A completely different school – Kollektiv

With the latest book “The Courageous Sparrow” Vanessa Roghi proposes not only the biography of Mario Lodi, the great elementary teacher of our twentieth century, but an analysis against the light of the didactic and pedagogical path of the democratic school in recent years. Dialogue with the author

Independent researcher, Vanessa Roghi she is the author of documentaries for Rai Tres La Grande Storia and has taught contemporary history at Roma Tre University, History and TV at the Faculty of Literature at “La Sapienza” University. Bodini Fellow at the Italian Academy at Columbia University (2020-2021), among his publications we find various books that interweave essential features of personal life such as Small town (Laterza, 2018), where historical and cultural research is mixed with happy intuition with vivid narrative, with volumes that suggest his natural passion for the world of school, education in general, the pedagogical application functional to a continuous look towards didactic innovation. Hence the writings of these years, again for Laterza, of which the last “The brave sparrow. Cipì, Mario Lodi and the Democratic School “(p. 208, euro 18)having already involved Don Milani (2017) and Gianni Rodari (2020), to build an articulated reflection on the meaning and significance of teaching today, asking and letting themselves be advised by three great masters of yesterday, who without fear of denial it will be tomorrow too.

“The subversive letter”, “Lessons of Fantasy”, “The brave sparrow” are three books dedicated in different ways to Don Milani (and Tullio De Mauro), Gianni Rodari and Mario Lodi, whose centenary marks his birth. Did you immediately think of a trilogy of this type, or did it come over time?
It has come on time. At first, I just wanted to write a book in response, so to speak, to those teachers who thought of Don Milani as someone who had understood almost nothing about the school and inaugurated a declining metaphor for the most violent conservation in the world. the school, without taking anything away from those who have always been conservative for ideology. But I had noticed that even those who, for reasons of personal and cultural history, had supported the fight for an inclusive school, for some time turned out to be variously conservative on the subject. The casus belli came from a teacher who told me “ok, I read Don Milani, but when I have to put a 4, I put a 4”. Hence the desire to write “The subversive letter”.

Also?
Then it happened that, as I was finishing it, Gianni Rodari’s phrase about the use of language for all as a democratic tool returned to circulate (“All uses of the word at all (…) Not because everyone is an artist, but because no one is a slave”), with which I closed the book, to start studying Rodari. In addition, in the previous one, given the figure of Don Milani, I had not had the opportunity to elaborate on the story of the Communist Party falling back into the school world ; while Rodari, who was part of it, offered the opportunity. Working at Rodari, I realized that he owed much of his work to MCE, the Educational Cooperation Movement, and seeing that Mario Lodi was a figure , I have always loved, bordering on veneration, I thought I must close the circle with him and returned to reflect on a school as a place of liberation, as mine had been. But it is a process that I had not thought of at the beginning.

The book is well-argued, but could you briefly explain here the relationship between “Cipi”, the book by Mario Lodi, and “The letter to a teacher” by Don Milani’s students?
Don Milani in Barbiana is a militant priest who has understood, coming from a very cultured family, that the distance between him and the peasants is above all of a linguistic nature, and that the knowledge of the language is therefore an essential tool to also build bridges . the material distance that separates them. . So when he arrives in Barbiana, punished by his superiors for teaching the children of the workers, he understands that with the children of the peasants it is even more difficult to bridge these distances, as he also has to contend with the phenomenon of school dropout, migration, extreme poverty. Then he finds a point of view that involves the children by organizing conferences, meetings with people who talk to them, while maintaining a vertical vision for teaching, between those who know things and those who have to teach them.

Then comes the meeting with Lodi…
Yes. When Mario Lodi arrives, his teaching is to listen to the voice of these students, to know the material culture regardless of their level of education, highlighting that even children of peasants know interesting things, in Vho as in Barbiana, and collecting their voices leads to collective writing. The students exchange letters and learn precisely the collective writing that they will then use on other occasions, the highest moment of which is touched in 1967 by the “Letter to a Teacher”, to which they all write, to choose the best sentence. An example of what remains the spearhead of our education system, the old primary school, now primary school. To which perhaps we should look further to also improve the other orders and degrees of education.


The Wrong Country, on the other hand, dates back to 1970 and immediately became an essential book, kept for over half a century in the libraries of generations of teachers. What did you say so important to the school world?
First of all, it comes out at the right time, when attention to the school is very high, right after ’68. Then Lodi is a fantastic writer who manages to describe the work of colleagues better than others. Moreover, it is a mixture of militancy and practical activity, well articulated in the development of the book, which is not a manifesto, but a letter about how to feel at school, characterized by a strong initial push, “the letter to Katia” which is still very current and revolves around a universal theme for the school world: breaking down the prison wall. Finally, it ties into the plot of the daily life of the class, telling repeatable, reproducible lives. Real life.

We close today’s school and think about didactic models. What is your opinion of the Italian public school in this century? Are we behind, are we ahead? How should teaching in Italy change?
The book reflects on the transformation of the definition of a democratic school, a problem that starts from the head, from the ministry, from the ministries. Because when you stop investing in schools, democracy goes nowhere. And talking about a democratic school means talking about many things: teaching, inclusion, diffusion, recruitment, salaries, precariousness, bad competitions, training a lot per kilo, with the result of having poorly paid teachers and poorly trained. Hope lies in the human will of people who teach with passion and seriousness every day, regardless. Of course, it is difficult to have to rely completely on the virtues of the individual and not on the ministry. This is why hope is in the practice of individuals, which in Mario Lodi’s case led to change. Before, there were more funds and financing, but conditions were not rosy.

And the teaching?
She has stopped. On the one hand, the primary with the expansion from the lone teacher to a group of people who then remain the same. But the real tragedy is that another idea of ​​didactics has not been extended to a higher order: on the contrary, I think there is an anti-didactic, anti-pedagogical attitude, as if studying teaching and pedagogy made one lose the meaning of one’s role. As if I, who am a historian, by starting to think about didactics or pedagogical techniques, lost the value of the material, the “sanctity”. Of course you have to know your subject, but you also have to ask yourself the problem of how to teach in 2022, in a completely different setting than before, especially in terms of speed and learning. We have to go back to thinking about didactics and pedagogy, otherwise we risk speaking to the void, to nothingness. I am reminded of “Cathar Heresy”, the short story by Pirandello, in which the main character, a professor of religious history, does not notice that he is teaching in a classroom without students. Here we should try to avoid students’ absences during lessons. In every sense.

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