Gramsci is an influential figure in the history of Marxist thought. He was leader of the Italian communist party during the 1920's, the early stages of Mussolini's rule. He belongs to the period when the post-war revolutionary wave was ebbing, yet the Bolshevik success in Russia gave enormous credibility to Lenin's belief in the vanguard party. Gramsci was arrested by the fascist government and spent the last years of his life in prison. The Prison Notebooks are the notes he wrote in prison. They represent the beginnings of Marxist attempts to come to terms with the failure of the attempted revolutions across Europe during 1918-1920, an effort to come to terms with the changes in capitalism which seemed to challenge Marx's original analysis.
He is probably most famous for the theory of "hegemony" - the idea that a dominant class exercised hegemonic control over civil society, in other words society as a whole would willingly submit to their control without needing active coercion. It seemed like a powerful way of explaining why capitalist states were able to rely on support beyond their 'natural' supporters and defeat communist revolutions that had expected to succeed.
More to come on this. In the meantime I'm reading the sections on reform of the education system in Italy. There is important context around Gramsci's own upbringing and interrupted schooling. That said, his thoughts on education are far closer to Michael Gove than I expected them to be. He talks about selection, about learning Latin and Greek as a means of more generally 'learning to learn'. If nothing else it demonstrates how far the debate on education has changed in the last 90 years. His thought seems anachronistic and elitist - although I suspect his idea of selection is not that of Gove and the Tories, and he would have sought to be more meritocratic in practice.
Gramsci also infers (and this links to the concept of 'hegemony' mentioned earlier) that the communist movement should look to shift the control of civil society through a reformed education system, preparing the proletariat to challenge the dominance of capitalism from childhood. This could be seen as a natural response to the difficult in overthrowing the established order caused by it's dominance of civil society. This dominance can only be overcome with specific and targeted effort.
So that's a few random thoughts on Gramsci and education. I'll post more on hegemony some other time.