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Gentile, Gramsci and the labors of education.

1. The labor of education poses a complex problem in intellectual history. Etymologically, lavoro has both physical and intellectual aspects and involves the grasping of something; this is consistent with a form of labor that has both practical and theoretical aspects and is heuristic. (1) Since classical times, the work of the educator has been conceived as a drawing out (educo) by means of some particular method. This primary activity has required support from the society at large. Indeed, in Plato's Republic the teacher has the responsibility of being a guardian of the state. The association of education with the body politic has remained a part of our social contract, as has the assumption that learning requires effort, commitment, and work. How one codifies educational work, therefore, is a dual matter, which concerns teaching itself, as understood by the science of pedagogy, and the support that teaching enjoys (or does not enjoy) from the institutions and the state.

The positive evolution of the arts and sciences after Descartes (Discourse on Method, 1635), and especially after Vico (On the Study Methods of Our Time, 1708-09) and Herder (Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, 1784-91), resulted in the progressive articulation of the academic disciplines, which came into their own through a refinement of specific technical and symbolic languages. Vico was a pioneer in founding a humanistic pedagogy that did not prioritize logic and clarity over the field-specific truths that emerged from the disciplines; this was an idea he extended to primary education, where he urged that young people not be exposed too early to the rigors of logic (Vico, New Science, 74-75; Black). In many respects the birth of an autonomous pedagogical science in the 19th century was a confirmation of the validity of Vico's vision of a diversification of academic labor and the existence of a symbiotic relationship between the areas of knowledge and institutional structures. Yet such a change, which foresaw the diffusion of new methodologies applicable to a wide range of practical contexts starting with the earliest grades, was slow to take hold in Italy.

The Casati Act, decreed by the King of the Regno di Sardegna in 1859, became the law of the Regno d'Italia in 1861, and centralized the educational policies of the nation. By the early years of the 20th century, the defects of the law were apparent: it paid little attention to primary education and took no proactive stance to solve the problem of widespread illiteracy. It retained obligatory programs of religious instruction under the control of the Catholic church in the elementary, secondary, and normal schools (where elementary teachers were trained), and it was elitist, channeling lower-class students into terminal secondary programs. This structure often limited the prospects of students who were not privileged from pursuing more prestigious careers.

By the latter part of the Giolitti era many public figures were calling for educational reforms. In the general climate of malaise and dissatisfaction that characterizes the Liberal state at the turn of the century, the educational system was seen as a cause, not just a symptom, of Italy's social problems. Idealist critics like the neo-Hegelian Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944) attacked the status quo as focusing on "istruzione" (instruction) rather than "educazione" (character building). The Casati law had undergone progressive modifications in the direction of the sciences, including the pedagogical science (in the reforms of 1896 and 1918). Gentile opposed these changes and characterized the new pedagogical science as the invention of positivists, materialists, and "realists," whose preoccupation with methods and techniques, and with science generally led them to lose sight of the spiritual essence of education and the pursuit of higher virtues and truth.

Other critics, notably the teachers and professors themselves, pointed out that, despite the reforms to the Casati Act and despite reductions in the illiteracy rate, Italian educators were not training a viable workforce. The implementation of the national curriculum was entrusted to local municipalities, but most of them were unable to absorb the financial burden; this led to inferior instruction especially in the poorest areas. In addition, local control of schools often meant control by the catholic clerics, not by the secular state. Faced by these chronic problems, reformists advocated longer teacher training programs that would accord more dignity and status to the profession. They pointed out the social inequities and exclusions teachers were forced to endure, and campaigned for equal pay for women teachers who were receiving far less than their male counterparts.2 As Carla Ghizzoni writes, an important step was the formation in 1901 of a teacher's union, the Unione Magistrale Nazionale, which in subsequent years succeeded in drawing attention to these problems.

In 1911, twenty-year old Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) enrolled at the University of Torino, where he began to study the works of the socialist Antonio Labriola and the idealists Benedetto Croce and Gentile himself. Gramsci joined the Italian Socialist Party in 1913, a year before Benito Mussolini left the party to advocate for Italian intervention in World War I. In the turbulent years that followed, Gentile and Gramsci would formulate theories of education of great importance to the Italian nation. In this essay, then, I will examine their ideas by focusing on their concepts of educational labor. For Gentile, I will discuss his principal works on the subject--Sommario di pedagogia (1913-14), Riforma dell'educazione (1920), La riforma della scuola in Italia (1924) and Genesi e struttura della societa (1943)--and the reforms he instituted as Minister of Education. For Gramsci, I will look primarily at Quaderni del carcere, especially Notebook 12, "Appunti e note sparse per un gruppo di saggi sulla storia degli intellettuali e della cultura in Italia" (1932), but I will also draw on other passages from the Quaderni del carcere.

2. In devising his absolute form of idealism, Gentile modified Hegel through a reading of the 19th century Neapolitan philosopher Bertrando Spaventa who, in reforming Hegelianism, had stressed the dynamism of thought and the identity of thought and being. Spaventa coined the notion of "autoctisi," or self-creation, as well as that of the "stato etico," both of which are further developed by Gentile (as noted below). (3) Gentile's philosophy of "actualism," or "actual idealism," as presented in Teoria generale dello spirito come atto puro, assumed the absolute immanence of the Spirit. Thought was considered to be an action manifested by the Spirit, itself understood as a universal I, whose actionthoughts were deemed original and unrepeatable. The acts of knowing and willing through the Spirit were considered to be one and the same. Within this framework, Gentile's philosophy of the "pure act" absorbed the empirical sciences under its theoretical umbrella, relegating the empirical, individual I to an inferior status with respect to the Spirit.

When the Sommario di pedagogia was published, it was received enthusiastically by a mixture of would-be pragmatists, interventionists, and intellectuals who found something compelling about applying actual idealism to the domain of pedagogy. (4) Gentile begins his treatise by identifying pedagogy with philosophy, reasoning that if pedagogy is not imbued with the philosophic Spirit it is destined to collapse into the moral degeneration of materialism. About this conflation, Gobetti writes: "Ho inteso l'identita gentiliana di pedagogia e filosofia come negazione della pedagogia e sua risoluzione nella concreta esperienza (arte)" (445). Gentile stipulates that the labor of the educator is to join in the pure act of the Spirit and guide the student to do the same. This is an act in which dualities merge: object and subject, individual and collective, particular and universal, the psychological and the ethical. While Gentile was not a religious man, he employs a religious vocabulary, as the concepts faith, spirit, conscience, and meditation are major drivers in his anti-materialist, antitechnical, anti-realist thought. Since education was to be realized within a spiritual process, nonreplicable from one occasion to the next, the educator needed to resist calls to construct a definitive pedagogical system.

If pedagogy is equal to philosophy, Gentile reasoned, it cannot be an autonomous discipline. Modern pedagogical theories--"il concetto irrigidito del sapere come cosa" (Sommario I 63), "atomismo del sapere" (I 65)--were guilty of reifying educational labor and thus ignoring its process--"il processo del sapere come infinito sapere" (I 69). In contrast to "la concezione realistica [...] dell'istruzione" (I 58) and "il concetto d'insegnamento strumentale" (I 64), pedagogical work was conceived as an unrelenting discipline that could, optimally, persuade students and envelop them in the pleasure of learning.

Gentile articulates his position by fusing two doctrines he claims to have witnessed in practice (but regrettably he does not identify the practitioners). The first, the position of attraction, states that learning must meet students where they are, in their subjectivity, and attract and interest them. The opposite doctrine states that any learning that is worthwhile will be arduous and require great effort, since students will be taken outside their current subjectivity. If the pedagogy of attraction is content to interest and please the child, the pedagogy of effort "insiste [...] che importa la necessita di sottrarre il fanciullo al suo mondo e sospingerlo verso i valori dello spirito, che non si conquistano giuocando e trastullandosi, ma col sudore della fronte" (Sommario I 74). Gentile argues against the separation of these two doctrines, equating in the process educational work and play:

Giacche il piacere non e altro che l'attivita fondamentale dello spirito; e quest'attivita e oggettivarsi di continuo, e cioe lavorare. Lavoro perpetuo, senza posa, mai. Non v'e giuoco che non sia un lavoro, e non c'e lavoro vero che sia da meno del giuoco per rinfrancare e rasserenare lo spirito. [...] Il sapere proposto allo scolaro deve si innestarsi della sua mente, ma dev'essere al possibile difficile, arduo.

(Sommario I 74)

Gentile rejected the idea that knowing a method and using it are two different things. The use of prescribed teaching methods only negated the mystical absorption in process. Customary techniques such as mnemonic or rote learning were frowned upon: "[...] l'esercizio mnemonico [...] distrae l'uomo dal suo vero e razionale lavoro" (Sommario I 87). With this zealous endorsement of rationality, what seems to be missing in Gentile's theorization is the importance of real play for younger students and, more generally, the creative work of the imagination. He coined the word "pedologia" as a dismissive term for child psychology and, declaring the concept of childhood itself to be "arbitrary" (Scritti politici I 146-147), he argued that there is only one human psychology and it is subservient to the Spirit.

Gentile's critique goes to the heart of what is meant by reasoning. To the question, "What is reasoning?," he responds that it is neither deduction or induction, since these methods are only partial ways to approach the actual union of the universal and the particular, the subject (autocoscienza) and the object (coscienza), the understanding and the will. Gentile refers to this union or act of self-creation as "autoctisi" (updating, as we have noted, a term from Spaventa): "[S]uperando l'empiricita dei concetti di intelligenza e carattere, che sono astratte definizioni dell'essere complessivo del soggetto preso di qua dall'atto concreto in cui egli dimostra la propria soggettivita, e da dire che l'intendere crea l'intendere e il volere crea il volere: infatti, lo spirito, come visto, e autoctisi" (Sommario I 232). By conflating the "empirical" and the "abstract" into a single stage of reasoning in the subject that is preliminary to the "concrete act," the Sicilian philosopher effectively denies concreteness to the scientific method.

Gentile's position is that a pedagogy that does not preserve its philosophical character will fall into the error of assuming that the categories and terminologies of the particular fields (such as the empirical investigations of natural scientists) have autonomous value. (5) He refers to the followers of such a practice as "didattici" or "pedagogisti," comparing their work to that of the botanist who kills a flower to examine its component parts. In contrast to the didactic method of the "pedagogisti," Gentile understands scientific method as "la verita [che] ogni insegnamento e libera produzione del proprio contenuto" (Sommario I 113). In this sense, he applies to pedagogy the idea of selfgeneration that was glossed by Valmai Evans in 1933: "The all-round development at which Gentile thinks education should aim is not meant to exclude specialization which is a form of very desirable concentration, but is meant to fill the whole life of the student with his work, maintaining the balance between art and science; it will be that really humanistic education which can be called philosophic" (211).

In La riforma dell'educazione, a book of speeches made to teachers in newly Italian Trieste in 1919-1920, Gentile characterizes educational labor as an absorption in process, in the Spirit and in culture, a losing of oneself in order to find oneself. He adopts the metaphor of music (ironically, since music would be eliminated from the school curriculum after the 1923 reforms) to argue that culture is the life of the spirit as enabled by work:

La cultura dunque come vita dello spirito e sforzo, lavoro, ma non e pena. Pena il lavoro sarebbe, se la vita dello spirito fosse gia realizzata prima ancora del lavoro, e senza il lavoro; laddove questo e appunto la vita, la natura stessa dello spirito, in cui si spiega la cultura. Il lavoro non e un giogo per la volonta, per la personalita; e la sua liberta, l'atto in cui la liberta consiste.

(La riforma 134)

Work is freedom, and freedom is closely allied with personality and spirit: "Chi dice lavoro, dice personalita, volonta, coscienza. L'animale non lavora. E la cultura, abbiamo detto, e lavoro. Essa infatti e liberta, formazione di se, e non preesiste al proprio processo" (La riforma 135).

Other abstract nouns critical to Gentile's position are the "ideal" and the "ethical": it is only by way of the moral virtue of the teacher that the spirit of the educational program, "la vita dello spirito come dovere" (La riforma 136), can succeed. Even when writing of physical education, Gentile stresses the spirit and disparages the "materialistic" outlook, which he sees as irremediably "multiple" and "fragmentary":

In questo concreto concetto dello spirito, che non esclude piU nulla di se, acquista concretezza il concetto cristiano dell'educazione fisica. La quale mira bensi al corpo strumento del volere, ma non del volere che rinunzia al mondo, bensi del volere che al mondo si volge come al campo delle sue battaglie e delle sue vittorie, anzi della sua stessa vita: al mondo, che egli col suo lavoro trasforma [...].

(La riforma 200)

As stated above, Gentile charged the educator with the formative task of "educazione," deemed to be a necessary correction of the current focus on sterile, merely informative, "istruzione":

Checche si insegni, la nostra educazione deve avere una forma consentanea alla viva coscienza che noi tutti dobbiamo avere acquistata dell'intimita spirituale, della liberta sacra dell'opera nostra, che non si celebra nelle scuole materiali, ma dentro alle anime dei nostri alunni [...]. La speculazione dunque di questa forma dell'educazione, a cui nessuna pedagogia finora aveva sollevato le menti, non e una disutile teoria astratta, ma un momento necessario del miglioramento morale, dell'approfondimento spirituale, e insomma di un generale rinnovamento di tutta l'educazione.

(La riforma 221)

The stressing of "educazione" over "istruzione" was a position worked out by Gentile and Croce during the pre-war years, when Croce served as Minister of Education under Giolitti. (6) As we will see below, the language employed in support of molding character rather than feeding the intellect (or providing technical training) was highly rhetorical and often religious in tone: "Chi non e in grado, dentro la scuola, di sentire la santita del luogo e dell'opera che egli imprende a celebrarvi, non e educatore" (La riforma 247).

In 1922 Gentile was appointed Minister of Education by Mussolini. As he began his career as a functionary, instituting wholesale reforms of the Italian educational system, his philosophical writing all but ceased. Nevertheless, his commitment to philosophy as the arch-discipline of pedagogy remained intact. This meant, in practice, that philosophy would trump science in a number of ways under the policies of the new Minister of Education, even when the goal of scientific education was invoked by name (as in Gentile's formation of the "licei scientifici"). Gentile was not prepared to confront new knowledge in the sciences--including the extraordinary work being done by Italian scientists--but harked back to a pre-positivist mindset. As Minister of Education he gutted technical studies and drastically reduced offerings in science. The new Minister summarized his reforms as follows: "I punti capitali della Riforma universitaria del '23 sono questi: 1) liberta di studio degli studenti; 2) autonomia didattica e amministrativa delle universita; 3) carattere scientifico dell'insegnamento e dell'ordinamento universitario; 4) esame di stato" (Gentile, La riforma 328).

Freedom of study for the student meant that existing curricular structures, based on "istruzione," were abandoned. Freedom was tied to the student's acquisition of moral responsibility, which was entrusted to a philosophy-based curriculum, including ethics, epistemology, and history. Thus freedom for university students came to mean the freedom to stay in school longer than necessary. (7) As for younger students, freedom was linked to the maintenance of discipline. The teacher was morally responsible for the students and was granted the authority to punish them. Such an act was seen to defend "the right of the future repentant student" (Harris 92). Outrageous as it might sound, students needed to be punished for the sake of their "future rights." In this way the actual goal of freedom was ensnared in contradiction. (8)

The claim of autonomy for academic faculties and administrative units was more utopian desire than realized goal, since the authority remained with the Ministry in Rome; in truth there could be no real autonomy--especially in the schools--within a dictatorial regime. Gentile's administration effected mass dismissals of instructors (many based on age), resulting in a top-down rule and the ascendancy of the Supervisor, or what is today the academic administrator. (9)

As for the scientific character of teaching, this depended on Gentile's definition of science as a subcategory within his metaphysical system. The fact that the Reform established the "licei scientifici" is ironic insofar as actual instruction in the sciences was seriously cut back, as was technical education generally. As Martin Clark explains, after five years of primary school,

Most of those staying on at school would then enter a "scuola complementare" where they would receive a general academic education lasting three years. These new schools replaced the old technical schools, which were abolished. The new "complementary schools" did not give access to the technical institutes, nor indeed to anything else. [...] Only the "scientific licei" gave access to university science and engineering, although pupils from the technical institutes could still enter the university economics and business studies faculties.


It is not surprising, therefore, that under the Gentile reform the study of psychology at the university level was curtailed. The technical schools that previously integrated their graduates into the workplace and the universities were replaced by terminal "complementary schools" and "female lyceums" set up for the upper classes; Gobetti called these innovations "la scuola dei servi" and "la scuola delle padrone" (Scritti politici 495).

The damper on social progress of the new institutions was obvious. Gentile abolished pedagogy courses in teacher-training schools. The remade schools were places where aesthetics were elevated to the status of a high spiritual form even as practical training in the arts was nearly eliminated. Gentile spurned the formal analysis of literary texts: "One thing that must be avoided in the study of poems and prose works is the lifeless analysis of stylistic rules, verse forms, and linguistic peculiarities" (Minio-Paluello 72).

With the curtailment of classes in the sciences and the arts, nature itself became "the great absence" in Italian schools and universities. (10) Similarly, math and science were minimized, as teachers were forced to teach classes in disciplines for which they were not trained. Religious instruction was mandated in the elementary schools, though only as a preparation for a later phase when religion would fade away; this instruction was intended to instill students with morals, discipline, and obedience, not as a means to teach the nature of love, or the love of God: "Gentile never gave sufficient attention to the question of how religious dogmas could be taught in an undogmatic fashion" (Harris 94). In short, this refashioning was held to be scientific because it supported Gentile's belief that actualism was the ultimate science. Harry Redner sums up Gentile's disregard for the natural sciences as follows:

In his plans for the reform of the educational curriculum, the sciences figure only as a minor preliminary stage in the preparation for philosophy [...]. In his primary masterwork science plays no part at all. For example, his whole discussion of space and time refers itself exclusively to Kant and other philosophers and shows not the least trace of awareness of the debate in the then contemporary physics on these issues [...]. Whenever he refers to a science, as when he discusses empirical psychology, it is only to relegate it to a subsidiary role.


The state exam was instituted as a means to insure consistent quality of the university graduates who would no longer be examined by their professors. As a result, classes were increasingly dedicated to training students on how to succeed on exams:

The teachers had to adapt themselves in many ways to the new system. Their habits were affected not only by the new curricula and system of examinations, but by the methods which they were supposed to follow, and in many cases by the subjects they were being forced to teach [...]. The new examination system affected all teachers in all schools. Their work was led to new lines by this new preoccupation and responsibility [...]. The examination of the students was an examination of the teachers.

(Minio-Paluello 106-07)

The emphasis on training teachers who could prepare students to pass state exams contributed to a climate of suspicion as a punitive attitude was taken towards those who did not conform. Gentile's critics claimed that the Reform denied individuals' aptitudes by channeling them into tracks predetermined by the Ministry. To begin with, he eliminated the "added classes" that had accommodated large number of students, especially in the lyceums, and he reduced the maximum enrollment in classes. He also instituted a more selective path to the university. After middle school, students who did not attend the terminal schools noted above, had the following options: an artistic institute; a teaching institute; a technical institute, which allowed access to university programs in economics and business; scientific lyceum, which allowed passage to the university but not to programs in the humanities; and classical gymnasium-lyceum, which remained the only means of access to all university programs. As Gabriele Turi writes: "Quest'ultima e la scuola di cultura per eccellenza, indirizzata alla formazione della classe dirigente" (349).

Though Gentile's term as Minister of Education was relatively brief, his changes to the university system remained in place for years to come. What he shared with other educational officials in the regime was a belief that by molding character one could guarantee the student's loyalty to the "ethical state." At the heart of this belief lay the assumption that "situations of extreme conflict involve a higher kind of morality than other more normal conditions" (Harris 104). In order for the ethical state to exist, the concepts of "will" and "consensus" needed to be in harmony, for only under those conditions can the freedom of the spirit be attained (Sommario I 81-83). The individual will is to conform organically to the collective will of the state. In the field of labor, this is facilitated by the "natural" differentiation of the categories of labor, which of course had much to do with the tracks into which students were channeled.

In a 1928 article, "La nuova universita italiana," Gentile rejects as "vulgar" and "confessional" the model of objective scientific truth associated with the intellectual heritage of Greek philosophy, against which he advances "the modern concept" of truth as a nationalistically purposive pursuit of thought-asaction-as-conflict. He elaborates on this second truth as follows, letting it be known that both liberal and democratic political systems were to be seen as vulgar because of their dishonest relationship to work and workers:

A questo concetto siamo giunti, attraverso una elaborazione scientifica e filosofica, in questi ultimi decenni. La verita, secondo tale concetto, non esiste in primo luogo come qualche cosa da scoprire, ma come qualche cosa da conquistare [...]. A questa verita mutabile, umana, storica, devono mirare gli scienziati, ai quali e affidato il duplice compito di preparare i giovani alle battaglie della vita e di promuovere il progresso scientifico nazionale.

(La riforma della scuola 335)

Despite the militant tone of these remarks, it is clear that Gentile is responding to the need to train more scientists and technicians to service the nation's industrial sector. His Reform had met with opposition from the start, and, though many of the policies would remain intact for years, important changes began immediately after his resignation. (11) Many more changes were made by the Bottai reforms of 1939, which reflected a more realistic pedagogy that sought to make the schools and universities less elitist and more accessible to students seeking technical and scientific training. (12)

That Gentile never wavered in his fascist ideology and support of the "Stato etico" is evident in his late treatise, Genesi e strutture della societa, where he declares that

lo Stato [...] dev'essere, ed e, quello del lavoratore, quale esso e, con i suoi interessi differenziati secondo le naturali categorie che a mano a mano si vengono costituendo [...]. L'uomo reale, che conta, e l'uomo che lavora, e secondo il suo lavoro vale quello che vale [...]. Lo stato libero, lo Stato dell'uomo che lavora, deve tener conto di questa essenza economica e morale del lavoro, come di necessita esso si differenzia nel sistema dell'economia nazionale.


As stated at the outset, educational labor exists in the teacher-student relation and in the larger institutional context. As regards the former, I concur with Merritt Moore Thompson, who wrote that the Gentilian system prevented individuality from asserting itself, discouraged the development of "leadership qualities" and "underestimated the value of activity which centers about things"; and furthermore, that "the concept of a social Will in which all individual distinction is dissolved brings about a failure to make adequate use of social interstimulation and interaction as means of education" (111). In regard to the world beyond the classroom, as Harris, a scholar sympathetic to Gentile, has written, "the basic weakness of Gentile's educational theory [is that] he ignores the institutional framework within which education is carried on" (96).

3. Well before he was imprisoned by the regime in 1926, Antonio Gramsci was addressing in his writings the structural problems afflicting Italy's educational institutions. Once in jail, he planned for himself an ambitious program of study. In its broad contours, Gramsci's program can be seen to conform to the idea of a "philosophy of praxis," a term first adopted by the 19th-century philosopher and historian Antonio Labriola. A student of Spaventa and a teacher to Benedetto Croce, Labriola developed a form of Marxism that suppressed the opposition of theory and practice and based its understanding of history on concrete human relations and work.

Though Gramsci's writings on education are not extensive, they articulate a coherent program for reform that would correct the perceived errors of Gentile and Croce and make a positive investment in the cultural superstructure of the country by giving support to a new class of intellectuals. Gramsci's idea that all work is potentially intellectual activity is articulated in the opening pages of Notebook 12 of the Quaderni del carcere, where it is followed by a discussion of education and culture and by a section entitled "Osservazioni sulla scuola: per la ricerca del principio educativo." In these pages the Sardinian presents his work-based pedagogy:

Il lavoro [...] e il modo proprio dell'uomo di partecipare attivamente alla vita della natura per trasformarla e socializzarla sempre piU profondamente ed estesamente. Si puo dire percio che il principio educativo che fondava le scuole elementari era il concetto di lavoro, che non puo realizzarsi in tutta la sua potenza di espansione e di produttivita senza una conoscenza esatta e realistica delle leggi naturali e senza un ordine legale che regoli organicamente la vita degli uomini tra di loro, ordine che deve essere rispettato per convinzione spontanea e non solo per imposizione esterna, per necessita riconosciuta e proposta a se stessi come liberta e non mera coercizione.

(Quaderni 1540-41)

Gramsci's goal is to empower schools and universities to help integrate the instrumental or subaltern classes with the dominant classes. This purpose presupposes the creation of working-class intellectuals who can serve as teachers, and who themselves understand the cultural diversity of Italy. Such "organic" intellectuals would replace the model of the intellectual as eloquent orator with that of a practical guide and organizer capable, in the educational context, of restoring and elevating the worth of technical education: "Nel mondo moderno l'educazione tecnica, strettamente legata al lavoro industriale anche il piU primitivo o squalificato, deve formare la base del nuovo tipo di intellettuale" (Quaderni 1551). By extending the definition of intellectual to include the organization of labor, Gramsci rejects what Attilio Monasta calls the "idealistic illusion of the 'independence' of intellectual and cultural life from economic and political determinants" (599). Indeed, writes the critic, "[c]riticism of the traditional distinction between 'manual work' and 'intellectual work' is one of the most important steps toward a new theory of education" (602).

Gramsci identifies at the outset of his "Osservazioni sulla scuola: per la ricerca del principio educativo" his disagreement with the Riforma Gentile: "La frattura determinata dalla riforma Gentile tra la scuola elementare e media da una parte e quella superiore dall'altra" (Quaderni 1540). Gramsci believes that the reform failed to respect or empower the concept of work as the very foundation of the elementary schools: "Il concetto e il fatto del lavoro (dell'attivita teorico-pratica) e il principio educativo immanente nella scuola elementare poiche l'ordine sociale e statale (diritti e doveri) e dal lavoro introdotto e modificato nell'ordine naturale" (Quaderni 1541). At a time when the proportion of dialect speakers in the schools was on the rise, students needing a practical, linguistic bridge to arrive at the professions were being denied it. (13) The number of future doctors, scientists and engineers was dropping among the population. Gramsci believed the Gentilian myth of spontaneity and student-centered "educazione" amounted to a "laissez faire, laissez passer" approach to the problems of the lower class, which lacked adequate knowledge of the national language. (14) While Gentile believed that language sprang from the spirit of the individual and did not need not be taught mechanically, Gramsci related the question to the developmental needs of the pre-adolescent years when the individual requires maximum direction, including memorization of facts, hierarchical structures and patterns of conceptual knowledge.

Gramsci declaimed the lack of opportunities in the current system, as students were channeled according to social class and forced to select a specialization (including the terminal path of the technical school) before receiving an adequate training in the humanities:

La crisi avra una soluzione che razionalmente dovrebbe seguire questa linea: scuola unica iniziale di cultura generale, umanistica, formativa, che contemperi giustamente lo sviluppo della capacita di lavorare manualmente (tecnicamente, industrialmente) e lo sviluppo delle capacita del lavoro intellettuale.

(Quaderni 1531)

Moreover, he took aim at the idealists' separation of "educazione" and "istruzione" for the purposes of favoring the former:

Non e completamente esatto che l'istruzione non sia anche educazione: l'aver insistito troppo in questa distinzione e stato grave errore della pedagogia idealistica e se ne vedono gia gli effetti nella scuola riorganizzata da questa pedagogia. Perche l'istruzione non fosse anche educazione bisognerebbe che il discente fosse una mera passivita, un "meccanico recipiente" di nozioni astratte, cio che e assurdo e del resto viene "astrattamente" negato dai sostenitori della pura educativita appunto contro la mera istruzione meccanicistica. Il "certo" diventa "vero" nella coscienza del fanciullo.

(Quaderni 1541-2)

The means by which the teacher allows the "certain" to become the "true" in the child's awareness--the dichotomy is Vico's--is maieutic in nature and is geared to having the student act independently (and often in contrast to the cultural ambit and precepts of the student's family life). (15) The well-known dichotomy is employed by Gramsci to exemplify the gap in consciousness--a gap that the instructor has to recognize and build upon by providing new and elevated, worthy cultural aspirations to the student. Gramsci insists on the use of intense writing exercises toward this end. The Gentilian reforms, he wrote, claimed to activize students but actually made them more passive: "I nuovi programmi, quanto piU affermano e teorizzano l'attivita del discente, e la sua collaborazione operosa col lavoro del docente, e tanto piU sono disposti come se il discente fosse una mera passivita" (Quaderni 1543).

Criticizing the undifferentiated nature of teaching across the grades, Gramsci proposed a "unitary" or common school that would admit all qualified students and would modify the mode of instruction as students matured. (16) Students of diverse social classes (many of whom were being turned away from the ginnasio and liceo) could study profitably together as long as the instructor was passionate about teaching and provided an engaging and memorable rhythm and choreography in the classroom. In addition, teacher training needed to shift away from the techniques and strategies of "educativity" advanced by the regime and include "more philosophy, history and sociology of education" (Entwistle 166).

A critical part of Gramsci's concept of educational work involves the distinct phases or stages of education. He articulated the stages of learning in the individual in a manner that recalls Whitehead's theory of the cyclical passage through the stages of "romance," "precision" and "generalization." (17) The stages concern the emphases required during the young, middle, and mature levels of schooling. In the pre-adolescent years the individual requires maximum direction, including memorization of facts, hierarchical structures, patterns of conceptual knowledge. During the adolescent stage, the focus must be on precision (not the spontaneity Gentile was advancing) so as to prepare the learner for the mature and synthetic stage of generalization.

Gramsci noted that a wide gap existed in the rote-oriented secondary school instruction and the excessive freedom typical of the university. He proposed that a bridge be established based on the humanistic seminar in the final year of secondary school:

Dall'insegnamento quasi puramente dogmatico, in cui la memoria ha una grande parte, si passa alla fase creativa o di lavoro autonomo e indipendente; dalla scuola con disciplina dello studio imposta e controllata autoritativamente si passa a una fase di studio o di lavoro professionale in cui l'autodisciplina intellettuale e l'autonomia morale e teoricamente illimitata.

(Quaderni 1536)

Instead of the current emphasis on memorization, and the lack of creative work, secondary students required a freer pedagogical model based on self-discipline and moral autonomy:

Ecco dunque che nella scuola unitaria la fase ultima deve essere concepita e organata come la fase decisiva in cui si tende a creare i valori fondamentali dell'"umanesimo," l'autodisciplina intellettuale e l'autonomia morale necessarie per l'ulteriore specializzazione sia essa di carattere scientifico (studi universitari) sia di carattere immediatamente pratico-produttivo (industria, burocrazia, organizzazione degli scambi, ecc.).

(Quaderni 1536-37)

In Gramsci's view, it is incumbent on any educator wishing to reform an educational system to accurately survey existing conditions. That survey needs to consider students' abilities, linguistic traits, and practical needs. Students need to be guided through an itinerary in which the specific concept of knowledge is made clear to them and an appropriate integration is made of intellectual, creative, and technical skills. Only in this way can students be exposed to the adventure of learning and the possibility of discovering new truths. As a corollary to this principle of progressing through stages of learning, once students reach the liceo level they are to be trained in scientific method and given appropriate hands-on experience (rather than having this postponed until the postsecondary level):

Lo studio del metodo scientifico deve cominciare nel Liceo e non essere piU un monopolio dell'Universita: il Liceo deve essere gia un elemento fondamentale dello studio creativo e non solo ricettivo [...]. Nel Liceo dunque l'attivita scolastica fondamentale si svolgera nei seminari, nelle biblioteche, nei gabinetti sperimentali, nei laboratori: in esso si raccoglieranno gli elementi fondamentali per l'orientazione professionale. Un'innovazione essenziale sara determinata dall'avvento della scuola unitaria nei rapporti oggi esistenti tra Universita e Accademie.

(Quaderni 486-87)

Gramsci's position has much in common with educators in the pragmatic and process traditions, such as Whitehead, Cassirer, and Dewey. Those innovators shared the conviction that people are the agents of their own destinies. In contrast to the reigning practices of logical positivism, they introduced a concept of pedagogy that was equally open to developments in mathematics and logic, philosophy and religion, literature and the arts. They eschewed the excessive regard paid to specialization and highlighted a concept of learning based on personal discovery. Gramsci adopts a similarly heuristic approach:

Cosi scuola creativa non significa scuola di "inventori e scopritori"; essa indica una fase e un metodo di ricerca e di conoscenza, e non un "programma" predeterminato con l'obbligo dell'originalita e dell'innovazione a tutti i costi. Indica che l'apprendimento avviene specialmente per uno sforzo spontaneo e autonomo del discente, e in cui il maestro esercita solo una funzione di guida amichevole come avviene o dovrebbe avvenire nell'Universita.

(Quaderni 1537)

As I pointed out above, for Gramsci the question of the intellectuals is at the heart of the question of educational labor; he was in fact a strong advocate for education in civics and political history. In recognition of the low level of intellectual awareness among the working class, Gramsci proposed that much of the instruction that occurred in the old schools be restored. He advocated a common school that would not impede students from finding their own way through the disciplines. At the secondary level, Gramsci proposed a creative school that would be intellectually rigorous while promoting self-guided inquiry and problem solving on the part of students so as to prepare them for the university. In focusing on the cultural superstructure as an instrument of social change, Gramsci deviated from conventional Marxism and opposed determinisms of any sort.

The Enciclopedia italiana, the main encyclopedic effort launched, under Gentile's direction, by the fascist regime, says nothing under the heading "Educazione" about oppositional views to those of the regime. Instead, in its first edition, the encyclopedia is unambiguous in its support of the 1923 reforms:

Confutato il dualismo di istruzione e di educazione, si senti il bisogno di sostituire alla scuola informativa quella formativa e di dare a tutto l'insegnamento un'unita spirituale ed etica. Ma solo dopo la marcia su Roma, quando col Fascismo si giunge a trasformare in comune coscienza politica alcune delle esigenze fondamentali del pensiero idealistico, questo nuovo ideale educativo e stato attuato sul serio.

(Enciclopedia italiana, "Educazione" 500)

One could certainly disagree with the claim that idealist reformers confuted the dichotomy of "istruzione" and "educazione," since the thrust of their program was to shift the focus from the former to the latter. In fact, in his educational conservatism and concern for the selfhood of the student, Gramsci was far more effective at integrating instruction and character-building as necessary goals for the Italian schools and universities.

4. Conclusion

On the whole, Gentile and Gramsci are activist pedagogical philosophers whose past experiences with the school of logical positivism lead to their sharp divergences from it; both are passionate about their commitment to the need to reform Italian education, starting with the problem of illiteracy. Both see a need for training teachers and professors of strong moral character and speak positively of the spontaneous discoveries that take place in the learning process. Beyond this common interest, however, they are quite different in their epistemological approaches to the problem of educational work, a difference evident in their divergent philosophies.

As Raymond Williams writes, from the 17th century on, "labour gradually lost its habitual association with pain, though the general and applied senses of difficulty were still strong. The sense of labour as a general social activity came through more clearly, and with a more distinct sense of abstraction" (177). By the early 20th century "labour [...] had developed two modern senses: first the economic abstraction of the activity; secondly the social abstraction of that class of people who performed it" (178). Williams's distinction between the economic and social abstractions of labor can be employed fruitfully to summarize the present discussion of educational work in Gentile and Gramsci.

It is clear that the Gentile who wrote Sommario di pedagogia was only concerned with educational labor as an economic abstraction, as it fit within his metaphysical view of society. He gauged the work of teachers and students as something of value to the institutions and the ethical state. This Gentile did not theorize educational work from the socially inflected standpoint of those who produced it. For him an ethical pedagogy depended on a syntony between the teacher and student as occurred by virtue of a free exchange of spiritual energy, which emerged in a process in which education was deemed to be identical to philosophy. Since the work of the spirit was unrepeatable and involved in a continual state of becoming, any attempt to codify it in physical terms, or to speak of a science of pedagogy as an autonomous discipline, was tantamount to the error of positivism.

When he was named Minister of Education, Gentile needed to formulate positions to address labor's other meaning, the social reality of those who performed it, the teachers and students. Having previously avoided direct discussions of social class and the larger institutional questions implied by his national educational policy, he now needed to defend his reforms from fairly constant criticism. Generally speaking, this endeavor was unsuccessful, and Gentile resigned as Minister after less than two years in that position. The fact that Gentile claimed actual idealism as the fascist philosophy meant that actual idealism was relied on to provide the intellectual framework for national educational reform. Insofar as that philosophy suppressed the logical connections between history and metaphysics, and between ethical knowledge and knowledge of the natural world, his endeavor proved to be impossible.

By contrast, Gramsci's contribution to a theory of educational labor integrated the economic abstraction of the activity with the social abstraction of those who carried it out. He endorsed a variety of pedagogical pathways and disciplinary fields, all of which were invested in the dignity of labor and sought to guarantee for every student a detailed knowledge of the national language and strong writing abilities, the tools of problem solving, creativity, and self-inquiry. Gramsci's commitment to cultural change aimed at an honest assessment of students' abilities and capacities for learning at every developmental stage, so that as students progressed they would be provided the proper stimulus to growth. This sensitivity to the phases of learning was matched by his assumption that teachers and professors would be highly motivated intellectuals, where the term "intellectual" afforded a great breadth of definition, from the classical humanist to the political thinker to the technical instructor, as would also benefit the society as a whole.

Works Cited

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Entwistle, Harold. Antonio Gramsci. Conservative Schooling for Radical Politics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.

Evans, Valmai Burwood. "Education in the Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile." International Journal of Ethics 43.2 (1933): 210-17.

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Thomas E. Peterson

University of Georgia

(1) "Lavoro": dal lat. LABOR fatica [...] dalla rad. LABH, che sembra avere il senso proprio di afferrare e quello figurato di volgere il desiderio, la volonta, l'intento, l'opera a q. c. [...]" (Dizionario etimologico online).

(2) See Carla Ghizzoni: "[...] la tendenza alla femminilizzazione del personale docente delle primarie fu altresi favorita dalla preferenza accordata dai comuni alle donne in quanto la loro retribuzione, come si ricordera, era minore di quella dei loro colleghi." As Ester De Fort notes, 1979, 140-52, in the last decade of the 19th century a coalition of opposition legislators in Parliament denounced the ineffectiveness of the scholastic system and insisted on the need to remove control of the schools from the comuni and to fund them nationally. Though unsuccessful, they managed to raise awareness among the popular classes of the need for improved instruction.

(3) See Spaventa, Principii di filosofia, vol. 1, 88: "Ho appena bisogno di dire, che questa autoctisi e la stessa liberta umana nel suo schietto significato, e che l'organo infaticabile di questa liberta, anzi la liberta stessa, e il pensiero, la libera riflessione dell'uomo sopra se stesso." See Gentile's chapter, "Il positivo come autoctisi" in Teoria generale dello spirito come atto puro, 94-111.

(4) Garin, vol. 2, 1055-61, spells out the mixture of ideas, many of them irrational, that flowed together at this time, often under the sign of nationalism. Poets such as Clemente Rebora and Vincenzo Cardarelli expressed their enthusiasm for the Sommario as did the young Piero Gobetti.

(5) See Sommario I 112: "Lo scienzato, il filosofo, il poeta, lo scrittore o il pensatore non e legato all'opera sua ne dal desiderio di un oggetto ignoto, ne da un impeto interno, che lo trascini nolente quasi forza della natura; bensi dall'identita del suo essere col suo fare."

(6) Many of the reforms enacted by Gentile in 1924 had already been worked out, in a fashion, by Benedetto Croce when he had served as Minister of Education in the fifth Giolitti government. Though Croce had elaborated the changes, as G. Turi writes, "I suoi progetti sono respinti dalla Commissione istruzione della Camera nel febbraio 1921" (313).

(7) See Clark: "After 1928 university students became more numerous--their number doubled in the 1930s--but most of them were training to become lawyers, civil servants, teachers, or professional intellectuals. Italy produced fewer engineers, scientists and doctors in the late 1930s than in the early 1920s" (277).

(8) Pointing to this fact, Gobetti wrote: "Invece le nostre idee sulla liberta della scuola e la riduzione delle scuole pubbliche sono diverse da quelle propugnate dal Gentile solo perche piU radicalmente liberali e decisamente scettiche nella candida pretesa di ottenere la liberta della scuola da un governo dittatoriale" (Scrittipolitici 479).

(9) Things were somewhat different at the university level, especially in such centers of intellectual and scientific activity as Torino where noted scientists, such as Giuseppe Levi, taught medicine for many years despite making public anti-fascist statements. A brief biography of Levi shows that he taught at the University of Torino until 1938, when he had to leave because of the racial laws and that he was the teacher of three Nobel Prize laureates (

(10) As Claudio Magris noted: "Aprire la scuola, di ogni ordine e grado, al sapere scientifico e tecnologico vuol dire essere fedeli all'autentico spirito classico, rivolto all'intelligenza del mondo e della natura--di quella natura che, come la musica, e stata la grande assente della scuola italiana, per colpa della riforma Gentile" (280).

(11) As De Fort observes in "La cultura dei maestri": "Nell'ambito dei 'ritocchi' con i quali, subito dopo le dimissioni di Gentile, il regime pose mano alla riforma, furono progressivamente abbattuti gli argini posti dal filosofo all'espansione indiscriminata delle scuole secondarie e dei loro studenti. La rinuncia alla selezione, che per l'istituto magistrale ebbe particolari caratteristiche, favorendo soprattutto gli studenti maschi al fine di 'virilizzare' l'insegnamento, esprimeva la consapevolezza di quanto fosse utopistico e politicamente improduttivo frenare la spinta delle masse all'istruzione, fenomeno generale del mondo occidentale che la depressione avrebbe rafforzato" (230).

(12) For a discussion of the Carta della scuola, the school reforms that Giuseppe Bottai implemented on March 22, 1939, see Talamo 672-74. In contrast to Gentile, who had not consulted with the public before instituting his reform, Bottai consulted for months with interest groups and sought to address the sorts of practical and economic needs that Gentile's reforms had ignored.

(13) While some minimal steps were taken by the Ministry of Education after the reforms to use students' knowledge of a dialect as a bridge to learning Italian, early language instruction was still assumed to be the job of the family. Thus the fate of students with deficient Italian was not addressed in a coherent and systematic manner.

(14) "[I]n realta la grammatica si studia 'sempre', ecc. (con l'imitazione dei modelli ammirati, ecc.). Nella posizione del Gentile c'e molta piU politica di quanto si creda e molto reazionarismo inconscio, come del resto e stato notato altre volte e in altre occasioni: c'e tutto il reazionarismo della vecchia concezione liberale, c'e un 'lasciar fare, lasciar passare' che non e giustificato [...]" (Gramsci, Quaderni 2349).

(15) For Vico, the "certum" (the certain) stands for authority while the "verum" (the true) stands for reason. As Garin writes, vol. 1, 698: "The Vichian task was set on finding the way of returning the certain within the true, of connecting the one with the other for the reason of reaching the true of the certain. But if the definition of the two terms was agreeable, not equally agreeable was their rapport: 'The mind's conformation with the order of things gives birth to the true, and the conscience secure from doubting gives birth to the certain. The conformation with the order of things is called 'reason' [...]." As the true subsists in our reason, so the certain rests on authority [...] (Universal Right, par. 31)'."

(16) "Ecco dunque che nella scuola unitaria la fase ultima deve essere concepita e organata come la fase decisiva in cui si tende a creare i valori fondamentali dell'umanesimo', l'autodisciplina intellettuale e l'autonomia morale necessarie per l'ulteriore specializzazione sia essa di carattere scientifico (studi universitari) sia di carattere immediatamente pratico-produttivo (industria, burocrazia, organizzazione degli scambi, ecc.)" (Gramsci, Quaderni 1536-37).

(17) According to Whitehead, the intrigue of the phase of romance, the rigor and refinement of the phase of precision, and the interpretation of the phase of generalization coexist in the teacher who has properly wed thoughts and actions (in the essay "The Aims of Education" 24-44). Entwistle also notes: "Whitehead extended his cyclical theory to apply not only to a single learning experience (e.g., an individual lesson which should manifest all three stages of the cycle) but also to an entire educational lifetime" (107).
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