Friday 25 March 2011

LETTER TO A TEACHER, by The School of Barbiana

Eight young Italian boys from the mountains outside Florence wrote this passionate and eloquent book. It took them a year. Simple and clearly, with some devastating statistical analysis of the Italian education system, they set out to show the ways in which attitudes towards class, behaviour, language and subject-matter militates against the poor. They describe too, the reforms they propose, and the methods they use in their own school - the School of Barbiana, started under the guidance of a parish priest: Father Lorenzo Milani and later run entirely by the children.

This remarkable book is about poor everywhere: their anger is the anger of every worker and peasant who sees middle-class children absorbed effortlessly into schools as teacher’s favourites.

Letter to a Teacher was a best seller in Italy and has been published subsequently in many languages. The School of Barbiana was awarded the prize of the Italian Physical Society, usually reserved for promising physicists, for the statistical achievement involved in the book.

About Don Lorenzo Milani and The School of Barbiana

Don Lorenzo Milani, founder of the school of Barbiana, was ordered to the Barbiana church in 1954. He went there from Calenzano, a town near Florence, where as a young priest he had started a night school for the working people. The school soon attracted those who found in its classes, tailored to their needs, the encouragement or inspiration to pursue their interests or go on with their studies.

Soon after being ordered to Barbiana, Lorenzo Milani felt the needs of the children of the farms scattered near by to be very critical. Most of the children had either failed their exams and left school or were bitterly discouraged with the way they were taught.

He gathered about ten boys, eleven to thirteen year olds, and gave them a full timetable of eight hours' work, six or seven days a week. Later, the group grew to twenty. The older children would devote a great deal of time to teaching or drilling the younger.

Many hours were given by all to the study and understanding of problems directly significant to their own lives, and, along these lines, eight students of the school wrote this Letter as a full-year project.

Extract from the book: Letter to a Teacher

History was the subject most damaged by this law. There are several different history surveys. I would like to get the figures on those most in use. In general they are not history at all. They are narrow-minded, one-sided little tales passed down to the peasants by the conqueror. Italy right in the centre of the world. The losers always bad, the winners all-good. There is talk only of kings, generals and stupid wars among nations. The sufferings and struggles of the workers are either ignored or stuck into a corner.

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