An Education They Can Embrace
Professor Paula Salvio examines how education meets the needs of a changing Sicilian culture spurred by the youth-based anti-Mafia movement.
On May 23, 1992, immediately after news broke of the Mafia assassination of magistrate Giovanni Falcone and his wife Francesca Morvillo, a judge, people gathered in front of their apartment building in Palermo, Sicily, and began to decorate a large magnolia tree with tributes to them. Fifteen thousand people came to their funeral. Two months later, the Mafia also assassinated their colleague, magistrate Paola Borsellino. Together, Falcone and Borsellino had convicted hundreds of Mafiosi.
Since then, the “Falcone tree” has been decorated with messages from schoolchildren, gold necklaces from teenaged girls, a pledge to continue their work from a young lawyer, and even a bride's bouquet. The Falcone family foundation archives the messages and each spring the written offerings are framed in a commemorative ceremony. Those who attend the ceremony refer to it as a pilgrimage and they come from Palermo and all over Italy. The Falcone tree continues to be a focal point for the growing anti-Mafia movement in Sicily.
Then in the summer of 2004, the anti-Mafia movement took a new direction. A feisty grassroots organization, Addiopizzo (Good-bye extortion payment), sprang to life. It began when several young people wanted to start a pub in Palermo but did not want to budget for the pizzo (the extortion payment), which could easily have amounted to about $600 a month. At that time it was estimated that the Mafia extorted from about 80 percent of the businesses in Palermo.
Frustrated, they decided to fight back and one morning that summer the people of Palermo woke up to find stickers plastered all over the city that proclaimed: “A people who pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.” Within a year or so, Addiopizzo was functioning like the “Fair Trade” consumer movement. Shops displayed the Addiopizzo logo, consumers signed on, and the government agreed to discreetly look after member shops. To date, the Addiopizzo website lists 645 pizzo-free businesses and they include many of the best bars, restaurants, galleries, and shops.
Now, primarily funded by the redistribution of seized Mafia goods, Addiopizzo partners with schools, businesses, courts of law, and agriturismos to educate citizens to be critical consumers.
Professor of Education Paula Salvio became interested in the anti-Mafia movement while studying Italian with UNH Assistant Professor Amy Boylan. She quickly realized that her research interests in curriculum and feminist theory fit with studying the youth-based movement. Salvio’s prior books, notable for their innovative narrations about education, are Love’s Return: Psychoanalytic Essays on Childhood, Teaching, and Learning, co-edited with Gail Boldt, and an award-winning study, Anne Sexton: Teacher of Weird Abundance.
Salvio’s forthcoming book, Archives of Feelings: The Anti-Mafia Movement as Public Pedagogy, examines several contemporary archival projects that capture emotional journeys within the anti-Mafia movement in Sicily. Of course, the Falcone tree is one of them, along with the Facebook page dedicated to Francesca Morvillo, which is a new kind of archive in that it exists only digitally. Another is Letizia Battaglia’s collection of more than 6,000 photographs of the Mafia’s internal war in Sicily housed in Corleone's Anti-Mafia museum (Centro Internazionale di Documentazione sulle Mafie e del Movimento Antimafia). School curricula contribute to yet another kind of living archive that has responded to the anti-Mafia movement.
“I’m drawn to educational movements in and out of schools,” Salvio says. “What you have with the anti-Mafia movement in Sicily is a youth movement that operates on multiple levels in society. I’m interested in understanding how youth movements are sustained and transformative within the context of schools and in the larger social realm.”
Last summer, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education and UNH, Salvio traveled to Palermo to begin archival research and conduct interviews with key figures in the anti-Mafia movement.
She interviewed Edoardo Zaffuto of Addiopizzo. “Their goal is to establish and sustain an ethical economy,” Salvio says. “And though, as Zaffuto acknowledges, these small businesses are not that significant financially to the Mafia, it still matters.” She notes that transnational crime accounts for 20 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product and is recognized as one of our century’s most robust growth industries.
Salvio also interviewed Marcella Alletti, a teacher in Palermo who, along with her colleagues, has developed inquiry-based curricula for K-12 students. Their goal is to teach students to think critically about what they claim to know and to critically appraise the sources they turn to for knowledge and information.
“Marcella is very clear about her work,” Salvio says. “They work with Addiopizzo very carefully. She recognizes that the schools cannot be held responsible for eliminating the Mafia. What they can do is engage students in historical inquiry and consider the comportment of students—the student body itself—as a site of vital democratic expression. Among the attitudes students might express, for example, include feelings about loyalty or revenge and are what Marcella describes as ‘maffiosita.’ The values that inform the youth of Palermo are centuries old.
“Usually, Marcella opens her high school class in history by reading The Leopard by Tomasi di Lampedusa,” Salvio says. “Using the Socratic method, she begins with the question: ‘What do you know about organized crime?’ Then she builds the curriculum by working with students’ assumptions. Alletti believes that the crisis in Sicily’s history—its traumatic past—opens up the possibilities for re-imagining culture.”
Now even very young children can learn about the anti-Mafia movement, since Alletti has also coauthored a book for them, entitled We are not leopards, but ants.
Alletti’s colleagues at the primary school level have worked with Addiopizzo and the Minister of Public Instruction. In 2007, their curriculum engaged elementary school children from 20 educational institutions throughout Palermo to interview shopkeepers who pay the pizzo. Students administered 2,000 surveys and received 1,000 anonymous responses. The majority of respondents felt that the pizzo was like a cancer in Sicilian culture. These interviews have been made into a film produced by Comitato Addiopizzo and used as a central text throughout Italy for the national civics curriculum called legalita.
Pilgrimages to the Falcone Tree are also part of legalita and can be understood, observes Salvio, “as a means through which the children address a complex history of loss and corruption. This particular shrine, like many spontaneous shrines created throughout the world to mark instances of violent deaths, becomes a place of communion between the living and the dead. As is evident with the Falcone Tree, they invite broad public participation and create a public place for individuals and communities who are united in grief and anger.”
As Salvio stated in a lecture she gave as a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia, the anti-Mafia movement’s archives are unorthodox, but they are capacious enough to document intimacy, love, activism, shame, domestic violence, and lost memories. These “areas of experience [are] difficult to document … precisely because they emerge from a traumatic history…. examining the processes and histories of these archives is an important scholarly project to broaden and enrich our understanding of public pedagogy and radical democracy.”
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