Inspired by Richard Kennett, I’ve been concentrating on quality History Christmas lessons this week.
I teach AQA’s “Mussolini’s Italy: A New Roman Empire?” in Y12. We’ve had a cut to teaching time at A-level this year so my share has gone down from 5 contact hours a fortnight to 4; this means that my usual Christmas offering for Y12, which would probably involve some kind of rambunctious answer-grabbing or a factor auction to consolidate knowledge, needed to be adjusted slightly to ensure we can cover all the content before the (very early) exam. Still in a slight panic if I’m honest, as we’re already three weeks behind where I was last year.
Enough bellyaching. I decided to teach a lesson based on the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro’s approach to festivities.
The OND, or Dopolavoro as it seems to be more commonly known, was arguably the most successful aspect of Fascist provision. Launched in 1925, it seems to have been some sort of giant PTA – quite literally if some authors are to be believed, because it attracted a lot of teachers amongst its organisers – whose job it was to provide fun with a Fascist undertone. “Look how much fun you’re having!” it pointed out, regularly, “and the PNF is paying for all this! This is way better than your rubbish old trade unions.” Consequently it all but monopolised amateur football, provided drama and theatre groups, cheap travel, opportunities for group excursions and so on. Thus, even though living standards fell thanks to wage cuts of 25-40% during the Depression, lots of people felt positive about the PNF.
Here’s what I did:
1. I provided my class with a set of notes (OND notes) taken from the text, in short paragraphs, widely spaced. Normally I would ask them to do this reading themselves but they are feeling the end-of-term squeeze so this is my Christmas present to them.
2. I added a reading from a text I found on Google Books, to show the broad variety of activities the OND organised for people.
3. We discussed the opinions of two historians on the success of corporativism, to recap on last lesson. I paid particular attention to Tannenbaum because of his suggestion that it held divergent forces in Italy together; my contention was that one shouldn’t generalise, because economic policies such as the Battles drove them apart (especially by widening the North/South divide) but the OND is an economic policy which brought people together.
4. After the starter, we talked about what a Fascist Christmas celebration would include. The class came up with: Mussolini (we thought maybe a reading of the famous “Duce” poem set to Jingle Bells); sports; a heavy dose of Catholicism; lots of Cult of Romanita propaganda; and possibly some wheat-based foods to celebrate the Battle for Grain. They haven’t covered foreign or social policy yet so we didn’t consider Empire or family time, both of which would have featured strongly, I think; I prompted them to include a program of welfare for the needy.
5. In groups, they created a plan on flipchart paper which they then presented back to the rest of the class.
This helped them to focus on the propaganda aspects and attempted fascistisation of the Italian people that was taking place in the 1930s. We had soup kitchens, tug-of-war with a giant cracker, Mussolini riding topless on a reindeer, a wide selection of Fascistised Christmas carols, excursions to the tomb of Santa Claus*, lots of references to wheat and wheat-based recipes and many church and sport activities. There was even a mention of a national Mussolini Christmas card – you open the card and Mussolini’s face pops out. I reckon the Dopolavoro would have taken that one to their hearts.
The exercise was, of course, rife with anachronisms – their lack of general knowledge about Italian Christmas traditions hampered them, but I think I can forgive them for that. I was able to brush up, handily, by watching Nigelissima last night. Fortuitous.
* I read in a travel magazine that his body is embalmed somewhere in the south of Italy, where it apparently emits some kind of weird fluid which is bottled and sold. Festive.