I’m not that keen on TV movies and similar stuff, but, when, last night, I tuned my TV in RaiUno to watch “La classe degli asini” (“The classroom of the dunces”), I was pleasantly surprised. For those who missed it, this TV movie tells the story of a fundamental figure in the process of school inclusion for students with disabilities: Mirella Antonione Casale, a teacher and mother of a little girls who was made severely disabled by viral encephalitis. Thanks to the efforts of this brave woman and other colleagues of hers, in the second half of ‘70s, Italy finally overcome (at least, in theory) the infamous “special” or “different” classrooms.
Established by the Gentile reform with the goal to ensure education to students with handicap, those classrooms often ended to become real “ghettos”, where were literally parked also children without any handicap, maybe just because they lived social unrest or due to their “lively” temper. It’s what happens in “La classe degli asini”, where Riccardo, a southern kid with a crippled family, ends up to get enclosed in a sort of “horror boarding school” (where children suffer every kind of violence, both physical and psychological) simply because, in Turin during the economical “boom”, he only speaks dialect and struggles to follow the rules. Mirella and her colleague Felice (who calls to mind the “Dead Poets Society”’s professor Keating) take to heart his case and not just help him leave the boarding school, but also let bring to light the abuses suffered by children there. Furthermore, once she has become the school principal and has come in contact with ANFFAS (the Families of People with Intellectual and/or Relational Disability Association), commits herself to enable children with handicap and those who were previously “refused” to receive the same education (and be treated, on the whole) as the other students. Also thanks to her contribution, in reality, in 1977, through the 517 law, “special classrooms” got suppressed (even though they still survived, de facto, for a few more years, but we’re aware that cultural barriers are hard to overcome!) and students with disability were included into “normal” classroom, supported (when needed) by special needs teachers.
“La classe degli asini” succeeds in extraordinarily dealing with a hard topic, without indulging with pietism and sensitivity, also thanks to Vanessa Incontrada (Mirella) and Flavio Insinna (Felice), but also the young (and great) Giovanni D’Aleo (Riccardo) and Aurora Giovinazzo (Flavia) performances. As Mirella states in the movie, referring to a little-great progress made by Flavia thanks to Riccardo’s help:
“You can turn a lamp on […] To turn it on, you need someone to push that button”