Chapter XVII. The Closing of the Modern School

I have reached the culmination of my life and my work. My enemies, who are all the reactionaries in the world, represented by the reactionaries of Barcelona and of Spain, believed that they had triumphed by involving me in a charge of attempted assassination. But their triumph proved to be only an episode in the struggle of practical Rationalism against reaction. The shameful audacity with which they claimed sentence of death against me (a claim that was refused on account of my transparent innocence rather than on account of the justice of the court) drew on me the sympathy of all liberal men — all true progressives — in all parts of the world, and fixed attention oil the meaning and ideal of the Rational School. There was a universal and uninterrupted movement of protest and admiration for a whole year -from May, 1906, to May and June, 1907 — echoed in the Press of every civilised country, and in meetings and other popular manifestations.

It proved in the end that the mortal enemies of our work were its most effective supporters, as they led to the establishment of international Rationalism.

I felt my own littleness in face of this mighty manifestation. Led always by the light of the ideal, I conceived and carried out the International League for the Rational Education of Children, in the various branches of which, scattered over the world, are found men in the front ranks of culture [Anatole France, Ernst Haeckel, etc.]. It has three organs, L'Ecole Renovee in France, the Bulletin in Barcelona, and La Scuola Laica at Rome, which expound, discuss, and spread all the latest efforts of paedagogy to purify science from all defilement of error, to dispel all credulity, to bring about a perfect harmony between belief and knowledge, and to destroy that privileged esoteric system which has always left an exoteric doctrine to the masses.

This great concentration of knowledge and research must lead to a vigorous action which will give to the future revolution the character of practical manifestation of applied sociology, without passion or demand of revenge, with no terrible tragedies or heroic sacrifices, no sterile movements, no disillusion of zealots, no treacherous returns to reaction. For scientific and rational education will have pervaded the masses, making each man and woman a self-conscious, active, and responsible being, guiding his will according to, his judgment, free for ever from the passions inspired by those who exploit respect for tradition and for the charlatanry of the modern framers of political programmes.

If progress thus loses this dramatic character of revolution, it will gain in firmness, stability, and continuity, as evolution. The vision of a rational society, which revolutionaries foresaw in all ages, and which sociologists confidently promise, will rise before the eyes of our successors, not as the mirage of dreamy utopians, but as the positive and merited triumph won by the revolutionary power of reason and science.

The new repute of the educational work of the Modern School attracted the attention of all who appreciated the value of sound instruction. There was a general demand for knowledge of the system. There were numbers of private secular schools, or similar institutions supported by societies, and their directors made inquiry concerning the difference of our methods from theirs. There were constant requests to visit the school and consult me. I gladly satisfied them, removed their doubts, and pressed them to enter on the new way; and at once efforts were made to reform the existing schools, and to create others on the model of the Modern School.

There was great enthusiasm and the promise of mighty things; but one serious difficulty stood in the way: we were short of teachers, and had no means of creating them. Professional teachers had two disadvantages — traditional habits and dread of the contingencies of the future. There were very few who, in an unselfish love of the ideal, would devote themselves to the progressive cause. Instructed young men and women might be found to fill the gap; but how were we to train them ? Where could they pass their apprenticeship ? Now and again I heard from workers' or political societies that they had decided, to open a school; they would find rooms and appliances, and we could count upon their using our school manuals. But whenever I asked if they had teachers, they replied in the negative, and thought it would be easy to supply the want. I had to give in.

Circumstances had made me the director of rationalist education, and I had constant consultations and demands on the part of aspirants for the position of teacher. This made me realise the defect, and I endeavoured to meet it by private advice and by admitting young assistants in the Modern School, The result was naturally mixed. There are now worthy teachers who will carry on the work of rational education elsewhere; others failed from moral or intellectual incapacity.

Not feeling that the pupils of the Modern School who devoted themselves to teaching would find time for their work, I established a Normal School, of which I have already spoken. I was convinced that, if the key of the social problem is in the scientific and rational school, it is essential, to make a proper, use of the key, that fitting teachers be trained for so great a destiny.

As the practical and positive result of my work, I may say that the Modern School of Barcelona was a most successful experiment, and that it was distinguished for two characters:

While open to successive improvements, it set up a standard of what education should be in a reformed state of society.

It gave an impulse to the spread of this kind of education.

There was up to that time no education in the true sense of the word. There were, for the privileged few in the universities, traditional errors and prejudices, authoritarian dogmas, mixed up with the truths which modern research has brought to light. For the people there was primary instruction, which was, and is, a method of taming children. The school was a sort of riding-school, where natural energies were subdued in order that the poor might suffer their hard lot in silence. Real education, separated from faith — education that illumines the mind with the light of evidence — is the creation of the Modern School.

During its ephemeral existence, it did a marvellous amount of good. The child admitted to the school and kept in contact with its companions rapidly changed its habits, as I have observed. It cultivated cleanliness, avoided quarrels, ceased to be cruel to animals, took no notice in its games of the barbarous spectacle which we call the national entertainment [bull-fight], and, as its mind was uplifted and its sentiments purified, it deplored the social injustices which abound on the very face of life. It detested war, and would not admit that national glory, instead of consisting in the highest possible moral development and happiness of a people, should be placed in conquest and violence.

The influence of the Modern School, extended to other schools which had been founded on its model and were maintained by various working-men societies, penetrated the families by means of the children. Once they were touched by the influence of reason and science they were unconsciously converted into teachers of their own parents, and these in turn diffused the better standards among their friends and relatives.

This spread of our influence drew on us the hatred of jesuitism of all kinds and in all places, and this hatred inspired the design which ended in the closing of the Modern School. It is closed; but in reality it is concentrating its forces, defining and improving its plan, and gathering the strength for a fresh attempt to promote the true cause of progress.

That is the story of what the Modern School was, is, and ought to be.