“Not another brick in the wall”: The Reggio Emilia approach to education

A sculpture made from a child’s drawing at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

By Maria Batlle, Haiti Liberté, March 21, 2018

 

There are few societies which value education more highly than Haiti’s, but the approach to schooling is often very classical. Maria Batlle is a prominent Dominican artist, who established a foundation to explore educational and empowerment strategies for deaf children. She writes this week about an educational philosophy which could be well-suited to Haiti, as a nation which has been wracked by political turmoil and natural disasters. This week’s column, whose themes are “Education, Innovation, Inclusion,” marks the beginning of a collaboration between Batlle and Haïti Liberté. In the months ahead, she will write articles which examine themes relevant to both the Dominican and Haitian people, towards the goal of fostering greater understanding, solidarity, and progress. - Kim Ives

 

"Who, after all, speaks today of the Armenians’ annihilation?" said Adolf Hitler on Aug. 22, 1939, just a week before the German invasion of Poland.

After World War II with its genocidal Holocaust, massacres, bombings, famines, diseases, and nuclear weapons, after that inhuman chapter, considered the bloodiest in history, a group of Italians decided to take the destiny of their community into their own hands.

In 1945, the inhabitants of Villa Cella, a small village in northern Italy, began to sell tanks and other armaments abandoned by the Germans to build and finance a new school. Mothers and fathers built it themselves, brick by brick.

To recover from the war, the Italian people had to rebuild their society, materially, socially, and morally. In addition to restoring buildings, infrastructure, and production or farming, the war-weary people also had to reconceive their institutions to overcome the ideological divisions that had lasted for two decades. Above all, the people felt the need to ensure that their children would never live through anything as terrible as what they had. Groups were organized to fight against the dictatorship, the German occupation, injustice, and social inequality, so that their children would have a better future and inhabit a “new world” that was being rapidly built. Naturally, then, the Committee for National Liberation (CLN) was concerned about early childhood. (Reggio Children, 1997, p.6)

Parents did not want ordinary schools. They wanted schools in which children would learn collaborative skills and critical thinking to rebuild and ensure a democratic society (New, 2000).

Loris Malaguzzi joined these efforts to later become the founder of the educational philosophy that would revolutionize education around the world, Regium Lepidi, today called Reggio Emilia.

Malaguzzi graduated from a teachers’ college and began his career as a primary school teacher in 1946. In 1950, he qualified as an educational psychologist and founded the Municipal Psycho-Pedagogical Medical Center of Reggio Emilia, where he worked for more than 20 years. I loved the saying that Villa Cella’s first school was where the construction of peace was conceived when educating the new generations.

The first school in Reggio was built thanks to the hard work and solidarity of Villa Cella’s women, farmers, and workers, which Malaguzzi described as "the beginning of our whole experience."

In his own words, Loris Malaguzzi tells the story in the book "Brick by Brick" by Renzo Barazzoni:

 

"Fate seems to want me to be part of an extraordinary event. I heard that in a small village called Villa Cella, a few miles from the town of Reggio Emilia, people had decided to build and operate a small school for children. That idea seemed incredible to me! I hurried with my bicycle and discovered that it was all true. I found women rescuing and washing pieces of brick. People had come together and decided that the money for the construction would come from an abandoned war tank, a few trucks, and horses left by the Germans. ‘The rest will come,’ they told me. ‘I am a teacher,’ I told them. ‘Well,’ they answered me, ‘if that's true, come and work with us.’ Everything seemed incredible: the idea, the school, the inventory being a tank, trucks, and horses. They explained everything to me: ‘We will build the school ourselves, working at night and on Sundays. The land has been donated by a farmer; the bricks and beams will be rescued from bombed houses; the sand will come from the river; and the work will be voluntary on the part of all of us.’”

 

Today, Reggio Emilia's education approach is recognized worldwide as one of the best for early childhood, built around the idea that girls and boys are citizens, protagonists of their own learning, strong, with great potential and the ability to establish relationships and collaborations.

In a reading at Harvard University, teacher Carlina Rinaldi, the director of early childhood education in Reggio Emilia, argued that children, unlike adults, don’t see art as separate from other disciplines, from other areas of life. She says that children’s experiences remind us of a world where art is not something apart. "If you look closely at a group of children, you can see that they were born to play: they want to discover something through the game."

Carlina Rinaldi is respected and admired for being one of the professors most responsible for the development of Reggio Emilia, a place she calls home. She describes her commitment to this educational model in her book "In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Investigating, and Learning."

"The child is not a citizen of the future but is a citizen from the first moment of life and is also the most important citizen because he or she represents and brings the 'possible', and is a carrier, here and now, of rights, values, and culture,” she writes. “It is our historical responsibility not only to affirm this but to create the cultural, social, political, and educational conditions to receive children and dialogue with their potential to build human rights."

 

Maria Batlle is a Dominican artist and social entrepreneur who founded the Maria Batlle Foundation and the Muse Seek Project.

 

Posted March 21, 2018