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Lorenzo Milani, The School of Barbiana and the Struggle for Social Justice


Federico Batini, Peter Mayo and Alessio Surian

This book sheds light on the work of one of the 20 th century’s foremost critical educators, the Italian Lorenzo Milani (1923–1967), on the 90 th anniversary of his birth. It provides an exposition and critical analysis of the ideas contained in his writings, ideas that emerged from his experiences in two Tuscan localities. The work of Milani and the School of Barbiana that he directed provide signposts for a critically and sociologically engaged pedagogy. Important themes include education and class politics; education and imperialism; education and the culture of militarization; the collective dimensions of learning and writing; peer tutoring; critical media literacy; and reading history against the grain. These ideas are analyzed with reference to similar and contrasting ideas by other international educators, scholars and thinkers. As the book argues, Milani’s oeuvre contains important ingredients for a social justice-oriented critical pedagogy. The spirit for this pedagogical approach is captured in the School of Barbiana’s motto ‘I care.’
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Chapter 2. Don Milani and His Time


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Don Milani and His Time

His Education and Conversion: The Years of Fascism

They presented the Empire to us as the glory of the Homeland! I was 13 years old. It feels like yesterday. I jumped for joy for the Empire. Our teachers had forgotten to tell us that the Ethiopians were better than us. That we went and burnt their huts with their women and children inside, when they hadn’t done anything to us. That vile school, consciously or unconsciously I don’t know, was preparing us for the horrors that were to come three years later. They were preparing millions of obedient soldiers. Obedient to Mussolini’s orders. To be more precise, obedient to Hitler’s orders. Fifty million dead.


Lorenzo Milani’s life story is set during an eventful historical period whose numerous social and political events were to define the Italy of the time. The events that intersect with Don Milani’s life span from the end of fascism to the student movement of 1968.

Milani was born at a time when fascism was coming to power. In 1921–1922 the Bonomi government was riddled with contradiction. This was the season in which the ruling liberal classes and Giolitti’s political project were to definitively fail. When the first Mussolini government won the vote of confidence in November ← 10 | 11 → 1922 it signalled the growing importance of extra parliamentary power...

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