Ferrer, Francisco. (1913). Origin and Ideals of the Modern School. London. Watts & Co.
THE EARLY PROGRAMME
THE time had come to think of the inauguration of the Modern School. Some time previously I had invited a number of gentlemen of great distinction and of progressive sentiments to assist me with their advice and form a kind of Committee of Consultation. My intercourse with them at Barcelona was of great value to me, and many of them remained in permanent relation with me, for which I may express my gratitude. They were of opinion that the Modern School should be opened with some display--invitation-cards, a circular to the press, a large hall, music, and oratorical addresses by distinguished Liberal politicians. It would have been easy to do this, and we would have attracted an audience of hundreds of people who would have applauded with that momentary enthusiasm which characterises our public functions. But I was not seduced by the idea. As a Positivist and an Idealist I was convinced that a simple modesty best befitted the inauguration of a work of reform. Any other method seemed to me disingenuous a concession to enervating conventions and to the very evil which I was setting out to reform. The proposal of the Committee was, therefore, repugnant to my conscience and my sentiments, and I was, in that and all other things relating to the Modern School, the executive power.
In the first number of the Bulletin of the Modern School, issued on October 30, 1901, I gave a general exposition of the fundamental principles of the School, which I may repeat here.
Those imaginary products of the mind, a priori ideas, and all the absurd and fantastical fictions hitherto regarded as truth and imposed its directive principles of human conduct have for some time past incurred the condemnation of reason and the resentment of conscience. The sun no longer merely touches the tips of the mountains; it floods the valleys, and we enjoy the light of noon. Science is no longer the patrimony of a small group of privileged individuals; its beneficent rays more or less consciously penetrate every rank of society. On all sides traditional errors are being dispelled by it; by the confident procedure of experience and observation it enables us to attain accurate knowledge and criteria in regard to natural objects and the laws which govern them. With indisputable authority it bids men lay aside for ever their exclusivisms and privileges, and it offers itself as the controlling principle Of human life, seeking to imbue all with a common sentiment of humanity. Relying on modest resources, but with a robust and rational faith and a spirit that will not easily be intimidated, whatever obstacles arise in our path, we have founded the Modern School. Its aim is to convey, Without Concession to traditional methods, an education based on the natural sciences. This new method, though the only sound and positive method, has spread throughout the civilised world, and has innumerable supporters of intellectual distinction and lofty principles. We are aware how many enemies there are about us. We are conscious of the innumerable prejudices which oppress the social conscience of our country. This is the outcome of a medieval, subjective, dogmatic education, which makes ridiculous pretensions to the possession of an infallible criterion. We are further aware that, in virtue of the law of heredity, strengthened by the influences of the environment, the tendencies which are connatural and spontaneous in the young child are still more pronounced in adolescence. The struggle will be severe, the work difficult; but with a constant and unwavering will, the sole providence of the moral world, we are confident that we will win the victory to which we aspire. We will develop living brains, capable of reacting on our instruction. We will take care that the minds of our pupils will sustain, when they leave the control of their teachers, a stern hostility to prejudice; that they will be solid minds, capable of forming their own rational convictions on every subject.
This does not mean that we will leave the child, at the very outset of its education, to form its own ideas. The Socratic procedure is wrong, if it is taken too literally. The very constitution of the mind, at the commencement of its development, demands that at this stage the child shall be receptive. The teacher must implant the germs of ideas. These will, when age and strength invigorate the brain, bring forth corresponding flowers and fruit, in accordance with the degree of initiative and the characteristic features of the pupil's mind.
On the other hand, we may say that we regard as absurd the widespread notion that an education based on natural science stunts the organ of the idealist faculty. We are convinced that the contrary is true. What science does is to correct and direct it, and give it a wholesome sense of reality. The work of man's cerebral energy Is to create the ideal, with the aid of art and philosophy. But in order that the ideal shall not degenerate into fables, or mystic and unsubstantial dreams, and the structure be not built on sand, it is absolutely necessary to give it a secure and unshakable foundation in the exact and positive teaching of the natural sciences.
Moreover, the education of a man does not consist merely in the training of his intelligence, without having regard to the heart and the will. Man is a complete and unified whole, in spite of the variety of his functions. lie presents various facets, but is at the bottom a single energy, which sees, loves, and applies a will to the prosecution of what lie has conceived or affected. It is a morbid condition, an infringement of the laws of the human organism, to establish an abyss where there ought to be a sane and harmonious continuity. The divorce between thought and will is an unhappy feature of our time. To what fatal consequences it has led ! We need only refer to our political leaders and to the various orders of social life; they are deeply infected with this pernicious dualism. Many of them are assuredly powerful enough in respect of their mental faculties, and have an abundance of ideas; but they lack a sound orientation and the fine thoughts which science applies to the life of individuals and of peoples. Their restless egoism and the wish to accomodate their relatives, together with their leaven Of traditional sentiments, form all impermeable barrier round their hearts and prevent the infiltration Of progressive Ideas, and the formation of that sap of sentiment which is the Impelling and determining power in the conduct of man. Hence the attempt to obstruct progress and put obstacles in the way of new Ideas; hence, as a result Of these attempts, the scepticism Of multitudes, the death of nations, and the inevitable despair of the oppressed.
We regard It as one of the first principles of our pædagogical mission that there is no such duality of character in any Individual one which sees and appreciates truth and goodness, and one which follows evil. And, since we take natural science as our guide in education, a further consequence will be recognised; we shall endeavour to secure that the intellectual impressions which Science conveys to the pupil be converted into the sap of sentiment and Shall be Intensely loved. When sentiment is strong it penetrates and diffuses itself through the deepest recesses of a man's being, pervading and giving a special colour to his character.
And as a man's conduct must revolve within the circle Of his character, it follows that a youth educated In the manner we have indicated will, when he comes to rule himself, recognise science as the one helpful master Of his life.
The school was opened on September 8, 1901 with thirty pupils--twelve girls and eighteen boys. These sufficed for the purpose Of our experiment, and we had no intention of increasing the number for a time, so that we might keep a more effective watch on the pupils. The enemies of the new school would take the first opportunity to criticise our work in co-educating boys and girls.
The people present at the opening were partly attracted by the notices of our work published in the press, and partly consisted of the parents of the
pupils and delegates of various working-class societies who had been invited oil account of their assistance to me. I was supported in the chair by the teachers and the Committee of Consultation, two of whom expounded the system and aim of the school. In this quiet fashion we inaugurated a work that was destined to last. We created the Modern, Scientific, and Rational School, the fame of which soon spread in Europe and America. Time may witness a change of its name -the " Modern " School ---but the description " scientific and rational " will be more and more fully vindicated.