19 SES 08 B, Students, Learning and Engagement Practices
My proposal results from the ethnographic findings of fieldwork carried out in a municipal childhood school (for children between 3 and 5 years of age) in Walltown (Italy) where I observed how the children attending it learn, enact and negotiate the “localized” (or school based) identities teachers promote and support so that the children positively participate into the school culture, and construct a complex personal identity.
My interpretation of this set of findings will proceed by placing them against the history of Italian early childhood education and the socio-political changes of the late Sixties that gave way to law 444/1968, as well as the successive ministerial steps taken to update it in relation to the further social changes (among others, the number of immigrant families coming to live and work in Italy) and to the educational debate and new pedagogical perspectives that have taken place during the last fifty years. The 1968 law established what has been called a “historical divide” with regard to the prevailing tradition of assistance to children rather than of education. As one of the more recent documents issued by the Ministry of Education (the 2012 Directions for the curriculum) stresses, the childhood school is to promote the autonomy of children and support the construction of a complex, multifaceted identity.
To this aims childhood schools contribute through their internal organization and educational projects that I observed, noticing how relations among teachers and children, and between the children themselves, are progressively structured not only by everyday routines but also by “naming” children with reference to age, classroom membership, involvement in the educational projects teachers plan every year, and responsibilities of the older children towards the younger ones. “Naming” children collectively and individually according to the place they occupy in the school environment, the tasks they engage in, the roles some of them are involved in, contributes to the construction and maintenance of the school culture, and implies cultural and educational expectations both on the part of the latter and of their teachers, and enriches as well as problemates the children’s identity as sons or daughters. If the “passage” from the family life and security to the uncertainties of the school environment is not as dramatic as the one occurring in the first weeks of nursery school, in childhood school the “passages” multiply and children become able to respond to the teachers’ different calls (e.g., “Friends! Today we will learn about the vowels”), or to those of the children themselves (“You’re a ‘rooster’, you’re not supposed to act like that!”), and available to be identified, and identify themselves, as “multicultural” persons. Furthermore, since those “localized” identities promote ways of acting and relating (collaborating with each other rather than fighting) on the part of the children, and assign them new responsibilities, they also invite them to see themselves in a different light.
Ethnographic fieldwork started in January 2017 when I was authorized to do participant observation in the childhood school (and in a nursery school, whose findings will however not be part of this presentation) and will continue until the end of school year 2017-2018, namely in June 2018. Besides participant observation, I collected informal and formal conversations with teacher and the municipal coordinators from the municipal education Office.
The findings so far gathered supports the interpretation that "naming" contributes in a relevant and interesting way to the construction and maintenance of the culture of childhood school as well as to the achievement of a number of important educational aims and to an effective participation of children to the cultural and educational environment.
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