Inclusion as the horizon of our commitment

Statements and messages communicate not only through written or spoken words but also through silences and omissions. We will not linger any longer in the criticism of the appeal, by the Prime Minister and the new minister Valditara, to the word “merit” and the feeble attempt to legitimize it with the reference to our Constitution (art.34) of 1948.

As Alberto Alberti recently wrote, the word merit in our Constitution finds reason in that context of dramatic poverty and ignorance that marked the life of a country that had to recover from the tragic legacy of the monarchical and fascist state: “only 43% of the population had obtained the title of the fifth grade 34% did not have any educational qualifications and 13% did not even know how to put their signature” (data from Censis 1951).

“Merit” was therefore an invitation, a push to raise one’s head and take control of the future of the Republic which needed new intelligence and a higher and more widespread literacy to make the country’s rebirth possible.

In seventy years, public school has defeated the illiteracy of millions and gave birth to the most popular primary school in Europe. In the school for the little ones, enriched by the nursery school since 1968, the best possible result was achieved: getting everyone to complete the five years of school without leaving anyone behind and reaching quality goals. Middle school, which finally, after 1962, made the path between 11-14 year olds unique, took almost forty years to achieve a similar result: bringing everyone or almost everyone to complete that school which was still closed in the 1960s to the majority of boys. An extraordinary tiring journey towards an inclusive school, capable of going beyond special education, reserved for pupils with disabilities, to “make room” for all diversity, welcoming its beauty, through a profound revision and questioning of practice pedagogy, the role of the teacher, cultural values.

It took struggles, the extraordinary commitment of many teachers, unforgettable testimonies such as that of Don Milani.

Keeping all of this silent when a new cycle of school policy opens means not recognizing the enormous work that has been done and by whom it was done, it means not understanding where to start again, also aware of the limits, of course. Infrastructures were and still are in too many areas of the country, especially in the South, old and unacceptable as learning environments; the training of the teaching staff would have deserved and deserves much more care and investment. The precariousness is evidence of the non-planning of the needs of teachers and the marginality of school policies that continue under the banner of cuts. Structural, cultural and communicative barriers remain which prevent full access to the right to study, without adequate investment in professional support figures, such as self-help assistants or linguistic mediators; proof of this is the recent experience of welcoming thousands of Ukrainian students that schools have faced alone with their own generous, qualified, but insufficient internal resources. The system remains blocked and fails to reach as it should the territory of adult education and continuous training, which are essential today. And certainly we can and must also discuss whether this extraordinary commitment of so many teachers has not been free from limits precisely with respect to the objectives that they themselves set for themselves.

These limits are still more than evident today in upper secondary school where there are still too high levels of dropout, abandonment, often unsatisfactory final results. Those nostalgic for school for the few complain about the lowering of the level of studies. For them, the school, its regulations, programs, are “right” are instead “wrong” those students who do not achieve the objectives and perhaps have even been promoted thanks to a permissive “progressive” culture.

Few of them think that perhaps, to be able to achieve high learning objectives with children who do not have the support of a family (of an environment, a territory, etc.) behind them, it is really necessary to change the school, the contents of the teaching and the didactic modalities with which the teaching/learning process takes place. Just as she has managed to do primary school since the 70s. Nostalgics today use the word merit to evoke the school that selects and since they cannot reject the advancing generations, they are also ready to tolerate failure, indeed they hide it behind a compassionate culture that recognizes difficulties and transforms them into discomfort to be compensated , care, support. Those who fail have a learning disability. They are the problem, not the school. These are the new, more nuanced and deceptive frontiers of exclusion.

There word inclusion it is the great omission, the most striking silence that can be perceived in the declarations of the government that has taken office.

The absence of this word makes the current meaning of the word “merit” unequivocal because inclusion does not tolerate the undeserving: no one can and must feel excluded. And inclusion is the terrain for the next few years. This is already foreseen by the European Union which has understood very well that the extent of schooling of young people and the rates of transition to upper secondary schools finally make the next phase possible: working on the limits of this great democratic achievement to bring it to the highest levels also in the quality of training outcomes and not just accesses. The funds of the PNRR to be attributed to schools are also largely within this framework and are therefore important.

Inclusion is opening up a widespread experimentation to see what characteristics learning environments capable of offering everyone the possibility of achieving the best possible outcomes and their own life expectations should have. Our proposal to extend compulsory schooling, starting from kindergarten up to the age of 18, stems from this decisive aim.

This objective will only be possible with a new protagonism of the State, with significant investments in the system in terms of infrastructure, staff training and recruitment mechanisms, quality central and peripheral administration, the revival of social participation, the recognition of work in the school. But above all it will require a strong and conscious mobilization of those who choose to place themselves on this new horizon in which the school is once again decisive for the history and life of the people, for a hope of more advanced democracy.

Compulsory education from 3 to 18 years it will require a radical rethinking of the teaching contents, of the methods of teaching, of the overall structure of the upper secondary school itself: a great effort of research, imagination, creativity and culture in which teachers above all will have to be the protagonists through an unprecedented experience of professional autonomy practiced in a new cooperative dimension of work. A very delicate and complex undertaking because it will not be easy to overcome the legacy of a model which still bears the elitist roots of the past and which leaves many teachers in the reassuring individual enforceability of their chair.

New rules will not suffice. Change requires a great commitment and cultural, didactic and professional renewal of those who work in the school. We will be part of this process, putting our experience, our culture and professional research at the service of this goal, the strength of a trade union that places the achievement of individual rights as the foundation of its choices in the field of education.

We are aware that we are facing a difficult challenge.

Europe, and our country with Europe, must become the vanguard and translate the values ​​of solidarity between peoples and equal opportunities into political actions, countering the growing inequalities and those market logics based on competition that risk, even in the school world, to leave behind those who can’t make it.

All the more reason not to give in, with the awareness that the future of freedom and work is in the knowledge guaranteed to every person.

Inclusion is the horizon of new rights.

Inclusion as the horizon of our commitment