Erica Moretti

A Nation of Mama’s Boys?
The Figure of the Italian Mother in the Turn-of-the-Century Educational Debate

In 1914, the Italian State charged a royal commission with the task of examining and evaluating the most utilized pedagogic methods in Italy. 1 This new attentiveness to schooling occurred alongside the development of innovative educational methodologies. As a result of this atmosphere, educational theorists set out to find a new methodology, one that would respond to the national call to form a mass school that was capable of creating a specifically ‘Italian’ child, a ‘little soldier of the nation.’” 2 The royal commission advocated a new didactic orientation, one that was essentially in line with the pedagogy of the Agazzi sisters.3 The pedagogical method of Maria Montessori, also competing for being adopted on
a national level, did not make it and became the subject of harsh criticism. The committee’s adherence to the Agazzi method was a result of two principal considerations: first, the Agazzi method was derived from a rural world that held at its center a “maternalized” teacher.4 It was thus seen as a reflection of a sincere, unsophisticated italianità. Second, the Agazzi method only required its teachers to have a particular maternal instinct and a teaching vocation; no specialized training was needed. The italianità of the pedagogical proposal and its source, the Agazzi method, was directly linked to the centrality that the pedagogy placed on the special link between a mother and her child, a bond that would be recreated in the classroom.

My paper aims at investigating Maria Montessori’s changes to her idea of motherhood in reaction to the 1914 Royal Decree. I first argue that in the 1907 Inaugural Speech, Montessori envisioned her teacher to be a “social mother,” a scientifically trained teacher who would invest in the social value of her maternal virtues. Due to her rejection and her closer ties with the Catholic Church, Montessori argued that the teacher had to be a “spiritual mother,” a woman armed with Catholic faith and a spirit of abnegation typical of the sacrificial mother theorized by Paolo Mantegazza. I base the second part of my investigation on an unpublished series of letters between Montessori and Pope Benedict XV that I found at the Association
Montessori International (AMI). Building my research upon the texts La Mamma by historian Marina D’Amelia and the collection Storia della Maternità, I trace the evolution of the idea of maternity in the pedagogical debate of the first two decades of the twentieth century.5
1 Trabalzini, Paola. Da Il metodo a La scoperta del bambino. (Aracne, Rome, 2003) 83.
2 Gaetano Bonetta, “La scuola dell’infanzia” La scuola italiana dall’Unità ai nostri giorni ed. Giacomo Cives (La
Nuova Italia, Firenze 1990) 29-30.
3 R.D. 4 Gennaio 1914, N. 27 Istruzioni, programmi e orari per gli Asili infantili e Giardini d’Infanzia.
4 G. Contesini, Il giardino infantile rurale di Mompiano giudicato sotto l’aspetto pedagogico. (Canossi, Brescia 1902) in Catarsi,
Enzo. L’infanzia a scuola: l’educazione infantile in Italia dalle sale di custodia alla materna statale (Juvenilia, Bergamo 1985) 98.
5 Marina D’Amelia, and Luciano Allegra, Storia della maternità (Roma: Laterza, 1997).; Marina, D’Amelia, La
mamma (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1997).

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