Today Debbie Creed from ISQ spoke to the staff about Inclusion standards. As she spoke I recalled when a few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Reggio Emilia Conference in Adelaide called the Landscape of Rights. It was a seminal event in Australia in terms of the way in which the speakers from Reggio Emilia spoke about their way of seeing disability, inclusion and rights.
Rather than speak of children with a disability as having special needs they spoke of children having special rights. Such a shift in positive thinking was grounded deeply in the philosophy of Reggio Emilia. The phrase we often hear that “children are strong rich and capable” is one picked up from Reggio Emilia and used in many educational settings and documents across the country.
However the concept of children with special rights is grounded far more deeply in the psyche of Reggio Emilia than a trendy new way of looking at disability and inclusion. Rather than say that children have special needs Reggio practitioners acknowledge that children all have rights – a right to communicate, a right to be heard, a right to contribute, a right to learn etc.
The idea of rights of children is a challenging one for Australian educators. Traditionally in Anglo-Saxon education systems children are children – with limited rights as education is done to them rather than being active creators of their own learning or journeys. In Reggio Emilia children are citizens of their town, their region and their country. Citizenship has a special meaning when it is fought for, died for and earned through a fight for democracy. No wonder then that democracy and the voice of children are so important in the city and in their view of the child.
In the centre of the main square of Reggio Emilia stands a stunningly powerful monument dedicated to the patriots, men and women alike, who fought for freedom from the Fascists during and after WWII. It recalls the struggle to create a country where every person is a citizen with full rights. It towers over the viewers and one cannot escape the poignancy of the faces and the sense of struggle and sacrifice.
Inside the Malaguzzi centre is a display dedicated to the struggle and ultimate success of the women of Reggio Emilia who created the vision that became what we know now as the Reggio Emilia approach. It detailed how they created the centres, the training, the networks and the practices that defined Reggio practice.
What I found most striking was the way in which these women believed so much in the rights of all to a full and rich life, as part of a caring and peace seeking community that they excelled beyond any of traditional limitations on their gender in the 50’s and 60’s.
Their struggles to assert that all citizens have rights found fruit in an approach that values each child’s capacity to contribute to a meaningful society and to be educated in a way that enables them to reach their potential as a person and a learner.
Attached to this short reflection is a paper by Norma Morrison – The Reggio Approach: An Inspiration for Inclusion of Children with “Special Rights”. It offers some deep insights into the approach and what is the idea of children with special rights all about. It is challenging but deeply rewarding to envisage a different way of seeing the innate dignity and rights of all.
For further reading: The Reggio Approach – An Inspiration for Inclusion