If anyone had told me when I was at secondary school that I would be inspired to write an essay based on a letter challenging the moral code of education in the developed world, sent out by a bunch of peasant boys from the backwoods of Tuscany, I'd have looked at them in total disbelief. I'd certainly have recognised the stark reality of what they were saying, but the truth is, such were my academic failings, I doubt I'd have bothered to cast an eye over the pages, let alone read the words. The ebb and flow of circumstance meant I had to wait until 2009 to be given the letter, nearly fifty years after my schooling, to realise the significance.
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Matthew Scurfield: Drama, Dyslexia and Self-esteem
From the teachings of a radical priest, in post war Italy, to the sobering insights of some latter day educators, this book takes a confrontational and enlightening look at how the lessons of yesterday's schooling inform the arena of education, in the broadest sense of the word, today. This isn't a theory, nor is it journalistic jingo, or quasi league tables put together by a political think tank. Here is an insider's understanding of the tyranny of a deeply fragmented school system. It is written clearly and concisely from the viewpoint of the marginalised, with only one thing in mind: the stark need for immediate change.
In a world that thrives on diagnostic tests and labels, Matthew Scurfield’s childhood biography will easily locate him in the ‘at risk’ category. Several children and youth with a similar biography continue to be socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually excluded from mainstream education, where the provision exists, or from pseudo-inclusive educational practices. The technology of symbolic violence continues to misread such students as lazy, incompetent, careless, disabled and subversive, while referring them for remedial action. As the panel beaters of modern-day corrective practices continue to move from humble workshops to sophisticated work spaces, at times of national and transnational proportions, the deficit-oriented industry, equipped with tests, medicines, cutting-edge equipment and esoteric reports, is flourishing.
Lorenzo Milani (1923-67), a Catholic radical by design, conceived of educational underachievement as an assault on democracy and as a major roadblock to genuine citizenship. Willingly moving from riches to rags, Milani translated his evangelical option for the poor into an educational project that privileged the voice of traditionally disenfranchised youth; a curriculum for life that revolved around the notion of critical citizenship as an instrument of hope and possibility. Rather than blaming the victims for their educational predicament, Milani embarked on an emancipatory education process that reclaimed students’ dignity through fairness and genuine inclusion. Language acquisition, collective reading and writing, critical thinking and political activism provided the antidote to an official curriculum that domesticated underprivileged students into reproducing themselves as the inferior others. The Tuscan priest, operating in the most humble of circumstances, denounced the popular conception that failure is natural and, instead, announced the fact that failure is socially constructed through systems that fail to listen and to be relevant and equitable.
For Milani, the most violent conclusion of a transmissive education system is a population that enthusiastically embraces and willingly participates in war. He labelled schools of the fascist era as ‘cowardly’, deceiving students into thinking that war is in their best interest. The fact that peasants and workers were the net victims of Italy’s imperial ambitions galvanised Milani’s resolve to commit social suicide and side with the oppressed.
This book underscores the fact that oppression is human and, therefore, it can be reversed. This is a book for those willing to put up with the discomforts of in-your-face narratives of people who have been wronged by many an education system.
Prof. Carmel Borg
Faculty of Education
University of Malta