Profession: street teacher. Cesare Moreno, head of the Chance Project, speaks

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By John

«It is not a book about school even if it talks about school, it is not a book of social denunciation even if the most degraded suburbs are represented. It is a poetic book because it manages to transform the crudest realities with a clear narrative.” So he writes Cesare Moreno, president of the non-profit Street Masters Association of Naples, and editor of «Teaching the Prince of Denmark», the beautiful book by Carla Melazzini, “street teacher” and his wife, who passed away in 2009. Published by Sellerio in an enlarged edition, with a note by the Italianist Claudio Giunta, it is an innovative collection of stories that grew together with the Chance Projectborn in Naples in 1998 as a contrast to the school dropout of adolescents with situations of strong social disadvantage, to which Roberto Saviano dedicated the Silver Bear for the film «La paranza dei bambini».

An extraordinary adventure conceived by Melassini together with Moreno and the teachers Marco Rossi Doria and Angela Villani, and which coincided with a radical change in their lives. Carla, with classical studies and a profound knowledge of great literature, had been a student at the Normale, then left (she would have graduated from the University of Pisa) because, like Moreno (who after having brilliantly studied Physics in Pisa, decided to become an elementary school teacher) , he was intolerant of privileges. Together they became teachers of “normal humanity” with a new profession, that of teachers and street teachers, to offer those who teach the opportunity to start again from the zero level of the word.

«Anthropological meetings» between San Giovanni a Teduccio, Ponticelli and Barra, “difficult” neighborhoods in the eastern area of ​​Naples where something more complex than dispersion and school failures needed to be repaired. And this book lucidly addresses crucial issues of education, without making any concessions to the school institution or to certain democratic rhetoric, or to those who, even with good intentions, deal with the “different” or the other” (“meanings that risk creating of short circuits even if they give prestige to pronounce them, because the first different are our children”, writes Melassini, who abhorred idealizations, even that of the poor of a certain left-wing ideology).

Professor, how do you become street masters after high and committed studies?
«From my experience I know that people with a deeper humanistic culture experience this transition more easily. The profound knowledge of what Carla calls the explorers of the abyss, such as Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Freud, Leopardi, Conrad, Tolstoy, has allowed her to face the human even in situations of degradation. She didn’t sacrifice herself, her choice wasn’t a second-best choice, it wasn’t about altruism but about realization.”

And in concrete everyday life, what should we do as street teachers?
«We must take care of the maintenance of human beings. Which, like everything, is subject to wear and tear and therefore we need to help it regain its energy. We put multivision into practice, a technique invented by the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion, a scholar of the dynamics of group psychotherapy, to psychically get officers at war back on their feet. And which has become an educational paradigm for dealing with traumatic realities. Every week all the Chance operators meet to talk and support each other, before helping girls and boys, girls and boys with “multi-problems”. This book is the report of those weekly meetings.”

An important passage of the book is the one on the teaching of speech, which should be a practice for the entire Italian school…
«For Carla and for us, the word has a fundamental value. It is not an acquired right but to be conquered together, an almost primary process for the student and a reconquest of the meaning of words for the teacher. We must start from the zero level of speech and listening before starting the dialogue. After 11 years, the Chance public project, promoted by the Ministry and the Municipality of Naples, ended but we continued it with the support of private individuals. We have our own office where we welcome, giving space above all to workshops (artistic activities are the “easiest” forms of expression) but we also go to schools with the agreement of schools and teachers. In recent days in Empoli, 50 children from a primary school, after initial hesitations, were the first to speak with a depth that amazed the teachers.”

The literary text – wrote Melassini – remains the main repository of meanings, with the use of metaphor as a tool to reach “the outskirts of the adolescent soul”. An instrument that comes precisely from that classical school severely judged by Carla…
«Yes (smiles), she went down hard on it, but she was aware of the importance of humanistic preparation. To young people who experience the tragedies of the news firsthand, to the “without stories”, you cannot talk about current events but a fairy tale, a metaphor is more useful. I think about how much Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” with the story of the cockroach, “‘o scarrafone”, had impressed the Chance boys”.

In your opinion, how is Italian school doing? Yet it has many advantages…
«What is good is entrusted to the teachers who still resist, but even those are decreasing more and more, there is a lack of a methodological system and an organizational structure and school policies are getting worse and worse, as those of recent days demonstrate».

It certainly refers to the “Relationship Education” Plan. What do you think?
«It’s ridiculous. Relationships are practiced, democracy is practiced, and instead we are losing the experiences of civil coexistence, starting with the couple. Speaking of Giulia’s tragedy, the only positive aspect is that we are talking about it. But certain psychological problems, which have increased after Covid, cannot be addressed without specialist help; schools can do a lot by foregrounding freedom of thought, the refusal of obedience to everything from drugs to domestic violence. I collaborate regularly with an anti-violence center and I notice that people always return to their tormentor. If man is a social animal he must help and be helped, it is therefore necessary to reinforce a positive sociality against a closed sociality. But the situation of women is very serious, it is there for all to see: a man can cross a park in the evening, a woman cannot.”