Ferrer, Francisco. (1913). Origin and Ideals of the Modern School. London. Watts & Co.
I Accept The Responsibility
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 programme of the Modern School which I had already conceived. In my opinion it was to be, not the perfect type of the future school of a rational state of society, but a precursor of it, the best possible adaptation of our means; that is to say, an emphatic rejection of the ancient type of school which still survives, and a careful experiment in the direction of imbuing the children of the future with the substantial truths of science. I was convinced that the child comes into the world without innate ideas, and that during the course of his life he gathers the ideas of those nearest to him, modifying them according to his own observation and reading. If this is so, it is clear that the child should receive positive and truthful ideas of all things, and be taught that, to avoid error, it is essential to admit nothing on faith, but only after experience or rational demonstration With such a training the child will become a careful observer, and will be prepared for all kinds of studies.
When I had found a competent person, and while the first lines were being traced of the plan we were to follow, the necessary steps were taken in Barcelona for the founding of the establishment; the building was chosen and prepared, and the furniture, staff, advertisements, prospectuses, leaflets, etc., were secured. In less than a year all was ready, though I was put to great loss through the betrayal of my confidence by a certain person. It was clear that we should at once have to contend with many difficulties, not only on the part of those who were hostile to rational education, but partly on account of a certain class of theorists, who urged on me, as the outcome of their knowledge and experience, advice which I could only regard as the fruit of their prejudices. One man, for instance, who was afflicted with a zeal for local patriotism, insisted that the lessons should be given in Catalan [the dialect of the province of Barcelona], and would thus confine humanity and the world within the narrow limits of the region between the Ebro and the Pyrenees. I would not, I told the enthusiast, even adopt Spanish as the language of the school if a universal language had already advanced sufficiently to be of practical use. I would a hundred times rather use Esperanto than Catalan.
The incident Confirmed me in my resolution not to submit the settlement of my plan to the authority of distinguished men who, with all their repute, do not take a single voluntary step in the direction of reform. I felt the burden of the responsibility I had accepted, and I endeavoured to discharge it as my conscience directed. Resenting the marked social inequalities of the existing order as I did, I could not be content to deplore their effects ; I must attack them in their causes, and appeal to the principle of justice-to that ideal equality which inspires all sound revolutionary feeling.
If matter is one, uncreated, and eternal--if we live on a relatively small body in space, a mere speck in comparison with the innumerable globes about us, as is taught in the universities, and may be learned by the privileged few who share the monopoly of science--we have no right to teach, and no excuse for teaching, in the primary schools to which the people go when they have the opportunity, that God made the world out of nothing in six days, and all the other absurdities of the ancient legends. Truth is universal, and we owe it to everybody. To put a price on it, to make it the monopoly of a privileged few, to detain the lowly in systematic ignorance, and--what is worse--impose on them. a dogmatic and official doctrine in contradiction with the teaching of science, in order that they may accept with docility their low and deplorable condition, is to me an intolerable indignity. For my part, I consider that the most effective protest and the most promising form of revolutionary action consist in giving the oppressed, the disinherited, and all who are conscious of a demand for justice, as much truth as they can receive, trusting that it will direct their energies in the great work of the regeneration of society.
Hence the terms of the first announcement of the Modern School that was issued to the public. It ran as follows :--
The mission of the Modern School is to secure that the boys and girls who are entrusted to it shall become well-instructed, truthful, just, and free from all prejudice.
To that end the rational method of the natural sciences will be substituted for the old dogmatic teaching. It will stimulate, develop, and direct the natural ability of each pupil, so that he or she will not only become a useful member of society, with his individual value fully developed, but will contribute, as a necessary consequence, to the uplifting of the whole community.
It will instruct the young in sound social duties, in conformity with the just principle that " there are no duties without rights, and no rights without duties."
In view of the good results that have been obtained abroad by mixed education, and especially in order to realise the great aim of the Modern School-the formation of an entirely fraternal body of men and women, without distinction of sex or class-- children of both sexes, from the age of five upward, will be received.
For the further development of its work, the Modern School will be opened on Sunday mornings when there will be classes on the sufferings of mankind throughout the Course of history, and on the men and women who have distinguished themselves in science, art, or the light for progress. The parents of the children may attend these classes.
In the hope that the intellectual work of the Modern School will be fruitful, we have, besides securing hygienic conditions In the institution and its dependencies, arranged to have a medical inspection of children at their entrance into the school. The result of this will be communicated to the parents if it is deemed necessary ; and others will be held periodically, in order to prevent the spread of contagious diseases during tile school hours.
During the week which preceded the opening of the Modern School I invited the representatives of the press to visit the institution and make it known, and some of the journals inserted appreciative notices of the work. It may be of historical interest to quote a few paragraphs from El Diluvio :-- The future is budding in the school. To build on any other foundation is to build on sand. Unhappily, the school may serve either the purposes of tyranny or the cause of liberty, and may thus serve either barbarism or civilisation.
We are therefore pleased to see certain patriots and humanitarians, who grasp the transcendent importance of this social function, which our Govern ment systematically overlooks, hasten to meet this pressing need by founding a Modern School; a school which will not seek to promote the interests of sect and to move in the old ruts, as has been done hitherto, but will create an intellectual environment in which the new generation will absorb the ideas and the impulses which the stream of progress unceasingly brings.
This end can only be attained by private enterprise Our existing institutions, tainted with all the vices of the past and weakened by all the trivialities of the present, cannot discharge this useful function. It is reserved for men of noble mind and unselfish feeling to open up the new path by which succeeding generations will rise to higher destinies.
This has been done, or will be done, by the founders of the modest Modern School which we have visited at the courteous invitation of its directors and those who are in its development. This school is not a commercial enterprise, like most scholastic institutions, but a paedagogical ex- periment of which only one other specimen exists in Spain (the Free Institution of Education at Madrid).
Sr. Salas Anton brilliantly expounded the programme of the school to the small audience of journalists and others who attended the modest opening-festival, and descanted on the design of educating children in the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or what is proved to be such. If is chief theme was that the founders do not propose to add one more to the number of what are known as "Lay Schools," with their impassioned dogmatism, but a serene observatory, open to the four winds of heaven, with no cloud darkening the horizon and interposing between the light and the mind of man.