying that the Mediterranean had always been a “crossroads of peoples and faiths”. This statement is either naïve or disingenuous: the Med was only a “crossroads” of faiths because Muslims invaders and pirates crossed it to murder, pillage, rob, rape, take slaves, and convert Christians to Islam by the sword.
According to ANSAmed:
Minister Sets Off Firestorm Over Religion in Class
‘Mediterranean crossroad of faiths which should also be taught’
(ANSAmed) — Rome, September 26 — Italy’s education minister refused to back down Wednesday from his earlier suggestions that schools in the country should teach more than Catholicism in the classroom. But Francesco Profumo said he had no immediate plans to change “certain rules or terms” of the curriculum for religion classes. The minister triggered controversy recently when he suggested it was time to update school curricula with respect to teaching the Catholic religion in public schools. As Italy becomes more multicultural, it may be important to teach students about other faiths, Profumo said.
He expanded on his views in a letter to Catholic philosopher Giovanni Reale, a copy of which was obtained by ANSA Wednesday. “Our country is at the center of a tumultuous evolution, both political and spiritual, in the Mediterranean, which has always been a crossroads of peoples and faiths,” Profumo wrote. It’s time, therefore, that Italian schools “deal with this changing reality” of a multicultural world, he added.
Religious education teachers have responded to Profumo’s ideas by saying the Catholic faith is a deeply embedded part of Italy’s historical heritage, and curricula shouldn’t be changed.
These teachers, and an association for Italian families, noted that in June Profumo signed new agreements on what would be taught in religious education classes and now is no time for change. “Christianity is inextricably inserted in the history of our country,” said Francesco Belletti, president of the Forum of Family Associations.
Religious teachers are appointed by schools in consultation with local religious Catholic authorities. Students who opt out of religion classes should be given alternative teaching.
Hat tips: C. Cantoni and Insubria.