In 1774, Empress of Austria Maria Theresa founded the Royal College within the walls of Palazzo Brera. Here the humanities, which Jesuits had been teaching in their schools, were enriched by the scientific subjects introduced in the Age of Enlightenment. The highlight of the inauguration ceremony was a speech given by poet Giuseppe Parini, who taught rhetoric classes.
During the Napoleonic era, the debate over the school system reform involved the greatest intellectuals, who aimed to modernize culture drawing inspiration from scientific humanism. Following the birth of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, a new curriculum was modelled on the French one, which blended the different suggestions: the classics became the most important subjects , whereas scientific disciplines were given an instrumental function.
The reform provided for the establishment of two high schools in Milano: Liceo di Sant’ Alessandro, that came after the Scuole Arcimbolde, where Giuseppe Parini had studied, and Liceo di Porta Nuova, formerly Regio Ginnasio di Brera. The latter had its seat in the same palace that had previously housed another school , the Collegio dei Nobili, run by the Barnabites out of a bequest by Pier Antonio Longone and therefore known as Collegio Longone.
THE LATE 1800s AND EARLY 1900s
Following the country’s unification, the Liceo di Porta Nuova was renamed Liceo Giuseppe Parini in 1865.
The Humanities were still the pillars but in the wake of positivism, Maths and Science became more important.
The so-called Giolitti era (1901 to 1914) was characterized by widespread reforms and also Education Minister Credaro established a new high school: the Liceo Moderno, where students learnt two foreign languages and scientific subjects were given a powerful role. On the other hand, Ancient Greek was excluded.
Mirroring the dynamic Milanese society, already in the school year 1911-1912 Liceo Parini opened two first-grade sections of Liceo Moderno, with as many as seventy-seven students, whereas only twenty-six applied for the Liceo Classico.
In 1923, Education Minister Gentile’s reform replaced Liceo Moderno with Liceo Scientifico. By that time, Liceo Parini had found a balance between Liceo Classico and Liceo Moderno, which consisted of two sections each, the former with a total of seventy-three students and the latter with sixty-eight students.
Indeed, the school had been able to keep up the classical tradition: it was the only school where first and second graders of Liceo Moderno enjoyed extra courses of Ancient Greek, while the curriculum for third, fourth and fifth graders included Greek Culture.
The school year 1926-1927 saw the last class of Liceo Moderno: in the following year the Gentile reform was implemented and the curriculum for all classes at Parini was centred on the Humanities and the history of philosophy.
Great Humanities teachers, such as Castiglioni and D’Arbela, contributed to keeping the school’s high profile in the following decades. Scientific accuracy was matched with didactic experimentation, also in teaching the Humanities studies. In particular, the teaching of Latin was based on a communicative approach because. This was thought to be the most effective way of learning a language and had nothing to do with the bombastic glorification of the allegedly vital classical world.
In the mid-1930’s Liceo Parini moved from Palazzo Longone to Via Fatebenefratelli, where the new school was built on what had been the premises of the expansive monastery of San Marco.
THE FASCIST YEARS
During the fascist era, when everyone was giving more or less willingly their consensus to the regime, many teachers at Parini struggled to maintain their moral independence spreading their ideals of freedom with actions that spoke louder than words. Guido Mondolfo, who had been rejected by Liceo Berchet and Liceo Manzoni, was welcomed at Parini, where he taught until the racial laws were passed in 1938.
In the school year 1938-39 about sixty Jewish students and three Jewish teachers had to be expelled from the school. This was a dramatic break in the history of Parini: until this turning point the school had maintained the secular approach of the Italian Risorgimento and after the unification of Italy it had welcomed an increasing number of Jewish students; differences were respected but students grew aware of belonging to one nation. In the 1930s, there were courses of Judaism held by teachers recommended by the Jewish community.
The freedom lessons learnt at Parini inspired many of its alumni to carry out antifascist actions: architects Banfi and Belgiojoso were both deported to Gusen, where the former died, while medicine student Giambattista Mancuso, the son of the school guard, joined the Resistance and was killed.
THE PRESENT AGE
After Italy’s liberation from the Nazis at the end of Second World War, high school became an important factor of social mobility because it opened its doors also to the children of social classes, that so far had been excluded. However, this openness clashed with unreformed institutions and curricula. Parini students were ready to expose this contradiction and anticipated the events of the 1968: contributors to the school magazine “ La Zanzara”, were tried following a survey on teenagers’ sexuality and became a symbol of the anti-authoritarian struggles of those years.
Eventually, high school programs were reformed in the 1990s, albeit experimentally. The Brocca commission proposed new curricula, which modernized and adapted Gentile’s guidelines. Once again, Liceo Parini was the first school in Milan to implement the reform in some of its sections, which was highly appreciated by the students’ families. There was also one more section which included two foreign languages in its curriculum. Despite the recent Gelmini reform, which cancelled these forms of experimentation, Parini still manages to offer courses focusing on mathematics and foreign languages.