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The Fascist Era

La riforma gentiliana

The tradition of the Scuola Normale did not change in any significant way until the twentieth century, when, with the new Regulations of 1927, its diploma ceased to be an automatic qualification to teach in secondary schools. The Scuola Normale maintained its mandate to “prepare students to teach in secondary schools and for the exams which qualify them to do so” and to promote graduate studies. Graduate studies thus became independent and open to all university graduates of Italy.

During this period, nationalistic propaganda and the control by the regime also affected institutions in Pisa. The first act of overt repression came in 1928, when three students of the Scuola Normale were arrested for anti-fascist activities.

To counteract the disturbances caused by the political reality and the decadence at the Scuola Normale – demonstrated by the decrease in the number of students – Giovanni Gentile, an ex-alumnus, philosopher and ideologue of the regime's educational policy, was appointed superintendent and, in 1936, director of the school. He organized a complete reform in order to give the institution a structure more appropriate to its national importance.
Among other things, he expanded the seat of the school, Palazzo dei Cavalieri, and significantly increased the number of students and the school's internal activities. His authority and support from the regime gave him access to the funds necessary to realize his projects. In the meantime, the relationship between Church and State brought about by the Lateran Pacts eased negotiations with the Archbishopric to obtain the Puteano building, which together with the Timpano building would house the students of the Scuola Normale while renovations of the Carovana building proceeded.

The Scuola Normale under Giovanni Gentile was inaugurated on December 10, 1932. It had a new charter, which made it an institute of higher education linked to, but autonomous from, the University of Pisa. It thus acquired legal, administrative, didactic and disciplinary autonomy. The two goals defined for the new institution were to prepare students for secondary school teaching and for the exams required for teacher certification, and to promote – through its course of graduate studies –higher scientific and literary culture. In reality, however, the Scuola Normale, thanks to its uniqueness in the educational system, educated an increasingly select cultural élite.