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Boyesen, Bayard (1911). The Modern School In New York. New York: The Francisco Ferrer Association. This pamphlet appears in Anarchy Archives with the permission of IISH.

The Modern School


     [The following statement defines the principles underlying the work of the new Ferrer Day School for Children at 104 East 12th Street, New York.]

     THERE seems to be a popular notion that Ferrer's ideas concerning education were born full-fledged out of nothing and put precipitately into practice. In reality, they are but one manifestation of the many efforts of the revolutionary spirit to bring perhaps the most important sphere of human endeavor into some sort of logical connection with the radical thought and feeling of the world. His undertaking was of enormous consequence because the martyrdom meted out to him by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Government shocked all so-called civilized countries into a consideration of a subject which even Tolstoi had not been able to interest them in, and because he had the ability and strength to carry out uncompromisingly what others, with few exceptions, had merely tentatively proposed or hesitatingly experimented with. Yet it is encouraging to notice today that wherever there is discussion of educational problems there is deep dissatisfaction with the mediaeval condition of the schools, and that there are even in such strongholds of conservatism as our American universities many educators who accept in theory, if not in practice, the main ideas upon which the great Spaniard founded the Modern School. The Modern School of New York (founded by the Francisco Ferrer Association) purposes to achieve in the United States an end similar to that which Ferrer achieved in Spain.

     It bases itself, above all, upon the idea that the child has as much right to itself as has the adult and that the personality of the child, during the sensitive and hazardous years of early youth, must be kept free from the intrusive hands of those who would mould and fashion it according to preconceived models, who would thwart this quality and divert that, in order to fit the child into the ideals of the teacher. We take the centre of gravity, which has lain hitherto in the teacher, and put it firmly in the child itself, for it is our aim not to lead, but to follow, the activities of the child; using its natural interests as points upon which it can be allowed to fasten knowledge and aiding the child always to draw out and develop its native qualities. Facts and environment, we supply: such facts and such an environment as will enable the children to work out for themselves, with only the spur of tutorial enthusiasm and sympathy and understanding the significance of their thoughts and deeds as they act and re-act upon themselves and their fellows. Of the old "education" we retain only that part of the material equipment which is essential to the explaining of certain subjects; but we recognize that the majority of the technical devices of teaching are necessary to the ordinary school merely because the teacher wishes to evoke from bored and tired pupils some show of interest in work that is alien to their minds.

     Furthermore, we let the children choose (so far as our means allow) what subjects they wish to study. When some boys and girls have shown a desire to follow up a particular branch of knowledge, we form a class and present to them the necessary facts. The pupils may interrupt and ask questions whenever they wish to; and when the facts have been apprehended, indeed while the facts are being apprehended, they will be encouraged to discuss them, to interpret and to relate them to their own interests. It is our purpose to have all study develop directly out of the lives of the pupils, instead of being imposed from without. Thus is, for instance, nearly all the major parts of, anthropology may be taught to very young children through the desire that so many of them have to make things to construct. In place of the purposeless manual training of the Public Schools, we have here a class which combines training of the senses and of the mind, skill of hand and skill of brain. The children, of course, are not required to learn lessons outside of class, since the aim of the class is not to quizz them. They will, however, be taught how to use books as works of reference, and they will know that the teachers are glad to discuss at any time the subjects which interest the pupils.

     The main point, I repeat, is that all the work should be developed out of the lives and living interests of the children. That point is basic, and that is the very point which, though recognized by some teachers, is never held to consistently in tile Public Schools. Instead, the latter cling to the old fashion of forcing all children of a given grade to study particular subjects and to memorize outside of class what they are to repeat parrot-wise in class. And this method they say is necessary because it rids the pupils of shyness by making them speak before their fellows and because it ascertains the amount of their knowledge.

     The first contention is based upon an utterly false assumption: that shyness in youth is a defect which calls for correction. It is one of the many fallacies resulting from the notion that the purpose of education is to make children as much like their elders as possible. On the contrary, shyness is often wrapped up and intimately commingled with all the burgeonings of emotions and ideas which in later life one cherishes as having been most valuable to his development, most ennobling, most refining, most individualizing. Again and again, I have observed that the most bashful members of a class are, as a whole, the most keenly sensitive and the most beautifully creative. The boisterous boy will never hesitate to blurt out a hostilely formed opinion or bit of second-hand information; though he, too, will be conscious of the inadequacy of the question-and-answer method, and he will reserve within himself and never rattle in the class-room the elements vital to his growth as a thinking human being. But the boy who is sensitive and naturally reticent and who is honestly trying to puzzle out the meaning of the things he discovers from day to day in himself and around him, will reply reluctantly and with apparent stupidity because he will not be able to cut up the groping ideas and feelings which are most important to him so that they may fit exact answers and the formulas of books. If forced, he will be confused and retarded, and will become resentful and often sullen, since he will realize that the qualities which he is inwardly proudest of possessing are the very ones which make him appear inferior and even ridiculous before his companions. The finest natures are often the most easily spoiled in youth.

     The second contention I need scarcely take time to consider, for it should be obvious that the question-and-answer method ascertains not the amount of knowledge acquired by the pupils, but merely the number of facts they have been able to memorize for a set occasion. That which the child learns thus without interest or desire, simply as a task, is not knowledge, but scraps of information, and can be of no educative value at the moment and will be forgotten shortly afterwards. This method is a relic of the old idea--still, alas! prevalent--that examinations are necessary to a school and that children must be ranked, punished and rewarded.

     And this brings me to the question of discipline. The only discipline which is of any educative value is self-discipline; and that is obtained by any child or man who undertakes to make anything or to study anything. Authoritative discipline, imposed from without, is invariably immoral in its results because it sets up in the child's mind a double standard of conduct, the one public, the other private; and because it teaches him that punishment is the result not of his actions, but of detection. Discipline of this kind either confuses the child utterly or leads him to the natural conclusion that punishment and immorality are the same thing, that the deed for which he is punished is immoral and the deed for which he is not punished (though it be essentially the same as the other) is moral.

     Furthermore, discipline breeds the habit of secrecy and distrust in the person disciplined, and this destroys the possibility of successful education, which requires confidence and openness of motive and action between teacher and pupil. If the teacher has once punished the child for an act which the teacher deemed wrong, the child will henceforth try to conceal all similar acts; and from this first concealment he will go on to other concealments and finally--not before long--he will attempt to hide all thoughts and acts which have not been definitely approved of in advance. Thus, what budding harmonies his nature held will be made discordant; something (who knows how precious in its potentialities?) will be driven inward for unwholesome brooding or be utterly destroyed, and the teacher will be, from that time forward, merely a stranger wielding harsh authority over an alien child.

     We do away, therefore, with all coercive discipline and all the rules and paraphernalia of such discipline: the raised desk of the teacher, the rigid rows of seats for the children, and the idea that every class should be conducted according to particular, preconceived codes of order. We prefer the "free order" which is developed by the class itself, since (as I have already said) we desire to place the centre of gravity in the children; and we do not bother about dignity, since we know that in proportion as the teacher thinks about external dignity for himself he prevents the growth of inward dignity in the pupils.

     Having done away, then, with the old notions of discipline in the school and, consequently, with fear and over-timidity in the pupils, we find ourselves able to have a class which is distinctive in our school and which is of the very greatest aid in developing the children as separate thinking individuals and as members of a social unit --a class of free discussion of problems suggested by the children. These classes invariably provoke much stimulating argument and, during the year, they touch upon and delve into an astonishingly large number of subjects. To give an example: a strike of some school-boys took place last winter and immediately all of the children wished to discuss the question of the advantages and merits of this particular occurrence. This led us on to the subject of strikes in general and of organization, and this again, since it happened that the newspapers were featuring a foreign strike at the time, carried us to a consideration and comparative study of the methods of the different industrial bodies: the American Federation, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Confederation Generale du Travail, etc., etc. Some weeks later, the same class came with a story of a boy in a public school who had been punished because he refused to tell on a friend and who had therefore, when next asked to do the same thing, lied to save both himself and his comrade. One can readily imagine the nice moral problems which were thrown out by this single incident. It afforded food for many days of valuable discussion.

     In these classes, the teacher's chief duty is simply to keep the ideas from dancing too far afield, to hold them coherent to a central point, and to restrain himself from supplying the conclusions which the children are working out for themselves. If he does these things, the classes become, in a sense, classes in reasoning; and the ability to reason, to interpret facts in such a way as will allow one to arrive at a conclusion, is basic in education. Anyone who has not been present while work of this kind was going on would be, I think, greatly surprised at the speed with which the children learn to use their minds--though they use concrete, instead of abstract terms, the process is that of pure reasoning--and at the delight which they have in discovering--in themselves powers before unsuspected and at the new attitude of the children towards themselves, their new pride, their new Poise, their new dignity as human beings.

     There are many other distinctive features of the school which might be worth mentioning if I were doing more than attempting to present a summary exposition of the main principles for which it stands. As it is, I believe I have brought forward a number of facts and ideas sufficient to demonstrate that our methods are necessary if children are to be kept free of the cramping influences of the old education and to become, instead of neat and narrow little figures in a definite and circumscribing scheme, young men and women buoyant and able before the world, valuable to themselves and to mankind.



     [The author of "The Martyrdom of Ferrer" sends us from London the following message commemorating the second anniversary of Ferrer's death.]

     THE martyrdom of Ferrer laid two sacred obligations on his friends--the friends of liberty and enlightenment throughout the world. These two tasks were, it seems to me, first to vindicate his character and innocence, then to raise a fitting monument to his memory. The first task is accomplished. Never was so flimsy apology for murder put before the educated world as that advanced by the nervous and narrow-minded guardian of the honor(!) of the Spanish Army and Church, and embroidered by Catholic apologists throughout the world with their own picturesque ignorance and untruths.

     It remains to erect a monument. Many bodies of our continental colleagues have ignored Ferrer's noble wish that we should not trouble about him. I think they have acted rightly, with the generosity and whole-heartedness of the Latin nations. But the historic monument to Ferrer, the monument which his own modesty could not refuse, must be the enlightenment and freedom of his country. The meritorious and useful thing is to act still when the wave of enthusiasm has passed.

     The annual Ferrer celebration is a right effort to carry on this work. Spain must not be allowed to feel that the world is again turning its eyes from her; her lay and cleric rulers must not feel that we are indifferent to their criminal work, and her gallant people must not feel that our sympathy needs deaths to keep it alight. Spain has been visibly shaken by the anger we stirred throughout the world, and is trying a compromise with professions of liberalism to tide her over what she thinks will be a short spell of unpleasant observation from without. Already she is returning to brutality, and condemning men to nine years in dungeons for smiling at her impeccable and immaculate generals-- let us not say army. Let us, for whom freedom has been won by the Ferrers of other lands, maintain an unwavering watchfulness. Let Spanish men and women of good will unite, as their cousins did in Portugal, and the mediaeval fabric will soon be down. I believe that in the life of many of us the whole Latin world, as it is called, will be a cordial union of secular commonwealths opening out the path of history.



     AT memorial meetings on the first anniversary of the death of Francisco Ferrer, the Ferrer Association pledged itself to establish a Day School for Children in New York. This promise is now being fulfilled. A house in which the school will be opened has been rented at 104 East 12th Street. Prof. Bayard Boyesen, John Russell Coryell and Abby Hedge Coryell will be the teaching staff.

     The Ferrer Association was organized in New York on June 3, 1910. It has grown and prospered. Its first work was the publication of literature bearing on Ferret. Its second task was the organization of memorial meetings, held in all parts of America. Its third achievement was the establishment of a Ferrer Center at 6 Saint Marks Place, New York. The Ferrer Center has been class-room, committee- room, club-room, lecture-hall and library, all in one. It has been the scene of addresses by Bayard Boyesen, Gilbert R. Roe, Dr. Juliet H. Severance, James F. Morton, Jr., Mrs. Marie Jenney Howe, Miss Fola LaFollette, John R. Coryell, Theodore Schroeder, William Thurston Brown, and others; of crowded debates on sociological and religious topics; and of pleasant social evenings, musicales, dancing and dramatic entertainments.

     The Ferrer movement is not confined to New York. Almost simultaneously with the opening of the Day School in New York, a similar school is being started in Portland, Oregon, under the direction of William Thurston Brown. Ferrer schools are already in existence in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and other cities. Bruce Calvert, of Griffith, Indiana, and Dr. D. J. H. Ward, of Denver, Colorado, are blazing the way for new schools.

     In this great educational movement, now being born in America, Francisco Ferrer, dead two years, speaks to the living world. His body lies under the sod, but "his soul goes marching on."



     A BOOK of nearly 700 pages on the trial of Ferrer has been published in Spain by L. Simarro, Professor of Psychology in the University of Madrid. It will live as a monument of careful documentation and close historical analysis. It takes up the bundle of extravagant allegations of crime and murder hurled by Maura and his minions against the reputation of Ferrer, and dashes them to pieces against a solid rock of fact. The author covers the whole ground of inquiry with scrupulous exactitude and with such abundant wealth of material that the book is a veritable vade mecum on the subject, embracing a learned and complete vindication not only of the innocence of Ferrer, but of the sound judgement which from the outset led the cultivated conscience of Europe to protest against the consecration of assassination as a cardinal principle of modern statecraft. The main merit of Dr. Simarro's book, which is about to be translated into French, is that he has brought together all the materials--of almost incredible absurdity and childishness--out of which the myth of Ferrer's guilt grew until it cast its murderous shadow in the moat at Montjuich.


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