Origin and Ideals
By Francisco Ferrer
Translated by Joseph McCabe
Watts & Co.,
17 Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C.,
THE CO-EDUCATIN OF THE SEXES
The most important point in our programme 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 neighbour, 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 authorised, 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, as I had myself seen in a village not far from Barcelona. In towns and cities, however, mixed education was not recognised. One read sometimes of the occurrence of it in foreign countries, but no one proposed to adopt it in Spain, where such a proposal would have been deemed an innovation of the most utopian character.
Knowing this, I refrained from making any public propaganda on the subject, and confirmed myself to private discussion with individuals. We asked every parent who wished to send a boy to the school if there were girls in the family, and it was necessary to explain to each the reasons for co-education. Whereever we did this, the result was satisfactory. If we had announced our intention publicly, it would have raised a storm of prejudice. there would have been a discussion in the press, conventional feeling would have been aroused, and the fear of "what people would say" -- that paralysing obstacle to good intentions--would have been stronger than reason. Our project would have proved exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. whereas, proceeding as we did, we were able to open with a sufficient number of boys and girls, and the number steadily increased, as the Bulletin of the school shows.
In my own mind, co-education was of vital importance. It was not merely and indispensable condition of realising what I regard as the ideal result of rational education; it was the ideal itself, initiating its life in the Modern School, developing a confidence of attaining our end. Natural science, philosophy, and history unite in teaching, in face of all prejudice to the contrary, that man and woman are two complementary aspects of human nature, and the failure to recognise this essential and important truth has had the most disastrous consequences.
In the second number of the Bulletin, therefore, I published a careful vindication of my ideas :--
Mixed education (I said) is spreading among civilised nations. In many places it has already had excellent results. The principle of this new scheme of education is that children of both sexes shall receive the same lessons; that their minds shall be developed, their hearts purified and their wills strengthened in precisely the same manner; that the sexes Shall be III touch with each other from infancy so that. woman shall be, not in name only, but in reality mid truth, the companion of man.
A venerable institution which dominates the thoughts of our people declares, at one of the most solemn moments of life, when, with ceremonious pomp, man anti woman are united in matrimony, that woman is the companion of man. These are hollow words, void of Sense, without vital and rational significance in life, since what we witness in the Christian Church in Catholicism particularly, is the exact opposite of this idea. Not long ago it Christian woman of fine feeling and great sincerity complained bitterly of the moral debasement which is put upon her sex In the bosom of the Church "It would be impious audacity for a woman to aspire In the Church even to the position of the lowest sacristan."
A man must suffer from ophthalmia of the mind not to see that, under the inspiration of Christianity, the position of woman is no better than it was under the civilisations; it is, indeed, worse, and has aggravating circumstances. It is a conspicuous fact in our modern Christian society that, as a result and culmination of our patriarchal development, the woman does not belong to herself; she is neither more nor less than an adjunct of man, subject constantly to his absolute dominion hound to him--it may be--by chains of gold. Man has made her a perpetual minor. Once this was done, she was bound to experience one of two alternatives: man either oppresses and silences her, or treats her as a child to be coaxed--according to the mood of the master. If at length we note in her some sign of the new spirit, if she begins to assert her will and claim, some share of independence, if she is passing, with irritating slowness, from the state of slave to the condition of a respected ward, she owes it to the redeeming spirit of science, which is dominating the customs of races and the designs of our social rulers.
The work of man for the greater happiness of the race has hitherto been defective; in future it must be a joint action of the sexes; it is incumbent on both man and woman, according to the point of view of each. It is important to realise that, in face of the purposes of life, man is neither inferior nor (as we affect to think) superior to woman. They have different qualities, and no comparison is possible between diverse things.
As many psychologists and sociologists observe, the human race displays two fundamental aspects. Man typifies the dominion of thought and of the progressive spirit; woman bears in her moral nature the characteristic note of intense sentiment and of the conservative spirit. But this view of the sexes gives no encouragement whatever to the ideas of reactionaries If the predominance of the conservative element and of the emotions is ensured in woman by natural law, this does not make her the less fitted to be the companion of man. She, is not prevented by the constitution of her nature from reflecting on things of importance, nor is it necessary that she should use her mind in contradiction to the teaching of science and absorb all kinds of superstitions and fables. The possession of a conservative disposition does not imply that one is bound to crystallize in a certain stage of thought, or that one must be obsessed with prejudice in all that relates to reality.
"To conserve" merely means "to retain," to keep what has been given us, or what we have ourselves produced. The author of The Religion of the Future says, referring to woman in this aspect: "The conservative spirit may be applied to truth as well as to error; it all depends what it is you conserve. If woman is instructed in philosophical and scientific matters, her conservative power will be to the advantage, not to the disadvantage, of progressive thought."
On the other hand, it is pointed out that woman is emotional. She does not selfishly keep to herself what she receives; she spreads abroad her beliefs, her ideas, and all the good and evil that form her moral treasures. She insists on sharing them with all those who are, by the mysterious power of emotion, identified with her. With exquisite art, with invariable unconsciousness, her whole moral physiognomy, her whole soul, so to say, impresses itself on the soul of those she loves.
If the first ideas implanted in the mind of the child by the teacher are germs of truth and of positive knowledge; if the teacher himself is in touch with the scientific spirit of time, the result will be good from every point of view. But if a man be fed in the first stage of his mental development with fables, errors, and all that is contrary to the spirit of science, what can be expected of his future? When the boy becomes a man he will be an obstacle to progress. The human conscience is in infancy of the same natural texture as the bodily organism; it is tender and pliant. It readily accepts what comes to it from without. In the course of the time this plasticity gives place to rigidity; it loses its pliancy and becomes relatively fixed. From that time the ideas communicated to it by the mother will be encrusted and identified with the youth's conscience.
The acid of the more rational ideas which the youth acquires by social intercourse or private study may in cases relive the mind of the erroneous ideas implanted in childhood. But what is likely to be the practical outcome of this transformation of the mind in the sphere of conduct? We must not forget that in most cases the emotions associated with the early ideas remain in the deeper folds of the heart. Hence it is that we find in so many men such a flagrant and lamentable antithesis between the thought and the deed, the intelligence and the will; and this often leads to an eclipse of good conduct and a paralysis of progress.
This primary sediment which we owe to our mothers is so tenacious and enduring-it passes so intimately into the very marrow of our being-that even energetic characters, which have effected a sincere reform of mind and will, have the mortification of discovering this Jesuitical element, derived from their mothers, when they turn to make an inventory of their ideas.
Woman must not be restricted to the home. The sphere of her activity must go out far beyond her home; it must extend to the very confines of society. But in order to ensure a helpful result form her activity we must not restrict the amount of knowledge we communicate to her; she must learn both in regard to quantity and quality, the same things as a man. When science enters the mind of woman it will direct her rich vein of emotion, the characteristic element of her nature, the glad harbinger of peace and happiness among men.
It has been said that woman represents continuity, and man represents change: man is the individual, woman is the species. Change, however, would be useless, fugitive, and inconstant, with no social foundation of reality, if the work of woman did not strengthen and consolidate the achievements of man. The individual, as such, is the flower of a day, a thing of ephemeral significance in life. Woman, who represents the species, has the function of retaining within the species the elements which improve its life, and to discharge this function adequately she needs scientific instruction.
Humanity will advance more rapidly and confidently in the path of progress and increase its resources a hundredfold if it combines the ideas acquired by science with the emotional strength of woman. Ribot observes that an idea is merely an idea, an act of intelligence, incapable of producing or doing anything, unless it is accompanied by an emotional state, a motive element. Hence it is conceived as a scientific truth that, to the advantage of progress, an idea does not long remain in a purely contemplative condition when it appears. This is obviated by associating the idea with emotion and love, which do not fail to convert it into a vital action.
When will all this be accomplished? When shall we see the marriage of ideas with the impassioned heart of woman? From that date we shall have a moral matriarchate among civilized nations. Then, on the one hand, humanity, considered in the home circle, will have the proper teacher to direct the new generations in the sense of ideal; and on the other hand, it will have an apostle and enthusiastic propagandist who will impress the value of liberty on the minds of men and the need of co-operation upon the peoples of the world.