Dr. Barreca, Mario
Professor of Columbia University, USA 

Journalists who regard the Mafia as "Sicily's dirty secret" are mistaken --though poverty and poor education create a favorable climate for crime. The real secret, which Sicilians themselves are inclined to minimise or conceal, is the terribly low educational level of so much of the island's population. It's one thing to overlook the illiteracy of the generation born in the era of The Duce, but the failure to educate younger people is terrible by any measure. What's worse, hardly anybody seems to care. Most better-educated Sicilians simply just accept the existence of the poor, and poorly educated, lower classes as an unpleasant but undisturbing fact of life.
Why is this problem so often overlooked? It is overshadowed by what seem to be more immediate problems --scandals like Sicily employing three times as many forest rangers as British Columbia, and "absentee" members of the Sicilian Regional Assembly getting paid over twenty thousand euros per month for very little service. Is the education problem really very serious? After all, every place has its social issues. (An example is teenage obesity in the United States.) But low educational standards, or whatever factors cause a population to have so many poorly educated citizens, are extremely dangerous. In Sicily's recent regional elections (pitting Totò Cuffaro against Rita Borsellino), it was clear that the poorly-educated masses were voting for a candidate based on conformity rather than education about the issues. This human tragedy is just one example of what happens when education is not a priority. The so-called "divario" is another; this is the evolution of Italy into a nation of rich and poor, readers and non-readers, informed and uninformed, with very little in-between --a phenomenon which would (and should) shock those who consider a large middle class to be the backbone of any society. The "miniskirt factor" is also related to this; this colourful phrase describes young Italian women who pursue superficial goals rather than intellectual ones, and it's not as "funny" as it sounds if you consider the extremely poor choice of genuine career opportunities available to most Sicilian women.
Keywords: education, Columbia, University, High Education