The educational system of Reggio Emilia has been influenced by a tradition of community involvement since its inception after World War II (Borgia, 1991). A municipal history document states that:
In 1945, the most pressing problem for a population that had just come out of a war was that of rebuilding - materially, socially, and morally. Aside from the need to restore buildings, infrastructures, and agricultural and production activities, the people also felt the need to overcome the ideological divisions that had lasted for two decades. Above all, the people felt the need to see that their children would never experience anything as terrible as the war had been for themselves. The groups organized to fight against the dictatorship, the German occupation, and injustice, and for emancipation, social equality, progress, and a better future... [sic] in their children the scope of their commitment. The children would be the inhabitants of that ‘new world’ that was rapidly being built. It was thus entirely natural that the C.L.N. (Comato di Liberazione Nationale) would concern itself with early childhood. (Reggio Children, 1997, p. 6)
Accordingly, after the war, the people of Villa Cella, a village near Reggio Emilia, decided to build and run a school for young children, financed initially with the sale of abandoned trucks and other items left behind by the retreating Germans. Parents did not want ordinary schools. Rather, they wanted schools where children could acquire skills of critical thinking and collaboration essential to rebuilding and ensuring a democratic society (New, 2000).
Loris Malaguzzi joined in this endeavour and later became founder, and for many years director, of the Reggio Emilia system of municipal early childhood education. Malaguzzi loved to recall the genesis of the Reggio experience at the preschool in Villa Cella, and the declaration which is still inscribed on the school as the place where peace-building is achieved by educating the new generations.
XXV Aprile was the first scuola dell’infanzia in the Reggio area, built through the hard work and solidarity of women, farmers and workers of the small village of Villa Cella. Malaguzzi described it as “the beginning of our entire experience,” although the first municipal school in Reggio Emilia was not opened until 1963 (Rinaldi, 2006, p. 146).
Malaguzzi later told the story to Lella Gandini (Malaguzzi, translated by Gandini, 1998):
Destiny must have wanted me to be part of an extraordinary event. I hear that in a small village called Villa Cella, a few miles from the town of Reggio Emilia, people decided to build and run a small school for young children. That idea seems incredible to me! I rush there on my bike and I discover that it is all quite true. I find women intent upon salvaging and washing pieces of brick. The people had gotten together and had decided that the money to begin the construction would come from the sale of an abandoned war tank, a few trucks, and some horses left behind by the retreating Germans.
“The rest will come,” they say to me.
“I am a teacher,” I say.
“Good,” they say.
“If that is true, come work with us.”
It all seemed unbelievable: the idea, the school, the inventory consisting of a tank, a few trucks, and horses. They explain everything to me: “We will build the school on our own, working at night and on Sundays. The land has been donated by a farmer; the bricks and beams will be salvaged from bombed houses; the sand will come from the river; the work will be volunteered by all of us.”
“And the money to run the school?”
A moment of embarrassment and then they say, “We will find it.”
Women, men, young people – all farmers and workers, all special people who had survived a hundred war horrors – are dead serious. (pp. 50-51)
For more on the history of the Reggio Emilia pedagogical project, click here.
For a tour of the city of Reggio Emilia, click here.