I am pleased to be here at the presentation of this important project. I would like to take this opportunity to bring greetings and support to the initiative not only from the Associazione Libera-mente Umani but also from the Coordinamento Nazionale degli Studenti contro il Green Pass, of which I am a member and which currently represents tens of thousands of students scattered throughout the universities and academic institutions of Italy. I would therefore like to point out that the problem facing families today is the progressive impossibility of educating their children, given the overall decay of state schools and the endless constraints to which minors are subjected, even under the pretext of health reasons that are not always correctly assessed. It is therefore necessary to create an alternative educational institution that is open to all, without any discrimination, and that focuses on the education and enhancement of the human person, who is endowed with inalienable dignity from conception to natural death. By developing the already familiar concepts of the ancient classical philosophical schools, which are suited to valuing a maieutic education, which teaches people to recognise for themselves the objective principles and values that enable us to live well, this institution, in a similar way to what is done by the so-called ‘parental’ schools, could gradually come to encompass each level of education, from primary to university and postgraduate level, and would be concerned, on the one hand, with handing down and transmitting the seeds of ancient Humanitas, with particular regard to the concept of “human dignity” and natural law, and, on the other, with applying these same concepts to the world in which we live, which seems to lack Humanitas.
It will be useful, then, to dwell briefly on some terms, which allow us to better understand the subject we are dealing with. “Educare”, in fact, is semantically connected to the Latin “educere” (to bring out) and indicates precisely the action of bringing out the best in each individual. This, however, would not be possible if at the same time an activity of “erudition” were not carried out, i.e. aimed at eliminating from the human soul the residues of the “law of the jungle” which, unfortunately, in the dark times in which we are living is instead accentuated by fear, according to the famous “divide et impera”. Just as the artist, in creating his work, cleanses the material, stripping it of impurities, so the good educator is called upon to remove the “rusticitas”, the roughness, from the soul of the student. Only then can the student be truly “educated”, that is, given the tools, through experience, to make the best of himself.
These three processes of learning, educating and instructing take place or should take place in a ‘schoolastic’ context. Far from simply indicating a building, in fact, the word ‘school’, derived from the Greek ‘scholé’, referred etymologically to leisure time. The time devoted to education should not be understood as an obligation to obtain some kind of certificate, but rather as an opportunity to exercise one’s freedom, understood as the ability to know and be attracted by what is true, good and beautiful. Education is, in fact, an art.
From this point of view, the great Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti had fully grasped the issue in the opening poem of his collection, which is also a manifesto on the role of art and which, not casually, is entitled ‘Eterno’ (Eternal):
“Tra un fiore colto e l’altro donato, l’inesprimibile nulla”.
In English, although it is not correct to translate poetry, it should sound like this:
“Between a flower picked and another given, the inexpressible nothingness”.
The flower Ungaretti spoke of is nothing else than art, which, once picked by the poet, must necessarily be shared in order to continue to perform its function, in an eternal process that leads to restless reflection.
The same opinion was held by the British writer and professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien who, in the tales of “Tree and Leaf”, leaves us the image of two “sui generis” artists, a confectioner and a painter, who, having received the flower, or rather the star of art, manage to make it shine to the full in the gift of their skills and themselves to others.
So how can these concepts be applied to practical existence? Certainly, the past offers us many examples to treasure, first and foremost the already mentioned philosophical schools which, as in the case of the Epicurean school, could also take place in a garden. With Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, the Academy and the Lyceum were born respectively: two institutions which, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, will come down to us today, at least in name. From the Middle Ages comes the example of the monastic schools, one of the most famous models of which was located close by in Chur, and the cathedral schools.
The monastic schools, however, tended to be self-sufficient, being able to obtain almost everything they needed to survive from the land and countryside surrounding the monastery. An essential part of these buildings, where the well-known rule of “ora et labora” was applied, were the “scriptoria” for copying and distributing books and, obviously, the libraries. Whatever was missing could be found through a dense network of exchanges between similar institutions, comparable to a sort of closely interconnected archipelago. Moreover, many of these monasteries enjoyed substantial independence from both the secular and the local ecclesiastical powers. This could be requested upon payment of an annual obolus, necessary for the maintenance of a candle permanently lit in front of St Peter’s tomb in Rome, the so-called “St Peter’s obolus”, and was confirmed by documents known in papal diplomatics as “privileges of protection” and “privileges of exemption”. In particular cases, even the imperial authority could grant privileges and exemptions of this kind, which, from the 13th century onwards, were also partially applied to the first Universities, which even had their own gendarmerie, subject to the Rector and not to the local city authorities. For the use of money, which in the Middle Ages was known as the ‘devil’s dung’, the use of a common fund among the ‘sodales’, the members of the institution, was and still it is used, in monasteries but also, for example, in lay academic institutions such as the Accademia Vivarium Novum, where I myself have lived and studied.
These are solutions that undoubtedly require a certain ability to re-discuss, but which historically have proven to be effective in times like the one we are living through, in which the role of state authority seems to be faltering, and which can therefore certainly be recovered and readapted to our context.