The Origins and Ideals of the Modern School

By Francisco Ferrer (1913)

Entry 1297


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism The Origins and Ideals of the Modern School

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(1859 - 1909)

Father of Anarchist Schooling and Martyred Leader of Spanish Freethought

: The growth of the Escuela Moderna and the wide distribution of its booklets infuriated the clergy. But for years there was little they could do beyond denouncing the school and pouring vituperation on Ferrer's personal life. (From: Murray Bookchin Bio.)
• "Hence in the Modern School there will be no rewards and no punishments; there will be no examinations to puff up some children withe the flattering title of excellent, to give others the vulgar title of 'good', and make others unhappy with a consciousness of incapacity and failure." (From: "The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School," by F....)
• "Our teaching has nothing to do with politics. It is our work to form individuals in the full possession of all their faculties while politics would subject their faculties to other men." (From: "The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School," by F....)
• "Those imaginary products of the mind, a priori ideas, and all the absurd and fantastical fictions hitherto regarded as truth and imposed its directive principles of human conduct have for some time past incurred the condemnation of reason and the resentment of conscience. The sun no longer merely touches the tips of the mountains; it floods the valleys, and we enjoy the light of noon." (From: "The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School," by F....)

(1867 - 1955)

Joseph Martin McCabe (12 November 1867 – 10 January 1955) was an English writer and speaker on freethought, after having been a Roman Catholic priest earlier in his life. He was "one of the great mouthpieces of freethought in England". Becoming a critic of the Catholic Church, McCabe joined groups such as the Rationalist Association and the National Secular Society. He criticized Christianity from a rationalist perspective, but also was involved in the South Place Ethical Society which grew out of dissenting Protestantism and was a precursor of modern secular humanism. (From:


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October 12, 1909, Francisco Ferrer y Guardia was shot in the trenches of the Montjuich Fortress at Barcelona. A Military Council had found him guilty of being "head of the insurrection" which had, a few months before, lit the flame of civil war in the city and province. The clergy had openly petitioned the Spanish Premier, when Ferrer was arrested, to look to the Modern School and its founder for the source of the revolutionary feeling; and the Premier had, instead of rebuking them, promised to do so. When Ferrer was arrested the prosecution spent many weeks in collecting evidence against him, and granted a free pardon to several men who were implicated in the riot, for testifying against him. These three or four men were the only witnesse... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The share which I had in the political struggles of the last part of the nineteenth century put my early convictions to a severe test. I was a revolutionary in the cause of justice; I was convinced that liberty, equality, and fraternity were the legitimate fruit to be expected of a republic. Seeing, therefore, no other way to attain this ideal but a political agitation for a change of the form of government, I devoted myself entirely to the republican propaganda.I My relations with D. Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla, who was one of the leading figures in the revolutionary movement, brought me into contact with a number of the Spanish revolutionaries and some prominent French agitators, and my intercourse with them led to a sharp disillusion. I detect... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Among my pupils was a certain Mlle. Meunier, a wealthy old lady with no dependents, who was fond of travel, and studied Spanish with the object of visiting my country. She was a convinced Catholic and a very scrupulous observer of the rules of her Church. To her, religion and morality were the same thing, and unbelief - or "impiety," as the faithful say - was an evident sign of vise and crime. She detested revolutionaries, and she regarded with impulsive and undiscriminating aversion every display of popular ignorance. This was due, not only to her education and social position, but to the circumstance that during the period of the Commune she had been insulted by children in the streets of Paris as she went to church with her mother. Inge... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Once I was in possession of the means of attaining my object, I determined to put my hand to the task without delay. It was now time to give a precise shape to the vague aspiration that had long haunted my imagination; and to that end, conscious of my imperfect knowledge of the art of paedagogy, I sought the counsel of others. I had not a great confidence in the official paedagogists, as they seemed to me to be largely hampered by prejudices in regard to their subject or other matters, and I looked out for some competent person whose views and conduct would accord with my ideals. With his assistance I would formulate the program of the Modern School which I had already conceived. In my opinion it was to be, not the perfect type of the futur... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The time had come to think of the inauguration of the Modern School. Some time previously I had invited a number of gentlemen of great distinction and of progressive sentiments to assist me with their advice and form a kind of Committee of Consultation. My intercourse with them at Barcelona was of great value to me, and many of them remained in permanent relation with me, for which I may express my gratitude. They were of opinion that the Modern School should be opened with some display--invitation-cards, a circular to the press, a large hall, music, and oratorical addresses by distinguished Liberal politicians. It would have been easy to do this, and we would have attracted an audience of hundreds of people who would have applauded with th... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The most important point in our program of rational education, in the view of the intellectual condition of the country, and the feature which was most likely to shock current prejudices and habits, was the co-education of boys and girls. The idea was not absolutely new in Spain. As a result of necessity and of primitive conditions, there were villages in remote valleys and on the mountains where some good natured neighbor, or the priest or sacristan, used to teach the catechism, and sometimes elementary letters, to boys and girls in common. In fact, it is sometimes legally authorized, or at least tolerated, the means to pay both a master and a mistress. In such cases, either a master or a mistress gives common lessons to boys and girls, a... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
There must be a co-education of the different social classes as well as of the two sexes. I might have founded a school giving lessons gratuitously; but a school for poor children only would not be a rational school, since, if they were not taught submission and credulity as in the old type of school, they would have been strongly disposed to rebel, and would instinctively cherish sentiments of hatred. There is no escape from the dilemma. There is no middle term in the school for the disinherited class alone; you have either a systematic insistence, by means of false teaching, on error and ignorance, or hatred of those who domineer and exploit. It is a delicate point, and needs stating clearly. Rebellion against oppression is merely a ques... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In regard to hygiene we are, in Spain, dominated by the abominable ideas of the Catholic Church. Saint Aloysius and Saint Benedict J. Labré are not the only, or the most characteristic, saints in the list of the supposed citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but they are the most popular with the masters of uncleanliness. With such types of perfection,1 in an atmosphere of ignorance, cleverly and maliciously sustained by the clergy and the middle-class Liberals, it was to be expected that the children who would come to our school would be wanting in cleanliness; dirt is traditional in their world. We began a discreet and systematic campaign against it, showing the children how a dirty person or object Inspires repugnance, and how clean... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The choice of teachers was another point of great difficulty. The tracing of a program of rational instruction once accomplished, it remained to choose teachers who were competent to carry it out, and I found that in fact no such persons existed. We were to illustrate once more that a need creates its own organs. Certainly there were plenty of teachers. reaching, though not very lucrative, is a profession by which a man can support himself. There is not a universal truth in the popular proverb which says of an unfortunate man: "He is hungrier than a schoolmaster."1 The truth is that in many parts of Spain the Schoolmaster forms part of the local governing clique, with the priest, the doctor, the shopkeeper and the moneylender (who is often... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
There are two ways open to those who seek to reform the education of children. They may seek to transform the school by studying the child and proving scientifically that the actual scheme of instruction is defective, and must be modified; or they may found new schools in which principles may be directly applied in the service of that ideal which is formed by all who reject the conventions, the cruelty, the trickery, and the untruth which enter into the bases of modern society. The first method offers great advantages, and is in harmony with the evolutionary conception which men of science regard as the only effective way of attaining the end. They are right in theory, as we fully admit. It is evident that the progress of psychology and ph... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Rational education is, above all things, a means of defense against error and ignorance. To ignore truth and accept absurdities is, unhappily, a common feature in our social order; to that we owe the distinction of classes and the persistent antagonism of interests. Having admitted and practiced the co-education of boys and girls, of rich and poor-- having that is to say started from the principle of solidarity and inequality--we are not prepared to create a new inequality. Hence in the Modern School there will be no rewards and no punishments; there will be no examinations to puff up some children withe the flattering title of excellent, to give others the vulgar title of "good", and make others unhappy with a consciousness of incapacity a... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In setting out to establish a rational school I for the purpose of preparing children for their entry into the free solidarity of humanity, the first problem that confronted us was the selection of books. The whole educational luggage of the ancient system was all incoherent mixture of science and faith, reason and unreason, good and evil, human experience and revelation, truth and error in a word, totally unsuited to meet the new needs that arose with the formation of a new School. If the school has been from remote antiquity equipped not for teaching in the, broad sense of communicating to the rising generation the gist of the knowledge of' previous generations, but for teaching on the basis of authority and the convenience of the ruling... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The Modern School did not confine itself to the instruction of children. Without for a moment sacrificing its predominant character and its chief object, it also undertook the instruction of the people. We arranged a series of public lectures on Sundays, and they were attended by the pupils and other members of their families, and a large number of workers who were anxious to learn. The earlier lectures were wanting in method and continuity, as we had to employ lecturers who were quite competent in regard to their own subjects, but gave each lecture without regard to what preceded or followed. On other occasions, when we had no lecturer, we substituted useful readings. The general public attended assiduously, and our advertisements in the ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
At the beginning of the second scholastic year I once more drew up a program. Let us, I said, confirm our earlier program; vindicated by results, approved in theory and practice, the principle which from. the first informed our work and governs the Modern School is now unshakable. Science is the sole mistress of our life. Inspired with this thought, the Modern School proposes to give the children entrusted to it a mental vitality of their own, so that when they leave our control they will continue to be the mortal enemies of all kinds of prejudices and will form their own ideas, individually and seriously, on all subjects. Further, as education does not consist merely in the training of the mind, but must include the emotions and the will... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
To promote the progressive evolution of childhood by avoiding all anachronistic practices, which are merely obstacles placed by the past to any real advance towards the future, is, in sum, the predominant aim of the Modern School. Neither dogmas nor systems, molds which confine vitality to the narrow exigencies of a transitory form of society, will be taught. Only solutions approved by the facts, theories accepted by reason, and truths confirmed by evidence, shall be included in our lessons, so that each mind shall be trained to control a will, and truths shall irradiate the intelligence, and, when applied in practice, benefit the whole of humanity without any unworthy and disgraceful exclusiveness. Two years of success are a sufficient gu... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the Bulletin of September 30, 1903, we published the work of the pupils in the various classes of the Modern School, which had been read on the closing day of the second scholastic year. In these writings, in which the children are requested to apply their dawning judgment to some particular subject, the influence of mind over the inexpert, ingenuous reasoning power, inspired by the sentiment of justice, is more apparent than the observance of rules. The judgments are not perfect from the logical point of view, only because the child has not the knowledge necessary for the formation of a perfectly sound opinion. This is the opposite of what we usually find, as opinions are generally founded only on prejudice arising from traditions, inte... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The Modern School needed and found its organ in the Press. The political and ordinary press, which at one time favored us and at another time denounced us as dangerous, cannot maintain an impartial attitude. It either gives exaggerated or unmerited praise, or calumnious censures. The only remedy for this was the sincerity and clearness of our own indications. To allow these libels to pass without correction would have done us considerable harm, and the Bulletin enabled us to meet them. The directors published in it the program of the school, interesting notes about it, statistical details, original pædagogical articles by the teachers, accounts of the progress of rational education in our own and other countries, translations of impo... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I have reached the culmination of my life and my work. My enemies, who are all the reactionaries in the world, represented by the reactionaries of Barcelona and of Spain, believed that they had triumphed by involving me in a charge of attempted assassination. But their triumph proved to be only an episode in the struggle of practical Rationalism against reaction. The shameful audacity with which they claimed sentence of death against me (a claim that was refused on account of my transparent innocence rather than on account of the justice of the court) drew on me the sympathy of all liberal men---all true progressives---in all parts of the world, and fixed attention oil the meaning and ideal of the Rational School. There was a universal and ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
"That is the story of what the Modem School was, is, and ought to be." When Ferrer wrote this, in the summer of 1908, he was full of plans for the continuation of his work in various ways. He was fostering such free schools as the Government still permitted. He was promoting his "popular university and multiplying works of science and sociology for the million. His influence was growing, and he saw with glad eyes the light breaking on the ignorant masses of his fellows. In the summer of 1909 he came to England to study the system of moral instruction which, under the inspiration of the Moral Instruction League, is used in thousands of English schools. A friend in London begged him never to return to Spain, as his life was sought. He, knew i... (From: Anarchy Archives.)


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