A general overview
Many ateliers have been started up in recent years in Italy, but also elsewhere in Europe and the world, but these are external to school curricula. Unquestionably the fact of their presence is positive, but their role in relation to schools is very different to that of ateliers situated within the curriculum, tightly interweaving with all other disciplines. My invitation is to reflect on and evaluate how important it could be to have a larger presence in schools of languages defined somewhat simplistically and arbitrarily as ‘expressive’: visual, musical and physical languages; and above all to what extent attention towards the expressive qualities and aesthetic dimension of all disciplines could contribute to giving knowledge a dimension of greater completeness and humanity. The question we should be asking is to what extent and in what ways the processes of learning and teaching could change if school culture welcomed the poetic languages and an aesthetic dimension as important elements for building knowledge. The hypothesis makes many people smile, as if it were a surreal request; perhaps because it is that far removed – too far removed – from everyday reality. Certainly schools exist that are working in this direction but these are isolated cases and have a limited impact in terms of numbers on the formation of knowledge in the world. Instead, this irreverent hypothesis has partly been realized in Reggio Emilia’s early childhood centres – our municipal schools – where it is actually possible to observe and reflect upon the strange and unusual educational phenomenon that has been constructed there. Rather than speaking in the abstract, the Reggio educational project makes it possible for me to discuss real, verifiable situations. Why should this have happened in Reggio Emilia? According to Andrea Branzi’s recent essay on the city, Reggio Emilia is an innovative place (the most highly innovative in Italy) because we find here many cultures, traditional and new, united with a strong and natural passion for thinking and doing, ‘A sort of natural energy which manifests itself in a highly sophisticated form of spontaneous vitality’ (Branzi, 2007: 236). I would like to think this is truly the case, and
certainly on encountering Reggio pedagogy, first recounted by Loris Malguzzi during a conference and then on entering the schools and working there, I was fascinated, perhaps engulfed by the vital energy alluded to by Branzi, and by the dream of an educational project in which professional and cultural backgrounds like my own (a diploma from Modena Art Institute and a teaching certificate for art education and history of art which I took in Florence) would take on shape and meaning; quite the opposite of my brief prior experience teaching in secondary schools, in which the subject of art was then, and continues to be, considered of secondary importance. Although the Reggio schools were only starting on their educational journey, when you walked into them you could feel the energy, the optimism of a community working to a high degree of social and ethical awareness; awareness that over the years has taken shape in a strong common vision – to understand the peculiar qualities of which simple analysis of the ways teachers are educated and trained is not sufficient. Perhaps the social and cultural situation at the time, or maybe the words of Malaguzzi, were capable of deeply motivating the work of teaching young children which elsewhere had so little social recognition. Perhaps there was also an awareness (or a hope, or a possibility) that through our work we were contributing to different ideas of learning and knowledge to those then circulating which were so unexciting culturally.