La Scuola Nuova

David Kennedy


This paper traces the changing status of the school as a counter culture in the anthropological and historical literature, in particular from the moment when compulsory mass schooling assumed the function of ideological state apparatus in post-revolutionary 19th century West. It then focuses attention on what may be called the New School, which could be said to represent an evolved, postmodern embodiment of the social archetype of the school as interruption of the status quo. It emerged in the form of schools initially associated with Romanticism and with socialist libertarian or “anarchist” impulses, and moved, if temporarily, into the educational mainstream in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the left sector of the Progressive Education movement, proliferated in the 1960’s and 70’s in various school reform movements, and is a constant presence today in the theory and practice of those schools that identify themselves as ‘democratic.’ It is based on principles of adult-child dialogue and direct democratic practice. Examples that we have of the New School tend to be characterized by material and activity environments that value variety, emergence, choice, emotional safety, self-initiation and self-organization; that are multi-sensorial and polysymbolic; and that are organized on the principles associated with mastery learning, social learning theory, and play theory—that is, moderate complexity and optimal cognitive arousal as exemplary conditions for learning.

Riassunto: Il presente contributo rintraccia il mutevole status della scuola come contro-cultura nella letteratura storica e antropologica, in particolare dal momento in cui la scuola obbligatoria di massa assunse la funzione di un apparato ideologico di stato nell’occidente post-rivoluzionario del XIX secolo. Si focalizza, quindi, l’attenzione su ciò che si può chiamare la Scuola Nuova, che si potrebbe dire rappresentare un’incarnazione evoluta, postmoderna dell’archetipo sociale della scuola come interruzione dello status quo. Essa emerse nella forma di scuole inizialmente associate con il Romanticismo e con impulsi socialistico-libertari e ‘anarchici’; raggiunse, sia pur solo temporaneamente, la corrente pedagogica principale nel tardo XIX secolo e agli inizi del XX; proliferò negli anni ’60 e ’70 del ’900 in vari movimenti di riforma scolastica ed è una presenza costante oggi, nella teoria e pratica di quelle scuole che si identificano come ‘democratiche’. Essa è basata sui principî del dialogo adulti-bambini e di pratiche di democrazia diretta. Gli esempi di Scuola Nuova che abbiamo tendono a essere caratterizzati da ambienti materiali e comportamentali che valorizzano varietà, emergere del nuovo, scelta, sicurezza emozionale, autonomia nell’iniziare corsi di azione e auto-organizzazione; ambienti multi-sensoriali e poli-simbolici, organizzati sulla base di principî associati al mastery learning, alla teoria sociale dell’apprendimento e alla teoria del gioco – ossia complessità moderata e optimal arousal come condizioni esemplari dell’apprendimento.


anarchist education; progressive education; history of schooling; democratic schools; adult-child dialogue

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