Pruneri, Fabio (2006) Illiterates and criminals: judgements and prejudices about illiteracy in Sardinia (Italy) from the XIX to the XX century. In: Technologies of the Word: Literacies in the History of Education: 28th Session of the International Standing Conference for the History of Education, 16-19 August, 2006, Umeå, Sweden. p. 8. Conference or Workshop Item.
Fight against illiteracy had inevitably relations with the events that saw the birth of Italy as a nation in the XIX century. Both the traditional education based on one oral method and the popular school of the new State had sometimes used different approaches especially in the southern areas of Italy and in the islands where the imposition of the national curriculum on the local administration couldn’t combine the local culture with the subsistence needs of the community. Compulsory primary school didn’t often start in harmony with the local dialects, the different cultures and the socio-economic needs. The “coercive” role of the national education didn’t help the people to attend the school especially where the new State wasn’t perfectly known The exemple of Sardinia is somehow emblematic because this island could keep its own identity although she had known several dominations. Here the national Italian curriculum (Casati law 1859) was seen worse than Carlo Felice’s, actually the second respected the cyclical agrarian calendar, including reading-writing-calculating methods, plus both an “agrarian catechism” and a Christian one. The lack of attention to the shepherds and farmers’ habits caused their absence from the compulsory school due to the need for rural work, for illnesses, and indigence (sons of widows, ill parents, lack of clothes and shoes, long distance from the school). The State’s answer to this “disobedience” sometimes explicit but mostly implicit shows the clear misunderstanding of the local culture. The census, the survey and their interpretations prove how it was difficult to overcome the simple correlation - peculiar to positivism - between illiteracy and crime “When the number of illiterates becomes fewer the number of prisoners will diminish”. Some intellectuals (ALFREDO NICEFORO, La delinquenza in Sardegna, 1897), considered Sardinia a criminal area because of the conformation of its inhabitants’ head. Illiteracy wasn’t a problem to fight at all. On one hand, a lot of soldiers, that died during the first world war, were from Sardinia and probably their low level of school education with the indigence made easier their recruitment. On the other hand, a lot of events of delinquency and banditry of the second world war were justified as acts of cultural backwardness of some inland villages in Sardinia. During the fifties, this simplification was changed by some intellectuals that described Sardinia richer and more problematic in their books (Pigliaru), anthropological research (Pinna), pictures (De Seta), novels (Giacobbe). The aim of my work is to explain how success and failure in literacy policy can also depend on understanding or misunderstanding of the social background by the public administration and government. When families recognize the importance of school education as a part of the local culture and as an economic opportunity they will encourage their children to study.
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