Francisco Ferrer – radical educator and anarchist

For nigh on seventeen years I was being educated – one way or another. Thence, in one way and another, for half a century I have been seen as an educator – a teacher, lecturer and youth worker, amongst other roles. Thus, it was to my acute embarrassment that I tripped over by accident, the existence of Francisco Ferrer. I had neither heard of him nor his notion of the Modern School. Such ignorance!

Working Class History comes to the rescue, for which many thanks.

Francisco Ferrer

On the 10th of January 1859, Catalan educator and anarchist, Francesco Ferrer i Guàrdia was born. He is best known for his development of the idea of the Modern School: radical, secular education particularly for working-class children, which remains influential around the world today.

Born the 13th of 14 children, Ferrer’s formal education ended at the age of 13 when he began work, later working on the railways before becoming a Spanish teacher in France. At the age of 24 Ferrer became a Freemason, at a time when Masonic lodges were important organising spaces for secular radicals and anarchists.

In 1901 a wealthy student of Ferrer died and left him a property in Paris in her will, which Ferrer was able to sell to set up his first Modern School in Barcelona. The school opened in September 1901 with 18 boys and 12 girls, and Ferrer set about propagating its methodology elsewhere.

In 1909, a strike broke out in Barcelona in protest at the Spanish government sending poor and working-class conscript soldiers to suppress an uprising against Spanish colonialism in Morocco. The events culminated in the Tragic Week, when civil guards violently crushed the strike. A major force behind the stoppage was the revolutionary group Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Solidarity), which Ferrer had covertly funded. Despite Ferrer having minimal input into the strike itself, he was accused by the state of masterminding it, and was quickly sentenced to death by a kangaroo court and executed.

The above Ferrer Reader, edited by Mark Bray and Robert H. Haworth, looks to be a fascinating insight into his life and work and can be found at https://shop.workingclasshistory.com/…/anarchist.. I’m duty-bound to repair my ignorance and report back sometime in the future.

On October 13, 1909, Francisco Ferrer, the notorious Catalan anarchist educator and founder of the Modern School, was executed by firing squad. The Spanish government accused him of masterminding the Tragic Week rebellion, while the transnational movement that emerged in his defence argued that he was simply the founder of the groundbreaking Modern School of Barcelona. Was Ferrer a ferocious revolutionary, an ardently nonviolent pedagogue, or something else entirely?

Anarchist Education and the Modern School is the first historical reader to gather together Ferrer’s writings on rationalist education, revolutionary violence, and the general strike (most translated into English for the first time) and put them into conversation with the letters, speeches, and articles of his comrades, collaborators, and critics to show that the truth about the founder of the Modern School was far more complex than most of his friends or enemies realized. Francisco Ferrer navigated a tempestuous world of anarchist assassins, radical republican conspirators, anticlerical rioters, and freethinking educators to establish the legendary Escuela Moderna and the Modern School movement that his martyrdom propelled around the globe.

Reviews

“A thorough and balanced collection of the writings of the doyen of myriad horizontal educational projects in Spain and more still across the world. Equally welcome are the well-researched introduction and the afterword that underline both the multiplicity of anarchist perspectives on education and social transformation and the complexity of Ferrer’s thinking.”
—Chris Ealham, author of Living Anarchism: Jose Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement

“This volume brings together for the first time a comprehensive collection of Ferrer’s own writings, documenting the daily life and aims of the Escuela Moderna, alongside reflections, often critical, by contemporary anarchists and other radical thinkers. Together with the editors’ thoughtful Introduction, the result is a fascinating collection—essential reading for anyone keen to go beyond the image of Ferrer the martyr of libertarian education and to understand the perennial moral and political questions at the heart of any project of education for freedom.”
—Judith Suissa, author of Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective