17 SES 09, Thinking about Equality in History
Encouraged by the first European activities aimed at educating deaf-mute people arranged on behalf of Abbé Charles Michel de l’Épée, founder of the Institute for the Deaf-mute in Paris, as well as of Samuel Heinicke, promoter of a public school in Leipzig under the protection of the King of Saxony, a series of similar interesting initiatives are gradually launched also in Italy between the end of the XVIIIth Century and the beginning of XIXth. Recent historiography has drawn attention on several experiences of such kind largely supporting the operative model designed by de l’Épée, which was essentially based on sign language as the main teaching tool. Among those, for instance, it has been underlined that the most remarkable contribution to the education of deaf-mutes was that of Abbot Tommaso Silvestri in Rome, of Abbot Benedetto Cozzolino in Naples, of Tommaso Pendola in Siena and of Father Severino Fabriani in Modena. In addition to the study of the educational activities following the ‘French model’, other researches have focused on the teaching experiences based on the oral method inspired by the ‘Dutch model’, such as the ones proposed by Priest Antonio Provolo in Verona. To date, however, we still have fragmentary knowledge of the first educational activities for deaf-mutes carried out in the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and, above all, in Sicily, where the first public activity of such kind dates back to the first thirty years of the XIXth century. Despite being also connected to a specific political disposition, the foundation of the first public institution is especially related to the work of industrious philanthropist Ignazio Dixit-Dominus and Min. Ciro Marzullo afterwards. After attending Can. Giovanni Agostino De Cosmi’s normal school, and having being granted the authorization to open a private daily school in Palermo “to teach mute people to speak” from the Bourbonic government in 1799, Dixit-Dominus enthusiastically launched a series of interesting initiatives aimed at rehabilitating, educating and socially integrating people with hearing and speech impairments. As recorded by several chroniclers of the time, his efforts did not pass unnoticed. In fact, after an over thirty years’ career in education, Dixit-Dominus was appointed Director of the Deaf-Mutes Royal Institute (RegioIstituto dei sordo-muti) by King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies in 1834. Director of the institute since 1852, Marzullo deserves credit for having elaborated a practical method to teach deaf-mutes how to talk, as well as some specific didactic material, such as a special grammar and a “Sciences, Letters and Arts” catechism. Furthermore, Marzullo exchanged his thought on education with the most eminent teachers of his time, including Tommaso Pendola. By means of examining published pamphlets and unpublished letters kept in the State Archive of Palermo, the present contribution aims at retracing the history of the first institute for deaf-mutes in Sicily, as well as giving an interesting portrait of the directors that alternated in guiding this institution before the Italian Unification (1861). Thanks to a skillful combination of educational theory, didactic tasks and purely political actions, and despite their scarce means, they succeeded in having a concrete influence on the evolution of special education in Southern Italy.
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