Having gone over some of our Reggio-lingo last week, here I’m diving a bit deeper into why we are a Reggio-inspired school, and what it means for us. If last week’s look at lingo was seeing each tree, this week I’m zooming out to look at the whole forest. (It’s a big forest so stick with me!)
Reggio is an activist pedagogy – it is non-neutral and embodies a stance of advocacy towards participation, democracy, and civic responsibility. A Reggio-inspired approach is not about the passive accumulation of knowledge and skills in discrete individuals (“schooling”) – it is rather about the active pursuit of a more just world through egalitarian relationships.
This notion is deeply embedded in the history and origin story of the Reggio approach. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the movement, was born in Italy in 1920 and lived there through WWII. As others have said about the founding story of Reggio:
It started in a little town called Villa Cella in the northern region of Italy known as Reggio Romana. In the political and economic chaos that followed the fall of Fascism and the German retreat from Italy, the villagers, including children and parents, had collected stone, sand, and timber to build a school. Loris Malaguzzi rode his bicycle to the town to have a look and was so impressed by what he saw that he stayed.
The first school was financed by selling a German tank, nine horses, and two military trucks. That first school still exists in the countryside 20 minutes from the city of Reggio Emilia, which in 1963 assumed funding for the preschools.
At our Parent Association meeting last night, we heard from Eve Landau, the Director of the Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility at JCC Manhattan. Eve was part of the small dedicated core who created the JCC two decades ago, and reflected to us last night that she remembers sitting on the 2nd floor on September 12, 2001. Our school opened that week. Eve and her small team of JCC-mates spent the day building the furniture for our nursery school, some of it still in use. Eve commented last night that her squad, despite the horrific events of the previous day, had a collective sense on September 12 that through building the furniture for the school’s inaugural class, they were imbuing our brand new building with a sense of hope. With a stance of optimism for our suddenly fractured world. With an activism that demanded hands-on participation.
So too were the schools of Reggio borne out of their historical context:
The people of Reggio Emilia…set about rebuilding their lives and reconstructing their society, with a strong desire for change and a new and just world free from oppression, injustice and inequality. This hope for change brought about cooperative movements to provide services and redress inequalities in society.
Our school is a place where all voices count – where it doesn’t matter what your idea is, it matters that you have an idea – and more, that you stand up and share your idea. It matters that you participate. This is not a partisan activism, it is a participatory activism. It is a place for dialogue, for individuals – young citizens – to be encouraged to speak up, speak out, and speak at issues that matter to them. Carlina Rinaldi, former director of the Reggio municipal schools and long-time prolific propagator of the Reggio approach, writes:
Pedagogy like school is not neutral. It takes sides, it participates in deep and vital ways in the definition of this project whose central theme is not mankind, but his [her] relationship the world, his [her] being in the world. Pedagogy implies choices, and choosing does not mean deciding what is right compared to what is wrong. Choosing means having the courage of our doubts, of our uncertainties, it means participating in something for which we take responsibility.
The schools of Reggio Emilia, which were born of a true process of popular participation, are a declaration of participation by families, who constitute part of the schools’ identity. Over the years it has become clear that participation is essential to processes of learning and identity in children and adults. Participation, then, is a common journey which makes it possible to construct the sense of belonging to a community.
Walking into Classroom 2 yesterday, I watched as Carla, a co-head teacher in Room 2, was reading a book aloud to her students at circle time. Sitting on her left, a young boy started clamoring to Carla excitedly about something in the book. Keeping in mind the activist stance inherent in our pedagogy – with a goal of seeking participation to “construct the sense of belonging to a community” – Carla paused her reading, listened intently, pursed her lips, and then turn to the class, “So, his theory is…” and then paraphrased what she had heard the child say. Importantly, she then turned back to the boy and said, “Why don’t you tell your classmates again, I don’t think they heard you. It’s important that they hear your ideas.”
Given the historical context of Reggio, as outlined above, one can see why our teachers don’t tell our students, “Honey please be quiet, it’s not your turn, I’m reading.” Quiet is dangerous. It is how community and democracy crumble. We want loud participation, we want robust dialogue. I am uneasy when our students – like any cohort of citizens – is too quiet, too humble. This is why we embrace Reggio pedagogy, inspired by its historical context and correlated activist stance towards participation, democracy, and community.
Watching Carla and her class, my mind went to the New York Times article from the day before on our country’s well-documented abysmal rate of participation in midterm elections. Our pedagogical priority is not to finish our read aloud, complete the lesson, or ensure knowledge transmission. Activist pedagogy is more intent on making sure your child grows up in an educational environment in which they are comfortable and confident flexing their voice as a citizen, at every stage of life.
That your child hears adults tell them, “It’s important that they hear your ideas.”