Giuseppe Lombardo Radice in the early 20th century

A rediscovery of his pedagogy

by Evelina Scaglia (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 172 Pages


Giuseppe Lombardo Radice (1879-1938) was one of the main figures in Italian pedagogy in the first half of the 20th century and collaborated with the philosopher Giovanni Gentile on the 1923 reform of the Italian school system. However, his work ‘for’ and ‘with’ many elementary school teachers also left important and long-lasting traces beyond Italy’s borders, in Switzerland, Spain, Central Europe, and the North Adriatic, thanks to his intense international contacts with several scholars, foremost among them Adolphe Ferrière and Lorenzo Luzuriaga.
A rediscovery of Lombardo Radice will open up new research avenues in different fields of the History of Education, History of Elementary Schools, and History of Teacher Education, because his original thinking about the primacy of the educational relationship between teacher and pupils, a new concept of school discipline and his idea of the scuola serena also accorded him a unique role in the international movement of New School Education. Moreover, his research among previously unknown popular elementary schools in Italy and the Italian-speaking Tessin region in Switzerland adopted a heuristic perspective, comparable to current studies on the material culture of schools.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Evelina Scaglia: Introduction. The reasons for a rediscovery
  • Section 1 The Italian Context
  • The education of children in the Lombardo Radice household (Lorenzo Cantatore)
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice and the National Association for the Interests of the Italian Mezzogiorno (1910–1938) (Brunella Serpe)
  • The political persecution of Giuseppe Lombardo Radice by the fascist regime (1924–1931) (Juri Meda)
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice and physical education in elementary schools (Paolo Alfieri)
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice anti-Montessorian (Andrea Dessardo)
  • The figure of the elementary teacher and headmaster in the thought of Giuseppe Lombardo Radice (Giuseppe Zago)
  • Section 2 The European Context
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice and his reception in Spain in the first third of the 20th century (Yasmina Álvarez-González)
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice – Adolphe Ferrière. The contentious Swiss-Italian relationship and their disputes regarding New Education (Gabriella D’Aprile)
  • Giuseppe Lombardo Radice and the teachers’ network in Tessin: Tracing an ‘educational-cultural transfer’ through the pages of L’educatore della Svizzera italiana (Evelina Scaglia)
  • Central European influences on Giuseppe Lombardo Radice’s concept of ‘national education’: His relations with Italian teachers in Austria-Hungary (Andrea Dessardo)
  • About the Authors
  • Name index
  • Series Index

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Evelina Scaglia

Introduction. The reasons for a rediscovery

In keeping with the epistemological and methodological challenges addressed by the most recent studies in the historical-educational sphere (Popkewitz 2013; Droux/Hofstetter 2014; Zago/Canales 2021), the aim of this volume is to explore the cornerstones of the theoretical thought and didactic proposals of the Italian pedagogist Giuseppe Lombardo Radice, by examining some of the significant biographical junctures in his life and considering the resonance of his work, both direct and indirect, beyond Italy’s borders. In this perspective, it may be useful to emphasise the heuristic value of biography that lies inherent in the possibility of reconstructing the history of the personal relationships and scientific correspondences of a given author and the intertwining, in the course of their life, of personally formative dimensions with those of culture and pedagogical commitment (De Giorgi 2009; Zago 2016).

Within the framework of the renewal that the New Education Movement he- ralded at the beginning of the 20th century, Giuseppe Lombardo Radice represented an example of a multifaceted intellectual, who was capable of playing the dual role of schoolteacher and academic scholar animated by a reflectiveness that was characterised by a delicate balance between theory and praxis, such that he became one of the key figures in the European history of education and schooling.

As a result of these particular features, the rediscovery of Giuseppe Lombardo Radice could also serve to implement the initial and in-service training of teachers, especially primary school teachers, in accordance with some of the latest methodological advancements in the History of Education (Herbst 1999; Depaepe 2001). As stated by Simonetta Polenghi and Gianfranco Bandini: ‘one of the aspects of great interest concerns the close relationship of the History of Education with teacher training: instructors, secondary school teachers, educators. The discipline was formed having recognised the benefits of the History of Education for training, and – in some cases – through the recruitment of a very large teaching body which requires information on its history and on the regulatory and policy matters by which it was governed’ (Polenghi/Bandini 2016, p. 4).

As pointed out by Adolphe Ferrière in a contribution that made Giuseppe Lombardo Radice’s work known to a wider international audience from 1928 onwards, the Sicilian pedagogist had become the interpreter of one of the most ←7 | 8→meaningful traits of the educational renewal of the early 20th century, namely the promotion and dissemination of activities carried out personally by thousands of little-known teachers who were interested in implementing active methods within communal schools, that focused on the spontaneity and free initiative of their pupils (Ferrière 1928, pp. 115-116; Chiosso 2023, pp. 73-163). Nowadays, a revaluation of his thought and main scientific network could represent an added value for studies of the History of Education and their relationship with an improved teacher training.

The first steps of the young Giuseppe Lombardo Radice

Born on 24 June 1879 in Catania, a city on the island of Sicily in Southern Italy, and recorded in the registry office on 28 June, Giuseppe Lombardo Radice rightfully belonged to that generation of young Italians born in the 1880s, who experienced the disquiet of not having been able to participate in the Italian Risorgimento, leading them to choose a militant intellectual commitment (Chios- so 1983, 2019).

Since childhood and adolescence, he had begun to perceive, as a result of various experiences, the nature of education as a concrete problem: he became a guide in the play and studies of his peers, who like himself lived near the port of Messina, the Sicilian city to which his family had moved for his father’s work; he acted as older brother to his five cousins who had been orphaned by the death of their mother Nicolina; he was a model student in the local classical high school, where teachers and students joined together in happy attempts at active education and a rediscovery of the popular culture (Lombardo Radice 1927, pp. 67–70).

Like many young men of good hopes at that time, he aspired to being admitted as an internal student to the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, one of the academic centres of Italian Neo-idealism, a movement which was progressively spreading during the late 19th century crisis of Positivism. Arriving in Pisa in the 1896–97 academic year, he trained with professors Amedeo Crivellucci, Alessandro D’Ancona and Donato Jaja, who were former teachers of his friend and fellow countryman Giovanni Gentile (Cavallera 1996, pp. 79–89) and contributed to building in the Tuscan city a ‘coterie of young scholars living together in a true regime of freedom’, committed to formulating a perspective of philosophical, social, political and cultural renewal that would be capable of taking a leading role in tackling the challenges of the start of the new century (Turi 1995, pp. 3–47). After an initial two years of university studies, Giuseppe Lombardo Radice obtained a degree in Literature and Philosophy in 1899, discussing ←8 | 9→a thesis entitled Uno storico italiano della Rivoluzione francese [An Italian Historian of the French Revolution], supervised by Amedeo Crivellucci. In 1901, he earned a Master’s degree in Philosophy at the Royal University of Pisa, with a thesis supervised by Donato Jaja, entitled Formazione e sviluppo della teoria delle idee [Formation and Development of the Theory of Ideas], for which he obtained ‘full marks and honours’.

His first experiences as a tutor and, later, in Firenze as a teacher between 1901 and 1902 at the Catholic private boarding school ‘Le Querce’ run by the Barnabite fathers, as well as in 1902 as a volunteer educator in his free time at the ‘Collegio degli orfani dei marinai’ (a boarding school for sailors’ orphans), prompted him to begin formulating pedagogical reflections on the relationship between freedom and responsibility, and the continuity of educational activity between school and family, taking as his point of reference the ideas outlined by his friend Giovanni Gentile in his essay Del concetto scientifico di pedagogia [On the Scientific Concept of Pedagogy, 1900], with which the birth of pedagogical Actualism is usually identified (Lombardo Radice 1927, pp. 74–76).

Having completed his postgraduate studies in Firenze and obtained his diploma in Philosophy with ‘full marks and honours’ at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa in 1903, he began to work in the school sector. For two years he was a substitute teacher of Italian and Latin in the first class of the ginnasio [middle school], first at Adernò in the province of Catania (1903–1904), then at Arpino in the province of Frosinone (1904–1905). Having attained a tenured teaching post in Pedagogy in the scuole normali [schools for the initial training of elementary teachers] through the competitive selection process, he wandered like so many other young teachers from one city to another, moving from Foggia (1905–1906) to Palermo (1906–1907 and 1907–1908), and then to Messina for just a few months in 1908, because of a terrible earthquake. He was transferred to Catania, where he taught until 1911 (Lombardo Radice 1927, pp. 78–81).

With his students he introduced a personal and free way of working that emphasised how much he himself had learnt his ‘first pedagogy’ above all from life and school, forming his own pedagogical conscience through constant reflection on educational experiences (Lombardo Radice 1927, p. 79; Picco 1951, pp. 9–14; Catalfamo 1958, p. 9). This trait of originality, which characterised his thought over the decades, found a further source of enrichment in his participation, alongside Giovanni Gentile (at that time a professor at the Royal University of Palermo) and in alliance with Gaetano Salvemini, in the activities of the newly founded Federazione Nazionale Insegnanti Scuola Media [FNISM: National Federation of Middle and High School Teachers], promoting a moral battle in ←9 | 10→middle and high schools for the renewal of Italian culture and the civil rehabilitation of the nation (Turi 1995, p. 166).

It was at this historical juncture, dominated by criticism of Giovanni Giolitti’s government and the polemic against Freemasonry, that Lombardo Radice had the idea of establishing a journal that would act as a ‘banner of educational reform’ under the title Nuovi Doveri [New Duties], with the aim of addressing school problems – i.e. the formative nature of middle schools, the emancipation of the working classes, secular schools, private school initiatives – as a ‘national question’ (Lombardo Radice 1907, pp. 6–7).

The experience gained through Nuovi Doveri was soon flanked by another area of cultural commitment, coinciding with scholastic-educational publications, which saw the launch in 1908 of Sandron Publishing House’s series Studi pedagogici. Collezione dei Nuovi Doveri [Pedagogical Studies. Collection of the New Duties] and in 1910 of a second series entitled Pedagogisti ed educatori antichi e moderni [Pedagogists and Ancient and Modern Educators], which included historical-educational studies and classics of European pedagogical thought such as Comenius’s Didattica Magna [Great Didactics] that were still little-known in Italy (Chiosso 2014, pp. 216–220).

On 22 September 1910, Giuseppe Lombardo Radice married Gemma Harasim in the setting of Fiume (a city in present-day Croatia, then under Austro-Hungarian rule). They would go on to have three children: Giuseppina (1911), Laura (1913) and Lucio (1916). Gemma proved to be one of her husband’s most influential collaborators (Cantatore 2022, pp. 7–35) and played a mediating role with the pedagogical culture of Central Europe and the North Adriatic region, which was particularly appreciated by Giuseppe.

The following year marked an important turning point in Lombardo Radice’s career: he published Il concetto dell’educazione e le leggi della formazione spirituale: saggio di pedagogia filosofica [The Concept of Education and the Spiritual Formation’s Laws: Essay of Philosophical Pedagogy] with Sandron Publishing House and came first in the competition for the chair of Pedagogy at the Royal University of Catania, thanks to the support of his friend Giovanni Gentile (Romano 1984, p. 128).

The early closure in 1911 of the Nuovi Doveri, partly caused by an exacerbation of the internal struggles between the various currents of the FNISM, soon saw him engaged in the project of a new periodical entitled Rassegna di Pedagogia e di Politica scolastica [Review of Pedagogy and School Policy], also published by Sandron in the years 1912–1913 with the aim of promoting better training for the new generation of elementary and secondary teachers (Pillera 2021, pp. 146–178). Together with his friend Giuseppe Prezzolini, he was, at the same time, ←10 | 11→involved in sponsoring the pedagogical and cultural project of the teachers’ magazine La nostra scuola [Our School], founded in Milano in 1913 by Angelo Colombo, Gian Cesare Pico and Vincenzo Cento. This served as an expression of a new vision of the school and the work of elementary school teachers, recognising them in their role of educators, in a philosophy that was far removed from that formulated by the pedagogy of both late Positivism and Herbartism. This same commitment was also expressed in the opening of the Scuola e vita [School and Life] series at the Francesco Battiato Publishing House in Catania (Chiosso 2014, pp. 221–227).

In the three-year period 1913–1916, through the triptych of volumes Lezioni di didattica e ricordi di esperienza magistrale – Come si uccidono le anime – L’ideale educativo e la scuola nazionale [Lessons in Didactics and Memoirs of Teaching Life – How to Kill Souls – The Educational Ideal and the National School], Giuseppe Lombardo Radice promoted the foundations of a new idea of pedagogy that was centred on the educational relationship between teacher and pupil, closely linked to a theory of the school as a ‘riforma in cammino’ [reform on the way] and a democratic conception of the nation (Charnitzky 2001, pp. 91–191; Chiosso 2019, pp. 233–255).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 172 pp.

Biographical notes

Evelina Scaglia (Volume editor)

Evelina Scaglia is Associate Professor of History of Education in the Department of Human and Social Sciences at the University of Bergamo (Italy).


Title: Giuseppe Lombardo Radice in the early 20th century