Soon after the unification of Italy (1861), the Coppino Law extended primary school to five years, making it free of charge and mandatory for its first three years (1877). Edmondo De Amicis would subsequently depict these reforms in his best-selling novel Cuore (1886), a text that introduced some enduring features of school narratives but also many stereotypes, thus attracting constant criticism and inspiring several parodies of its moralistic underpinnings. Ever since then school narratives have become a key component of Italian culture, creating a genre that has thrived especially in the last three decades, with a number of both fiction and nonfiction books published by teacher-writers who have reflected on their experience.
In this course we will study Italy from the perspective of these texts about school that often originated within school walls themselves. In so doing, we will reconstruct the history of a relatively young country, Italy, through the institution that, like no other, has been given the responsibility of "making Italians." At the same time we will question the image of Italian society that school narratives have, intentionally or not, contributed to portraying. In addition to reading Lucio Mastronardi's Il maestro di Vigevano (1962), we will focus on a wide range of materials, including novels, memoirs, poems, popular songs, films, and works of art that, even in the absence of a unanimously acclaimed "classic" of the genre, have shaped the Italian collective imaginary. Materials will be organized around five poles that have been quintessential to the debate on school in Italy across politics and culture: characters (teachers and students, obviously, but also colleagues, classmates, and families), labor and working conditions (including themes such as precarious work, class conflict, labor rights), gender and identity (questioning traditional gender roles and discussing integration of migrants at school), places and geographies (addressing topics from school design to teaching in prisons, as well as center-periphery integration and north-south divide), and actions (both those of teachers and of students, such as obtaining a certification vs. passing a test, disciplining students vs. questioning teachers' authority, resigning from job vs. cutting classes). The course will be conducted in Italian.