How the traditional Italian school makes life difficult for anarchist teachers
I have students aged from ten to thirteen. For them and for me libertarian pedagogy is forbidden, liberty of choice in any form is forbidden, including the liberty to live, to be, to eat and drink when we want to. We do not have the right to go out into the school yard or to meet the other classes, the children move in ranks like soldiers in Indian file, they have to ask for permission to do anything, they are not allowed to speak, they not allowed to look out of the window, they have to sit still for five hours a day, calm, almost motionless, attentive, obedient, productive, blackmailed with punishments and prizes, etc. It is school governed by a system, by the state. It is the mass production of mindless workers.
So I can't just do nothing. It is a question of dignity, but also a matter of conscience. When I see the children in the first year of 'scuola media' (middle level) for the first time in September, I make them understand the prison where they find themselves, and where they have come from. The children are amazed, because they have already got used to this prison, and they can no longer see it. But explaining this prison to the children, and destroying it culturally and morally, is a perpetual danger for me. One day the head of the school told me, 'Teacher, you are giving the children too much liberty,' as if liberty was something bad that should be avoided. Repression, on the other hand, is readily accepted and acclaimed.
This means that I am always under control. Every movement I make, every word I say, is weighed in the balance and, of course, found wanting. My colleagues say that my way of teaching is beautiful, just, humane; one day I organised a lecture for them, to explain what libertarian education is, the way it sees school, people, life - but they have never stood up for me when I went to be interrogated by the head. So I am alone against everything and everyone. But I do not submit, I fight as much as I can, my conscience tells me that I am a person and the students are people like me with their rights, their lives, their wishes, their histories, their skills, their needs. For me there are no superior or inferior roles. This means that, when I can, I have to work in secret, with everything that this position implies, even stress-related sickness.
On the other hand, I do have great satisfactions. The children understand liberty and they are on my side; when we shut the classroom door they know that it is time for liberty, and of course that does not signify meaningless chaos but a natural dynamism with everyone having the responsibility for their own actions and their own decisions. We have meetings, we decide autonomously what to do, whether it has to be done, when it must be done and how we are going to do it. In lessons on 'Arte e Imagine' (Art and the History of Art) the children's imagination is free to express itself. I try to understand their curiosity, their aptitudes. Often they present me with different arguments. Evaluation (which is required) we do all together. I have tried three different methods, and the best is the one where we reach unanimity. Among the rewards there is also what happens outside the school. We meet in the afternoons, the children and I, to play, to talk, to go for walks. In April 2011 I started a blog: A forbidden meeting ( www.scuolalibertaria.blogspot.com ) which has a big following in Italy. In it I write about the 'exercises in liberty' which we do in secret, and I discuss libertarian pedagogy. There are also interviews that I have done, etc.
Now my difficulties have been translated into concrete, troubling and oppressive action, a real persecution. The new head has clearly told me to disappear, to go to some other school. That is the level of authority that we are suffering from, the children and I, in an Italian state school, where liberty is a crime, and my case is not unique.
The traditional school conceives of freedom as an enemy. I am the enemy. But my arms are arguments, logic, against their weapons which are the laws . Logic against the law. The law wins when we are alone, and I do not have the solidarity of my colleagues. So, in order to survive , I have to find chinks , cracks , the underground of my activities . But how can I continue like this? Until when? I do not know.