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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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Preface by Roger Dale


| vii →

Several years ago, in the middle of a typically stimulating conversation with my good friend, Peter Mayo, he referred to the Letter to a Teacher (Lettera a una Professoressa, henceforth the Lettera), and asked me if I was aware of it. I think he was possibly rather surprised when I told him that not only was I aware of the book, but that, at the beginning of the1970s, I had been part of a UK Open University sociology of education course team that had made it a set text for students. We were both as delighted as we were surprised, and an invitation to write the Preface for this most interesting volume is the latest outcome of that original conversation.

These origins mean that this piece will necessarily reflect that rather partial understanding of many of the themes covered in the volume. However, the richness and significance of the Lettera continue to shine, assisted by the work of the many contributors referred to in the Introduction.

The continuing interest in the Lettera, from a range of points of view, demonstrates that the book has considerable contemporary as well as historical significance. However, I do not mean this in a clichéd, ‘nothing new under the sun’ way. Rather, it is to indicate elements of the importance of the book even when the conditions that had provided such a welcoming context for it on publication have effectively disappeared. Those conditions included vigorous debates around...

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