Ramsey McGlazer's Old Schools: Modernism, Education, and the Critique of Progress (Fordham University Press, 2020), traces the ways in which a group of modernist cultural practitioners (thinkers, politicians, artists, poets, novelists, and filmmakers) across varied linguistic and cultural contexts ((Italian, English, Irish, and Brazilian) resisted certain notions of education perceived as “progressive”. At the heart of this remarkable study, pulses a nexus of issues that are of interest to anyone teaching anything anywhere: What is education? How does it differ from “instruction”? What is education for? (if anything) What does it mean to ask the question “what is education for”? Who is education for? What are the stakes of that question?
Education reforms from the end of the Victorian Era until the mid-20th century sought to surpass the “sterile and narrow” forms of education that insisted on rote learning (memorization, declamation, imitation, and so forth) that did not help students of any age or grade “transform.” Resisting the ideology of “progressive” education, the figures in McGlazer’s fascinating study propose instead a “counter tradition” that sought to offer resistant strategies in “old school” pedagogies focusing on rote means, reproducing (though McGlazer will “queer” that term) ordained content. The practitioners McGlazer focuses on include figures like Walter Pater, author of the influential Studies in the History of the Renaissance, first published in 1873 and whose interest in mechanistic pedagogies anchors the first chapter. Giovanni Pascoli and his focus on grammar follows, then a chapter on “direct instruction” in James Joyce’s Ulysses. McGlazer concludes by focusing on films centering on instruction, like the pedagogy of pain in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and avant-garde Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha’s film Claro (1975). McGlazer’s focus on this nucleus of texts and practitioners from the end of the 19th Century to about the middle of the 20th gives rise to questions about tradition, resistance, and the ideology of education that are evergreen and of interest to educators in a wide array of places and spaces and Old Schools will be of interest to anyone who has taught and anyone who has learned.
Ellen Nerenberg is a founding editor of g/s/i-gender/sexuality/Italy and reviews editor of the Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies. Recent scholarly essays focus on serial television in Italy, the UK, and North America; masculinities in Italian cinema and media studies; and student filmmakers. Her current book project is La nazione Winx: coltivare la futura consumista/Winx Nation: Grooming the Future Female Consumer, a collaboration with Nicoletta Marini-Maio (forthcoming, Rubbettino Editore, 2020). She is President of the American Association for Italian Studies.