The early integration of disabled pupils in Italian schools and the parallel disbanding of special schools have given this country a pivotal role as an example of total inclusion, to be studied and imitated or criticized for its weak points. A better understanding of the singularity of the Italian case can be gained from studying the history of this process. In the 1970s, Italy arrived at revolutionary legislation that was driven by democratic values but also by a utopian, as well as courageous, spirit. The Italian state had long ignored the rights of disabled children and adults, recognizing the rights of only the war disabled. In the first decades of the republican state, after World War II, segregation and exclusion dominated the seducational and psychiatric scenarios. But researching the history of Italian special education leads to the discovery of a tradition of excellent special schools and institutes and of pedagogical and medical theories and practices, quite advanced for their time, that respected the dignity of the person and aimed to integrate them through work. In spite of the great names of doctors and educationalists, both Catholic and secular, such as De Sanctis, Montessori, Montesano, and Gemelli to name just a few, and their high level of specialization, society struggled to keep pace. The state did not support special education, leaving it to priests and doctors. Rich northern cities were able to provide better structures for disabled children. Moreover, children with sensory and physical disabilities, who were considered clever and therefore educable, received attention and had highly specialized schools in the 19th century. Only at the beginning of the 20th century were the needs of children with mental disabilities properly addressed through a pedagogical and medical approach. The great scientific advancements, however, got partially lost in common practice, and after World War II the school and welfare systems struggled to cope with a rising number of institutionalized children. The changes brought about by a new generation of psychiatrists, led by F. Basaglia, and educationalists who were antifascist and could not tolerate the segregation and exclusion of institutes; the radical spirit of 1968; and a new widespread consciousness of the shame of segregation for a democratic state produced revolutionary legislation that aimed at genuine inclusion. The history of Italian special education is quite recent; hence, it still draws on local and national studies. But the work done so far allows us to reconstruct the path of this process, which has not been linear, and shows the tensions, the continuity, and the innovation, as well as the steps backward. An inclusion policy concerns universal anti- discriminatory legislative measures, but this article, while refererring when necessary to other categories, focusses on disabled persons and their educational inclusion.
|Title of host publication||Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education|
|Number of pages||21|
|Volume||Published online: 28 June 2021|
|Publication status||Published - 2021|
- History of disability
- History of special education