The Modern School needed and found its organ in the Press. The political and ordinary press, which at one time favoured us and at another time denounced us as dangerous, cannot maintain an impartial attitude. It either gives exaggerated or unmerited praise, or calumnious censures. The only remedy for this was the sincerity and clearness of our own indications. To allow these libels to pass without correction would have done us considerable harm, and the Bulletin enabled us to meet them.
The directors published in it the programme of the school, interesting notes about it, statistical details, original pædagogical articles by the teachers, accounts of the progress of rational education in our own and other countries, translations of important articles from foreign reviews and periodicals which were in harmony with the main character of our work, reports of the Sunday lectures, and announcements of the public competitions for the engagement of teachers and of our library.
One of the most successful sections of the Bulletin was that devoted to the publication of the ideas of the pupils. Besides showing their individual ideas it revealed the spontaneous manifestation of common sense. Girls and boys, with no appreciable difference in intellect according to sex, in contact with the realities of life as indicated by the teachers, expressed themselves in simple essays which, though sometimes immature in judgment, more often showed the clear logic with which they conceived philosophical, political, or social questions of some importance. The journal was at first distributed without charge among the pupils, and was exchanged with other periodicals; but there was soon a demand for it, and a public subscription had to be opened. When this was done, the Bulletin became a philosophical review, as well as organ of the Modern School; and it retained this character until the persecution began and the school was closed. An instance of the important mission of the Bulletin will be found in the following article, which I wrote in No. 5 of the fourth year, in order to correct certain secular teachers who had gone astray:
A certain Workers' School has introduced the novelty of establishing a savings-bank, administered by the pupils. This piece of information, reproduced in terms of great praise by the press as a thing to be imitated, induces us to express our opinion on the subject. While others have their own right to decide and act, we have the same right to criticise, and thus to create a rational public opinion.
In the first place we would observe that the word economy is very different from, if not the opposite of, the idea of saving. One may teach children the knowledge and practice of economy without necessarily teaching them to save. Economy means a prudent and methodical use of one's goods; saving means a restriction of one's use of one's goods. By economising we avoid waste; by saving, the man who has nothing superfluous deprives himself of what is necessary.
Have the children who are taught to save any superfluous property? The very name of the society in question assures us that they have not. The workers who send their children to this school live on their wages, the minimum sum, determined by the laws of supply and demand, which is paid for their work by the employers; and as this wage gives them nothing superfluous, and the social wealth is monopolised by the privileged classes, the workers are far from obtaining enough to live a life in harmony with the progress of civilisation Hence, when these children of workers, and future workers themselves, are taught to save — which is a voluntary privation under the appearance of interest — they are taught to prepare themselves to submit to privilege. While the intention is to initiate them to the practice of economy, what is really done is to convert them into victims and accomplices of the present unjust order.
The working-class child is a human child, and, as such, it has a right to the development of all its faculties, the satisfaction of all its needs, moral and physical. For that purpose society was instituted. It is not its function to repress or subject the individual, as is selfishly pretended by the privileged and reactionary class, and all who enjoy what others produce; it has to hold the balance justly between the rights and duties of all members of the commonwealth.
As it is, the individual is asked to sacrifice his rights, needs, and pleasures to society; and, as this disorder demands patience, suffering, and sophistical reasoning, let us commend economy and blame saving. We do not think it right to teach children to look forward to being workers in a social order in which the average mortality of the poor, who live without freedom, instruction, or joy, reaches an appalling figure in comparison with that of the class which lives in triumph on their labour. Those who, from sociolatry, would derogate in the least from the rights of man, should read the fine and vigorous words of Pi y Margall: “Who art thou to prevent my use of my human rights? Perfidious and tyrannical society, thou wert created to defend, not to coerce us. Go back to the abyss whence thou came.”
Starting from these principles, and applying them to pædagogy we think it necessary to teach children that to waste any class of objects is contrary to the general welfare; that if a child spoils paper, loses pens, or destroys books, it does an injustice to its parents and the school. Assuredly one may impress on the child the need of prudence in order to avoid getting imperfect things, and remind it of lack of employment, illness, or age; but it is not right to insist that a provision be made out of a salary which does not suffice to meet the needs of life. That is bad arithmetic.
The workers have no university training; they do not go to the theatre or to concerts; they never go into ecstasies before the marvels of art, industry, or nature; they have no holiday in which to fill their lungs with life-giving oxygen; they are never uplifted by reading books or reviews. On the contrary, they suffer all kinds of privations, and may have to endure crises due to excessive production. It is not the place of teachers to hide these sad truths from the children, and to tell them that a smaller quantity is equal to, if not better than, a larger. In order that the power of science and industry be shared by all, and all be invited to partake of the banquet of life, we must not teach in the school, in the interest of privilege, that the poor should organise the advantages of crumbs and leavings. We must not prostitute education.
On another occasion I had to censure a different departure from our principles:
We were distressed and indignant on reading the list of contributions voted by the Council of BarceIona for certain popular societies which are interested in education. We read of sums offered to Republican Fraternities and similar societies; and we find that, instead of rejecting them, they forwarded votes of thanks to the Council.
The meaning of these things in a Catholic and ultra-conservative nation is clear. The Church and the capitalist system only maintain their ascendency by a judicious system of charity and protection. With this they gratify the disinherited class, and continue to enjoy its respect. But we cannot see republicans acting as if they were humble Christians without raising a cry of alarm.
Beware, we repeat, beware! You are educating your children badly, and taking the wrong path towards reform, in accepting alms. You will neither emancipate yourselves nor your children if you trust in the strength of others, and rely on official or private support. Let the Catholics, ignorant of the realities of life, expect everything of God, or St. Joseph, or some similar being, and, as they have no security that their prayers will be heard in this life, trust to receive a reward after death. Let gamblers in the lottery fail to see that they are morally and materially victimised by their rulers, and trust to receive by chance what they do not earn by energy. But it is sad to see men hold out the hand of a beggar who are united in a revolutionary protest against the present system; to see them admitting and giving thanks for humiliating gifts, instead of trusting their own energy, intellect, and ability.
Beware, then, all men of good faith! That is not the way to set up a true education of children, but the way to enslave them.
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.