Who is Loris Malaguzzi?

Loris Malaguzzi is best known for his instrumental role in the creation and development of the Reggio Emilia approach — the child-centered early educational philosophy that hinges on the belief that children are powerful and capable individuals, with the ability and desire to construct their own knowledge. Through Malaguzzi’s influence, the democratic educational setting found in Reggio Emilia schools, where all students and teachers have an equal voice in a collaborative learning process, flourished. As its popularity continues to grow throughout the world, the Reggio Emilia approach has been referred to as the gold standard of early education, and by Newsweek as the best early childhood education model in the world. Earning such acclaim was never the goal of Loris Malaguzzi, a man described as having a very strong character and personality, but also a highly collaborative approach. His dedication to the development of Reggio Emilia is evident throughout his 39-year career working directly as the director of the Reggio Emilia program in Italy. Malaguzzi was so dedicated that even after his retirement in 1985, he continued to pour his energy into the school system he helped build (by participating in conventions, meeting with parents, teachers, and administrators, and even taking lengthy visits to each preschool on a near daily basis). Loris Malaguzzi’s efforts and impact have been long lasting; nearly 25 years after his death, his teachings still heavily influence Reggio Emilia around the world. With this blog post, we celebrate Loris Malaguzzi’s lasting impact and explore the development of Reggio Emilia.

Early Life of Loris Malaguzzi

Loris Malaguzzi's home

Loris Malaguzzi was born and raised in Correggio, Italy in 1920. Raised in the midst of Fascist Italy, Malaguzzi was heavily affected by World War II. In his words, the war had “gobbled up my youth.” Beginning in 1939, Malaguzzi enrolled in a teacher training course after heavy encouragement from his father. He completed degrees over the course of the war in Pedagogy and Psychology from the University of Urbino and the Italian National Research Center in Rome. While he was obtaining his degrees, Malaguzzi also taught elementary school in Sologno and then both elementary and middle school in Reggio Emilia. Throughout his education, Malaguzzi became heavily influenced by several different educational theorists: John Dewey, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Barbara Biber. As a constructivist, Malaguzzi’s influences led him to the belief that each person constructs their own knowledge through their own life experiences, and that children are no different. Each of his influences left a different impact, as each of their educational philosophies had unique approaches. While Malaguzzi didn’t agree with every aspect from each theorist, he pulled some common threads from each and emerged with three primary beliefs:

  • A positive image of the child
  • Children learn by being active participants.
  • Play is an important part of learning and early development.

These tenets would later become the foundation of the Reggio Emilia approach.

Founding of the Reggio Emilia Approach

What grew to be one of the most influential educational philosophies throughout the world started with very humble beginnings in the northern region of Italy, in a town called Villa Cella, a borough of Reggio Emilia. Five days after the war ended, rumors began to circulate of a group of women who had decided to build a school from the rubble left after the Germans retreated from Italy. The group of women sold an abandoned German tank, nine horses, and two military trucks and began to construct a school within the countryside with the intent to ensure the next generation of children would grow up intolerant to injustice or inequality. Having heard the rumors, Malaguzzi’s interest was piqued, and he rode his bike to the town to see what the rumors were about. After seeing and speaking to the mothers involved, Malaguzzi was so impressed that he stayed in Reggio to assist. In Malaguzzi’s words, “It was the women’s first victory after the war because the decision was theirs. The men might have used the money differently.”

This first school still exists just 20 minutes outside the city of Reggio Emilia, and it became a labor of love for all involved. In the beginning, parents would contribute whatever they could to ensure the school could survive and continue running. Over the course of the next 15 years, the philosophy behind the Reggio Emilia approach began to flourish with several new schools opening, though all struggling to survive; however, by responding to popular demand, the city of Reggio Emilia established the first municipal preschools in 1963, securing the future of Reggio Emilia in doing so. As the first municipal schools were established, Malaguzzi took up the position of director, and he continued to develop the network of community-oriented nursery schools established in post-war Italy. By 1967, most preschools were folded into this network, which then expanded again in 1971 to include the first infant-toddler centers. Working alongside many other educators, Malaguzzi remained in his position as director until his retirement in 1985, though he remained heavily involved even in retirement.

A Lasting Legacy

Loris Malaguzzi was very well respected throughout the world and revered by his colleagues. Throughout his lifetime, he earned multiple awards, but his legacy is so much more than the awards he earned. Loris Malaguzzi was the driving force behind all key-points of the Reggio Emilia approach. Without his tireless efforts, it is unlikely that the Reggio Approach would exist as we understand it now. After all, it was developed through his own trials and errors. As he promised to the mothers who asked him to teach their children when he first rode his bicycle up to their school, “I’ll learn as we go along, and the children will learn everything I learn working with them.” 70 years later, we are still learning as we go, and the children are learning along with us. After all, it’s the curiosity of children that encourage their love of learning.

 

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