The ‘gypsy pedagogy’, which in the last half century has hindered all pedagogic actions directed at Romani children in Italy, marks a sad era that we must overcome. This is the conclusion reached by “The Roma child: from gypsy pedagogy to innovative educational practices” conference, held in Sesto Fiorentino, Italy, on May 19-20. The event was held by REYN Italy and in collaboration with other associations, and saw the attendance of about 60 participants.
Luca Bravi, Historian at the University of Florence, presented an important report. He highlighted the red thread linking the extermination of Roma families in Auschwitz and the “re-educative” approach conceived by some Italian pedagogues in the 1960s, which was then applied by institutional bodies and private social organizations in the 1980s. The “nomadic camps” and the “separated classes” represented discriminatory practices that have always considered the Roma child as a different child: coming from a distant culture and with an IQ below the norm.
“We cannot build new inclusion policies without having the deep knowledge and awareness of the history of “re-education” towards Roma people in Italy,” Mr. Bravi concluded.
Separated pedagogical approaches are still in use in different parts of Italy. Often they are difficult to recognize and criticize because they are disguised in practices that retain the label or the idea of inclusion, but they always end up structuring around the theme of ghettoization.
It is no coincidence that still today in the guidelines of the Minister of Education, Research and the University, the Roma child is presented as “little inclined to pay attention to the anonymous and abstract speech addressed by the teacher to the entire class.” For this reason, the Ministry recommends that “working with Roma, Sinti and Traveler students and families, requires a great deal of flexibility and willingness to set specific and personalized learning paths.”
All this has been proven wrong by the twelve stories of Roma children presented during the conference, which from North to South and from East to West of Italy, demonstrate the importance of a change of approach by operating a profound discontinuity with the past.
Today, those Roma boys and girls who attend Italian universities are no longer an exception. This has been possible because innovative approaches and non-segregating policies have prevailed.
The Formula? Putting the child at the center and working with parents; fostering an integrated approach targeting the whole class and not the children from Roma origins exclusively; supporting the family with parenting guidance and housing. The prospects opened in Sesto Fiorentino have been many and exciting. Once again, most likely, the problem is not represented by the 28,000 Roma living in the outskirts of the Italian metropolis (only 0.05% of the majority population) but by a culture, ours, heavily impregnated with prejudices and fears. That’s what we have to start addressing again.
Written by Carlo Stasolla, president of Associazione 21 Luglio, REYN member in Italy.
Read more about the event on REYN Italy’s blog here.