The bicycle metaphor
There can be no discussion of Reggio Emilia ateliers without relating them to the pedagogy Loris Malaguzzi pursued; a pedagogy sensitive to the poetic languages and not rigidly contained in preconceived formulas; insufficient to hurriedly classify it as being part of a pedagogy it refers to, such as socio-constructivism – however interesting and clarifying it may be. Malaguzzi the pedagogista was extremely attentive to contemporary life, curious and interested in reflection and developments taking place around concepts in other disciplines, and he brought this knowledge to the pedagogical discussions he made and maintained with teachers. Those who worked with him well remember the wonderful meetings that were held where Malaguzzi, always an avid reader, brought us his latest findings, always extremely up to date and, particularly in the 1990s, related to the areas of neuroscience and scientific philosophy. These readings were reinterpreted and related to pedagogy, something he did without ever losing sight of that vital part of pedagogy connected to small children, and through his attitude even neuroscience was conferred with a particular form of tenderness and humanity. In his reviewing and discussion of contemporary events, politics also became part of a social and pedagogical context, to be understood and debated. When the school year finished in the scuola comunale dell’infanzia Diana, at the end of June or beginning of July, it became our habit, which we never gave up, of asking him to visit the school for a chat. During the course of these free conversations, with great liberty and frankness, he brought us his opinions on Reggio Emilia, on the cultural, political, social and pedagogical panoramas in Italy and other countries. This intelligent comprehensive vision was extremely useful for bringing us up to date generally, enriching our knowledge and making it possible as a group – when we returned to school after the summer – to choose priorities in the projects we would develop with the children. It is deeply regrettable that we foolishly neglected to tape these meetings. However, in those conversations we learned a way of working and thinking which, as far as possible, we have continued to apply through reading and reflecting, either alone or better still in reciprocal exchange with others. Like any human activity, pedagogy requires us to have ears alert to the things around us; especially pedagogy because it deals with education and the
precious part of humanity which is children. Otherwise it risks losing contact with the centre of its reflection and practice – children – and becoming transformed into a discipline based simply on a series of rules that can be applied, often too sure of itself and ‘crystalized’ in time. In a discussion of psychology, Umberto Galimberti says there is a need for awareness that disciplines connected to psychology are perhaps just one of many episodes in history in which human beings have attempted an interpretation of themselves. I believe the awareness that psychology is not an exact science applies even more to pedagogy. Sometimes – to tell the truth very often – it is my impression that reading important past educators and psychologists orients educators’ ways of seeing children too rigidly; their eyes and ears do not sufficiently see and listen to what children actually do and say. The subject of children is not static over time, or the same in every era, because both the culture and society in which they form change very rapidly. Pedagogical and psychological knowledge, therefore, should always be open to channels for listening and interpreting and avoid becoming filters that are too short-sighted or opaque for reality to pass through. One aspect I have often encountered in the world of pedagogy is a lack of correspondence between the premises of the reference culture – declarations of intent – and translations of these into practice in real relationships with children. It seems to me that a pedagogical background tends to separate the theoretical part from practice in quite a clear-cut way and treats practice as the poor sister. In reality, this separation impoverishes both, and people who are responsible for schools and for professional development should give this aspect their careful attention. About this subject Malaguzzi used the metaphor of riding a bicycle: to go forward we have to push both pedals and maintain a good balance; one pedal represents theory, the other practice; pushing only one pedal does not get us far. Current (2007) proposals by the Italian Ministry for Education include Indicazioni per il curricolo per la scuola dell’infanzia e per il primo ciclo d’istruzione (Guidelines for curriculum in preschools and the primary cycle of education) and here again the same lack of correspondence is to be found. The introduction to the guidelines opens up new ethical, social and cultural perspectives and though perhaps appreciating some aspects more than others, a reader like myself on the whole might agree with this first part and begin formulating hypotheses for feasible and interesting journeys in practice. However, reading the second part, which refers to fields of knowledge, we are confronted with language of a more restrictive nature, a reduction in cultural openness and the consequent limits on the imagination and practical possibilities that stem from this. Perhaps I have a diffident attitude towards a certain type of language and terminology, and perhaps this irritation makes me unsympathetic to terms such as ‘painting-drawing experience’ and ‘creative-sound possibilities’. To me, it seems they represent an obsolete way of working and I immediately have visions that are not in the least bit comforting and too often seen in schools, memories of proposals for work with children in which a stereotyped conception triumphs
absolutely and where the results are work which is rather careless and ugly. It takes the ability of certain teachers to make children’s work ugly! I only hope that the fields of knowledge will be filled with reflection and imagery during professional development, work-groups and workshops, which distance themselves from the kind of language that fosters the courage to embrace children’s points of view – seemingly so distant sometimes from what schools actually work on.