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The Cynosure

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[From The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School by Francisco Ferrer (1913)]



OUR programme for the third scholastic year (1903-4) was as follows: - -

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, moulds 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 guarantee to us. They prove, in the first place, the excellence of mixed education, the brilliant result---the triumph, we would almost say---of an elementary common sense over prejudice and tradition. As we think it advisable, especially that the child may know what is happening about it, that physical and natural science and hygiene should be taught, the Modern School will continue to have the services of Dr. de Buen and Dr. Vargas. They will lecture on alternate Sundays, from eleven to twelve, on their respective subjects in the school-room. These lectures will complete and further explain the classes in science held during the week.

It remains only to say that, always solicitous for the success of our work of reform, we have enriched our scholastic material by the acquisition of new collections which will at once assist the understanding and give an attractiveness to scientific knowledge; and that, as our rooms are now not large enough for the pupils, we have acquired other premises in order to have more room and give a favourable reply to the petitions for admission which we have received.

The publication of this programme attracted the attention of the reactionary press, as I said. In order to give them a proof of the logical strength of the position of the Modern School, I inserted the following article in the Bulletin:---

Modern pedagogy, relieved of traditions and conventions, must raise itself to the height of the rational conception of man, the actual state of knowledge, and the consequent ideal of mankind. If from any cause whatever a different tendency is given to education, and the master does not do his duty, it would be just to describe him as an impostor; education must not be a means of dominating men for the advantage of their rulers. Unhappily, this is exactly what happens. Society is organised, not in response to a general need and for the realisation of an ideal, but as an institution with a strong determination to maintain its primitive forms, defending them vigorously against every reform, however reasonable it may be.

This element of immobility gives the ancient errors the character of sacred beliefs, invests them with great prestige and a dogmatic authority, and arouses conflicts and disturbances which deprive scientific truths of their due efficacy or keep them in suspense. Instead of being enabled to illumine the minds of all and realise themselves in institutions and customs of general utility, they are unhappily restricted to the sphere of a privileged few. The effect is that, as in the days of the Egyptian theocracy, there is an estoeric doctrine for the cultivated and an exoteric doctrine for the lower classes---the classes destined to labour, defence, and misery.

On this account we set aside the mystic and mythical doctrine, the domination and spread of which only befits the earlier ages of human history, and embrace scientific teaching, according to its evidence. This is at present restricted to the narrow sphere of the intellectuals, or is at the most accepted in secret by certain hypocrites who, so that their position may not be endangered, make a public profession of the contrary. Nothing could make this absurd atagonism clearer than the following parallel, in which we see the contrast between the imaginative dreams of the ignorant believer and the rational simplicity of the scientist:-

The Bible.

The Bible contains the annals Of the heavens, the earth, and the human race; like the Deity himself, It contains all that was, is, and will be. On its first page we read of the beginning of time and of things, and on its last page the end of time and of things. It begins with Genesis, which is an idyll, and ends with Revelation, which is a funeral chant. Genesis is as beautiful as the fresh breeze which sweeps over the world; as the first dawn of light in the heavens; as the first flower that opens in the meadows; as the first word of love spoken by men; as the first appearance of the sun in the east. Revelation is as sad as the last palpitation of nature; as the last ray of the sun; as the last breath of a dying man. And between the funeral chant and the idyll there pass in succession before the eyes of God all generations and all peoples. The tribes and the patriarchs go by; the republics and the magistrates; the monarchies and their kings; the empires and their emperors. Babylon and all its abominations go by; Nineveh and all its pomps; Memphis and its priests; Jerusalem and its prophets and temple; Athens and its arts and heroes ; Rome and its diadem of conqueror of the world. Nothing lasts but God; all else passes and dies, like the froth that tips the wave.
A prodigious book, which mankind began to read three and thirty centuries ago, and of which, if it read all day and night, it would not exhaust the wealth. A prodigious book in which all was calculated before the science of arithmetic was invented; in which the origin of language is told without any knowledge of philology; in which the revolutions of the stars are described without any knowledge of astronomy; in which history is recorded without any documents of history; in which the laws of nature are unveiled without any knowledge of physics. A prodigious book, that sees everything and knows everything; that knows the thoughts hidden in the hearts of men and those in the mind of God; that sees what is happening in the abysses of the sea and in the bowels of the earth; that records or foretells all the catastrophes of nations, and in which are accumulated all the treasures of mercy, of justice, and of vengeance. A hook, in fine, which, when the heavens are folded like a gigantic fan, and the earth sinks, and the sun withdraws its light, and the stars are extinguished, will remain with God, because it is his eternal word, echoing for ever in the heights.1


One of the main supports of the reactionary system is what we may call "anthropism." I designate by this term that powerful and world-wide group of erroneous opinions which opposes the human organism to the whole of the rest of nature, and represents it as the preordained end of organic creation, an entity essentially distinct from it, a god-like being. Closer examination of this group of ideas shows it to be made up of three different dogmas, which we may distinguish as the anthropocentric, the anthropomorphic and the anthropolatrous.
1. The anthropocentric dogma culminates in the idea that man is the preordained centre and aim of all terrestrial life-or, in a wider sense, of the whole universe. As this error is extremely conducive to man's interest, and as it is intimately connected with the creation-myth of the three great Mediterranean religions, and with the dogmas of the Mosaic, Christian, and Mohammedan theologies, it still dominates the greater part of the civilised world.
2. The anthropomorphic dogma, also, is connected with the creation-myth of the three aforesaid religions and of many others. It likens the creation and control of the world by God to the artificial creation of an able engineer or mechanic, and to the administration of a wise ruler. God, as creator, sustainer, and ruler of the world, is thus represented after a purely human fashion in his thought and work. Hence it follows that man in turn is god-like. "God made man to his own image and likeness." The older, naive theology is pure "homotheism," attributing human shape, flesh, and blood to the gods. It is more intelligible than the modern mystic theosophy which adores a personal God as an invisible --- properly speaking, gaseous --- being, yet makes him think, speak, and act in human fashion; it offers us the paradoxical picture of a gaseous vertebrate.
3. The anthropolatric dogma naturally results from this comparison of the activity of God and man; it ends in the apotheosis of human nature. A further result is the belief in the personal immortality of the soul, and the dualistic dogma of the twofold nature of man, whose "immortal" soul is conceived as the temporary inhabitant of a mortal frame. Thus these three anthropistic dogmas, variously adapted to the respective professions of the different religions, came at length to be vested with extraordinary importance, and proved to be the source of the most dangerous errors.2

In face of this antagonism, maintained by ignorance and self-interest, positive education, which proposes to teach truths that issue in practical justice, must arrange and systematise the established results of natural research, communicate them to children, and thus prepare the way for a more equitable state of society, in which, as an exact expression of sociology, it must work for the benefit of all as well as of the individual. Moses, or whoever was the author of Genesis, and all the dogmatisers, with their six days of creation out of nothing after the Creator has passed an eternity in doing nothing, must give place to Copernicus, who showed the revolution of the planets round the sun; to Galileo, who proclaimed that the sun, not the earth, is the centre of the planetary universe; to Columbus and others who, believing the earth to be a sphere, set out in search of other peoples, and gave a practical basis to the doctrine of human brotherhood; to Linnaeus and Cuvier, the founders of natural history; to Laplace, the inventor of the established cosmogony; to Darwin, the author of the evolutionary doctrine, which explains the formation of species by natural selection; and to all who, by means of observation and experiment, have discredited the supposed revelation, and tell us the real nature of the universe, the earth, and life.

Against the evils engendered by generations sunk in ignorance and superstition, from which so many are now delivered, only to fall into an anti-social scepticism, the best remedy, without excluding others, is to instruct the rising generation in purely humanist principles and in the positive and rational knowledge provided by science. Women educated thus will be mothers in the true sense of the word, not transmitters of traditional superstitions; they will teach their children integrity of life, the dignity of life, social solidarity, instead of a medley of outworn and sterile dogmas and submission to illegitimate hierarchies. Men thus emancipated from mystery, miracle, and distrust of themselves and their fellows, and convinced that they were born, not to die, as the wretched teaching of the mystics says, but to live, will hasten to bring about such social conditions as will give to life its greatest possible development. In this way, preserving the memory of former generations and other frames of mind as a lesson and a warning, we will once for all close the religious period, and enter definitely into that of reason and nature.

In June, 1904, the Bulletin published the following figures in regard to the attendance at school. At that time the publications of the Modern School were in use in thirty-two other schools throughout the country, and its influence was thus felt in Seville and Malaga, Tarragona and Cordova, and other towns, as well as Barcelona and the vicinity. The number of scholars in our schools was also steadily rising, as the following table shows: -



1st 2nd 3rd

year. year. year.

Opening Day











12 - -

16 23 24

18 28 43

21 31 44

22 31 45

22 31 47

23 31 47

25 33 49

26 32 50

30 33 51

32 34 51

18 - -

23 40 40

25 40 59

29 40 59

30 40 59

32 44 60

32 48 61

34 47 61

37 48 61

38 48 62

38 48 63

30 0 0

39 63 64

43 68 102

50 71 103

52 71 104

54 75 107

55 79 108

59 80 110

63 80 111

68 81 113

70 82 114

1Extract from a speech delivered by Donoso Cortes at his admission into the Academy.

2Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe, Chap. 1.


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