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Phantom School
by Roberto Paglia

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Tying education in knots. A school as real as wood that bends.A phantom school? Living in Sicily, one accepts that certain situations occur which might not be encountered elsewhere. While some of this could be attributed to the collective personality of the people, much of it results from economic conditions or even social ones. People need money, see no simple way to obtain it (for most people the Italian economy generally offers less opportunity than what is available, for example, in the United States), and therefore seek alternatives to clientelism, bureaucracy, and the usual suspicion on the part of bank loan officers. Sometimes they even seek a solution within the corrupt system of financing of businesses and public projects Whatever the causes, some of the results are nothing short of amazing.

One of the more interesting recent incidents was the funding of a private school which, except on paper, had no teachers, students, classrooms or graduates. Under a public program the school was "founded" by an inventive Sicilian who exploited weak governmental controls, though authorities from the Finance Ministry eventually discovered the scam. But for some time the owner maintained a deceptive facade, even going to the effort of issuing diplomas to students he "invented."

The problem is that these activities are increasingly widespread, and they're especially disturbing where funds earmarked for education end up in an offshore bank account in the Caribbean. That's exactly what happened to the monies that an infamous Palermitan "professor" obtained from the Sicilian Region and the European Union to develop a training program for young writers, graphic designers and tourism "experts" which, in the end, he appropriated for himself while actually offering very little actual learning to anybody.

A great deal of this corruption is really a matter of poor administration or misplaced priorities. At Palermo's liceo linguistico (a language high school) students staged a protest because, after several years, they still did not have the gymnasium (or physical education classes) required by law. The story as reported in newspapers.Yet a cadre of "consultants" for Sicily's regional government annually "earn" over two hundred thousand euros (more than the presidents or prime ministers of some G-8 nations) simply because they're the friends of influential politicians.

Whatever the conditions may be in the political realm, the idea of somebody starting a school that never admits a single student is more than enough to surprise the average person, even here in Sicily. More shocking is the fact that so few of these charlatans ever face justice, yet alone serve actual jail time. Most get nothing more than "house arrest" and a slap on the wrist. It is not just a few, but the whole of society that suffers.

About the Author: Roberto Paglia has written several articles for this publication relating to social topics.

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© 2006 Roberto Paglia