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Ferrer, Francisco (1913). The Origins and Ideals of the Modern School. Joseph McCabe, trans. pages 96-101, London Watts & Co.












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, interests, and dogmas.

A boy of twelve, for instance, gave the following principle for judging the value of nations:

To be called civilised, a nation or State must be free from the following

Let me interrupt for a moment to point out that the young author identifies "civilised" with "just," and especially that, putting aside prejudice, he describes certain evils as curable, and regards the healing of them as an essential condition of justice. These evils are

1o. The co-existence of poor and rich, and the resultant exploitation.
2o. Militarism, a means of destruction employed by one nation against another, due to the bad organisation of society.
3o. Inequality, which allows some to rule and command, and obliges others to humble themselves and obey.

This principle is fundamental and simple, as we should expect to find in an imperfectly informed mind, and it would not enable one to solve a complete sociological problem; but it has the advantage of keeping the mind open to fresh knowledge. It is as if one asked: What does a sick man need to recover health? And the reply is: His suffering must disappear. This is a naive and natural reply, and would certainly not be given by a child brought up in the ordinary way; such a child would be taught first to consider the will of supposed supernatural beings. It is clear that this simple way of putting the problem of life does not shut out the hope of a reasonable solution; indeed, one logically demands the other, as the child's essay shows:-

I do not mean that if there were no rich, or soldiers, or rulers, or wages, people would abuse their liberty, and welfare, but that, with everybody enjoying a high degree of civilisation, there would be universal cordiality and friendship, and science would make much greater progress, not being interrupted by wars and political stagnation.

A girl of nine made the following sensible observation, which we leave in her own incorrect language:

A criminal is condemned to death; if the murderer deserves this punishment, the man who condemns him and the man who kills him are also murderers; logically, they ought to die as well, and so humanity would come to an end. It would be better, instead of punishing a criminal by committing another crime, to give him good advice, so that be will not do it again. Besides, if we are all equal, there would be no thieves, or assassins, or rich people, or poor, but all would be equal and love work and liberty.

The simplicity, clearness, and soundness of this observation need no commentary. One can understand our astonishment to hear it from the lips of a tender and very pretty little girl, who looked more like a symbolical representation of truth and justice than a living reality.

A boy of twelve deals with sincerity, and says:

The man who is not sincere does not live peacefully; he is always afraid of being discovered: when one is sincere, if one has done wrong, the sincere declaration relieves the conscience. If a man begins to tell lies in childhood, he will tell bigger lies when he grows up, and may do much harm. There are cases in which one need not be sincere. For instance, if a man comes to our house, flying from the police, and we are asked afterwards if we have seen him, we must deny it; the contrary would be treachery and cowardice.

It is sad that the mind of a child who regards truth as an incomparable good, "without which it is impossible to live," is induced by certain grave abuses to consider lying a virtue in some cases.

A girl of thirteen writes of fanaticism, and, regarding it as a characteristic of backward countries, she goes on to seek the cause:

Fanaticism is the outcome of the state of ignorance and backwardness of women; on that account Catholics do not want to see women educated, as they are the chief support of their system.

A profound observation on the causes of fanaticism, and the cause of the causes. Another girl of thirteen indicates the best remedy of the evil in the following lines:

The mixed school, for both sexes, is supremely necessary. The boy who studies, works, and plays in the society of girls learns gradually to respect and help her, and the girl reciprocally; whereas, if they are educated separately, and the boy is told that the girl is not a good companion and she is worse than he, the boy will not respect women when he is a man, and will regard her as a subject or a slave, and that is the position in which we find women. So we must all work for the foundation of mixed schools, wherever it is possible, and where it is not possible we must try to remove the difficulties.

A boy of twelve regards the school as worthy of all respect, because we learn in it to read, write, and think, and it is the basis of morality and science; he adds:-

If it were not for the school we should live like savages, walk naked, eat herbs and raw flesh, and dwell in caves and trees; that is to say, we should live a brutal life. In time, as a result of the school, everybody will be more intelligent, and there will be no wars or inflamed populations, and people will look back on war with horror as a work of death and destruction. It is a great disgrace that there are children who wander in the streets and do not go to school, and when they become men it is more disgraceful. So let us be grateful to our teachers for the patience they show in instructing us, and let us regard the school with respect.

If that child preserves and develops the faculties it exhibits, it will know how to harmonise egoism and altruism for its own good and that of society. A girl of eleven deplores that nations destroy each other in war, and laments the difference of social classes and that the rich live on the work and privation of the poor. She ends:

Why do not men, instead of killing each other in wars and hitting each other for class -differences, devote themselves cheerfully to work and the discovery of things for the good of mankind? Men ought to unite to love each other and live fraternally.1

A child of ten, in an essay which is so good that I would insert it whole if space permitted, and if it were not for the identity in sentiment with the previous passages, says of the school and the pupil:

Reunited under one roof, eager to learn what we do not know, without distinction of classes [there were children of university professors among them, it will be remembered], we are children of one family guided to the same end..... The ignorant man is a nullity; little or nothing can be expected of him. He is a warning to us not to waste time; on the contrary, let us profit by it, and in due course we will be rewarded. Let us not miss the fruits of a good school, and, honouring our teachers, our family, and society, we shall live happily.

A child of ten philosophises on the faults of mankind, which, in her opinion, can be avoided by instruction and goodwill:

Among the faults of mankind are lying, hypocrisy, and egoism. If men, and especially women, were better instructed, and women were entirely equal to men, these faults would disappear. Parents would not send their children to religious schools, which inculcate false ideas, but to rational schools, where there is no teaching of the supernatural, which does not exist; nor to make war; but to live in solidarity and work in common.

We will close with the following essay, written by young lady of sixteen, which is correct enough in form substance to quote in entirety:

What inequality there is in the present social order! Some working from morning to night without more profit than enough to buy their insufficient food; others receiving the products of the workers in order to enjoy themselves with the superfluous. Why is this so? Are we not all equal? Undoubtedly we are; but society does not recognise it while some are destined to work and suffering, and others to idleness and enjoyment. If a worker shows that he realises the exploitation to which he is subject, he is blamed and cruelly punished, while others suffer the inequality with patience. The worker must educate himself and in order to do this it is necessary to found free schools, maintained by the wages which the rich give. In this way the worker will advance more and more, until be is regarded as he deserves, since the most useful mission of society depends on him.

Whatever be the logical value of these ideas, this collection shows the chief aim of the Modern School -- namely, that the mind of the child, influenced by what it sees and informed by the positive knowledge it acquires, shall work freely, without prejudice or submission to any kind of sect, with perfect autonomy and no other guide but reason, equal in all, and sanctioned by the cogency of evidence, before which the darkness of sophistry and dogmatic imposition is dispelled.

In December, 1903, the Congress of Railway Workers, which was then held at Barcelona, informed us that, as a part of its programme, the delegates would visit the Modern School. The pupils were delighted, and we invited them to write essays to be read on the occasion of the visit. The visit was prevented by unforeseen circumstances; but we published in the Bulletin the children's essays, which exhaled a delicate perfume of sincerity and unbiassed judgment, graced by the naive ingenuousness of the writers. No suggestion was made to them, and they did not compare notes, yet there was a remarkable agreement in their sentiments. At another time the pupils of the Workers' School at Badalona sent a greeting to our pupils, and they again wrote essays, from which we compiled a return letter of greeting.2


1 I omit some of Ferrer's short comments on these specimens of reasoning and sentiment, as he regards them. One can recognise the lie echo of the teacher's words. The children were repeating their catechism. But (i) this is no catechism of violence and class-hatred, and (2) there is a distinct a appreciation of the ideas and sentiments on the part of the ch I children I translate the passages as literally as possible.-J. M.

2 This letter and the preceding essays are given in the Spanish edition. As they are a repetition of the sentiments expressed in the extracts already given, it is unnecessary to reproduce them here. Except that I have omitted papers incorporated by Ferrer, but not written by him, this is the only modification I have allowed myself.-J. M.


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