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Gymnastics between school desks

Gymnastics between school desks PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore the evolution and use of the school desk in unified Italy as a multifunctional and highly efficient tool, which was required not only to efficiently support in-class activities, to facilitate the classroom management and finally to maintain a correct body posture in order to preserve pupils’ health, but also to accomplish the additional task of working as real “gymnastic equipment”, i.e. suitable for performing various gymnastic exercises inside the classroom.Design/methodology/approachThe assumption upon which this paper rests is that school desks have always been signifiers charged with multiple meanings related to the evolution of curriculum, pedagogic ideas and daily school practices, which have often been forgotten, abandoned or, for some reasons, underrepresented in the official history of education as well as in the collective memory of school. In order to rebuild this forgotten history, and retrace the possible theoretical-pedagogical basis underlying such practice, the authors have systematically reviewed the Italian manuals on gymnastics between desks from the 1870s to the 1970s, retraced sources documenting this practice in the daily school life (government rules, school programmes, school hygiene prescriptions, iconographic sources, teachers and school managers’ testimonies) and finally, compared with other foreign practices (such as “calisthenics”).FindingsThe convergence between many differentiated sources has demonstrated the longevity of this school practice, which was not only the fruit of educational theories of gymnastic teachers but was also determined by the backwardness and logistic inadequacies of many Italian schools. The paper reveals how this gymnastic practice, after establishing itself in the post-Unification Italian schools, continued almost uninterrupted until the Second World War and even until the 1970s, evidencing how gymnastic teachers, hygienists, educationalists and lawmakers continued, over almost a century, to scientifically legitimise (from the top downwards) an educational practice that was actually driven from the bottom upwards, i.e. determined by an endemic lack of adequate spaces and tools for physical education in Italian schools.Originality/valueFor the very first time, the special source of Italian manuals and booklets on gymnastics between desks has been located, analysed and systematically reviewed for the period 1870s-1970s, and then cross-checked against differentiated sources. This study actually represents the first step of a research which must be still further developed. Undoubtedly, the “new” source represented by the manuals of “gymnastics between school desks” offered a first original perspective from which to explore the use of this furniture in the school of the past, thereby enabling historians of education to shed the first light on a school practice that has been overlooked or forgotten, and still hidden within the “black box of schooling”. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png History of Education Review Emerald Publishing

Gymnastics between school desks

History of Education Review , Volume 46 (2): 16 – Oct 2, 2017

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN
0819-8691
DOI
10.1108/HER-01-2016-0008
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore the evolution and use of the school desk in unified Italy as a multifunctional and highly efficient tool, which was required not only to efficiently support in-class activities, to facilitate the classroom management and finally to maintain a correct body posture in order to preserve pupils’ health, but also to accomplish the additional task of working as real “gymnastic equipment”, i.e. suitable for performing various gymnastic exercises inside the classroom.Design/methodology/approachThe assumption upon which this paper rests is that school desks have always been signifiers charged with multiple meanings related to the evolution of curriculum, pedagogic ideas and daily school practices, which have often been forgotten, abandoned or, for some reasons, underrepresented in the official history of education as well as in the collective memory of school. In order to rebuild this forgotten history, and retrace the possible theoretical-pedagogical basis underlying such practice, the authors have systematically reviewed the Italian manuals on gymnastics between desks from the 1870s to the 1970s, retraced sources documenting this practice in the daily school life (government rules, school programmes, school hygiene prescriptions, iconographic sources, teachers and school managers’ testimonies) and finally, compared with other foreign practices (such as “calisthenics”).FindingsThe convergence between many differentiated sources has demonstrated the longevity of this school practice, which was not only the fruit of educational theories of gymnastic teachers but was also determined by the backwardness and logistic inadequacies of many Italian schools. The paper reveals how this gymnastic practice, after establishing itself in the post-Unification Italian schools, continued almost uninterrupted until the Second World War and even until the 1970s, evidencing how gymnastic teachers, hygienists, educationalists and lawmakers continued, over almost a century, to scientifically legitimise (from the top downwards) an educational practice that was actually driven from the bottom upwards, i.e. determined by an endemic lack of adequate spaces and tools for physical education in Italian schools.Originality/valueFor the very first time, the special source of Italian manuals and booklets on gymnastics between desks has been located, analysed and systematically reviewed for the period 1870s-1970s, and then cross-checked against differentiated sources. This study actually represents the first step of a research which must be still further developed. Undoubtedly, the “new” source represented by the manuals of “gymnastics between school desks” offered a first original perspective from which to explore the use of this furniture in the school of the past, thereby enabling historians of education to shed the first light on a school practice that has been overlooked or forgotten, and still hidden within the “black box of schooling”.

Journal

History of Education ReviewEmerald Publishing

Published: Oct 2, 2017

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