Fascist education

Early Childhood Education between the New Century and Fascism

In the second half of the 19th century, scientific and experimental pedagogy emerged, aiming to distance itself from philosophy and political influence. The goal was to reconstruct pedagogical knowledge through direct dialogue with human and social sciences: physiology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, ethnology, and criminology. The pedagogical renewal process involved a revision of its methodology and content, adopting a scientific inductive and experimental paradigm based on facts. Positivism, in particular, provided the scientific model that pedagogy should conform to for progress.

Between the late 19th century and World War I, there was a wealth of pedagogical experiences and long-term innovations focusing on improving social conditions and future generations. New nurseries were opened, driven by a new spirit and the desire to be instruments for societal improvement.
In 1889, Baron Raimondo Franchetti opened the first nursery in Cavazzone for his peasants in the Reggio region. In 1895, the first Agazzian nursery was inaugurated in Brescia, based on the educational method of the Agazzi sisters and the concepts of John Dewey.
In 1907, Barons Alice and Leopoldo Franchetti contributed to the opening of the first Casa dei Bambini in Rome, promoted by Maria Montessori. In 1915, Irene Bernasconi started her activities in very difficult social and human conditions on the Roman coast. Until 1925, additional structures were created to meet the needs of mothers and children.
In 1907, Barons Alice and Leopoldo Franchetti contributed to the opening of the first Children's Home in Rome, promoted by Maria Montessori. In 1915 Irene Bernasconi started her business in very difficult social and human conditions on the Roman coast. Until 1925, additional facilities were created to meet the needs of mothers and children.
In 1933, Maria Montessori and her son resigned from the Montessori National Opera due to conflicts with the fascist regime. Montessori was forced to leave Italy in 1934. The "Scuola Magistrale Montessori" and the "Opera Nazionale Montessori" were definitively closed by the regime in 1936.

The Gentile Reform

During its consolidation phase, fascism, to which the monarchy had handed power in 1922, attached great importance to education, seen as an essential element for the creation of a "new Italy." The Gentile Reform shaped Italian schools, including childcare services, for almost fifty years. According to the 1923 reform, the non-mandatory kindergarten, accessible at three years old, represented the first level of primary education, lasting for three years. Daycare centers, on the other hand, were considered schools for the first time and placed under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education. The first guidelines for the educational activities of kindergartens were issued only in 1958, incorporating the principles of the Agazzi sisters.

The Birth of ONMI

The National Opera for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood (ONMI) was established on December 10, 1925, by the fascist regime, with the aim of supporting the demographic growth policy in the perspective of fascism's bellicose policy ("book and rifle, perfect fascist" was one of the regime's most common slogans). It was an ideology that saw "number" as the "power" of the nation and relegated women to the role of mothers of future soldiers.

The creation of ONMI represented the first time the Italian state defined a comprehensive text for the protection and assistance of motherhood and childhood.

Over the years, the structures remained similar to hospitals, with the simple purpose of feeding and preventing contagion, while the social and formative aspect of children was widely neglected. The environments were aseptic, with high and large rooms, following the rules and monumental style of fascist architecture, and children were grouped in large concentrations without a criterion related to age groups.

Childcare centers included three main areas: the playroom, the dining hall, and the dormitory, and children did not have the freedom to move freely within the structure. Rest occurred in a dormitory of excessively large dimensions where the affective relationship was non-existent. Furthermore, the sanitary facilities consisted of a large battery of potties and sinks that children accessed in regulated and predetermined intervals.

ONMI, which was dissolved only in 1975, represented a fundamental institution for the protection of motherhood and childhood. However, its welfare and health-oriented conception did not consider the affective and psychological aspects of children.