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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 4. Writing as Collective Literacy


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Writing as Collective Literacy

“L’indicibile dei vinti / il dubbio dei vincitori” (The unspeakable of those who have been defeated / the doubt of the winners)


The Barbiana school contributes to the history of critical pedagogy a radical example concerning how to provide a space for “voice and empowerment” (Giroux, 1988b). While the Italian school is still mainly concerned with “learning to read,” the Barbiana school provides effective socioeconomic narratives that reflect a proper ability in “reading to learn” (Smith, 2003).

In the same years that scholars such as Jerome Bruner were enhancing the fundamental role of narrative structures and of constructivist perspectives concerning the process of thinking, the writing of Lorenzo Milani and the writings of his pupils provided concrete and effective examples of how education can strengthen such a process through shared collective efforts. Such efforts always seem to respond with precision to what William Labov (1972) terms the two fundamental components of narrative structure: What happened? Why is it worth telling?

In a letter (quoted by F. Gesualdi and Corzo Toral, 1992, pp. 17–18) dated March 16, 1966, addressed to Ms. Dina Lovato, Lorenzo Milani focuses on the Letter to the Judges (October 18, 1965). He comments to her that

We wrote the “Letter to the Judges” as if we were working to produce a masterpiece. Unfortunately very few people seem to notice it among the...

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