JR'S Free Thought Pages
Anarchism in 20th Century Education
by Johnny Reb
“If you think your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called “education.” - Bertrand Russell
“As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our trouble. Whose authority? The New Testament? The Old Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others”. - Bertrand Russell
Public schooling has become a prodigious bureaucratic institution that operates as a rigorous maintenance system. Its function is to inculcate the masses with acceptable ideologies and to weed out dissenters whose recalcitrant behavior and spontaneity are viewed as dangerous to the democratic tenets of the United States. As compulsory attendance laws surfaced and were enacted, the educational monolith became ever more securely entrenched in American society. Public education has become a breakwater interrupting the dynamics of inquiry, dissent and innovation which are essential to democracy and to the human condition.
Francisco Ferrer's (1859-1909) Modern School was established in September, 1901, in Barcelona. Between 1884 and 1885, Ferrer was involved in a popular republican rebellion led by General Villacampa against the oppressive Spanish regime. The Spanish republican rebels were subdued and those who escaped persecution and arrest fled to foreign countries. Ferrer managed to escape to France, and in Paris he was introduced to the principles of the Modern School. The tradition of the Modern School in France was developed by a group of people, particularly Louise Michel, who originated the movement within her school on Mont-martie; Paul Robin, who set up a school for the underprivileged at Cempuis; and Madelaine Vernet and Sebastian Faure who established a communal school called La Ruche (The Beehive), based on libertarian tenets. Ferrer's Modern School was financed by one of his students, a Mlle. Meunier, who in 1900 unconditionally bequeathed to Ferrer a sum of £30,000. Ferrer attempted to provide a privately financed system of education that would be concerned with developing a sense of self-ownership and social awareness, independent of the dogmas of state or church.
Ferrer believed in the principle of a sliding tuition rate that would allow children from all walks of life to attend the Modern School. A private school that demanded exorbitant fees would preserve class privilege and disrupt social harmony. The curriculum of the Modern School utilized the study of the natural sciences in order to familiarize the students with a scientific mode of inquiry. "A rigorous logic, applied with discretion established intellectual harmony and gave a progressive disposition to their wills - all were enabled to see the errors of others as well as their own, and they moved more and more to the side of common sense." It is revealing to note that Ferrer has great difficulty in finding educational sources and texts were not riddled with absolute assertions and rigid principles. When the library of the Modern School was opened, it contained but one work-The Adventures of Nono by Jean Groue. The book was a social satire that dramatically contrasted the social evils of the present with the future delights in the "land of autonomy".
In July of 1909, Ferrer called a conference of his teachers to consider book selections for the fall semester. Of the new publications discussed, special emphasis was given to Peter Kropotkin's just published Great French Revolution.
Ferrer's system of education, especially the curricular aspects of the Modern School, has been attacked as dogmatic. it is true that the teachers in the school and a great deal of the literature read there were imbued with a sense of anarchy.
However, the school did lay great emphasis on the scientific method, and Ferrer always insisted that there was an objective set of facts that could be learned without subjecting the student to an ideology. Ferrer himself indicated that the Modern School was not intended to inculcate revolutionary ideals in the students. As was the case with Stirner and Godwin, Francisco Ferrer also anticipated the problem of finding rational educators who were not indoctrinated with the teachings of church and state.
Ferrer believed that the idea of rational education developed at the Modern School would be a model for other independent educational institutions in Spain. There were a substantial number of societies interested in scientific and rational education, especially The Republican Fraternities, the Centers of Instruction, and various working men's organizations. Between 1901 and 1909 Ferrer organized 109 schools in Spain. Ferrer's influence was not restricted to the Peninsula, as his concept of the Modern School was adopted in the United States, specifically in the form of the Modern Schools in New York City and in Shelton, New Jersey.
Ferrer's life came to an abrupt end in October 1909. The Spanish government accused Ferrer of instigating an insurrection in Barcelona. Following a mock trial, in which defense evidence was confiscated by the police; Ferrer was found guilty and sentenced to be shot. On October 13th he was executed. Yet in 1912, the Supreme Military Council of Spain was forced to declare that no single act of violence could be directly or indirectly traced to Ferrer.
I now turn to the provocative critiques and alternatives to contemporary public schooling suggested by Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich. I offer not a comprehensive enquiry but rather a concise exposition of their thoughts on public systems of education.
The late Paul Goodman (1911-1971) ardently opposed the bureaucratic and stultifying proliferation of public schooling in the United States. Goodman recognized the viability of a system of compulsory schooling in Jeffersonian times when people were taught to display "citizenly initiative", and revolutionary zeal. "Everybody had to become literate and study history, in order to make constitutional innovations and to be motivated to defend free institutions, which was presumably the moral that history taught.
Goodman perceives compulsory public schooling as an unnecessary evil that should be introduced as sparingly as possible. The contemporary "school-monks": the administrators, professors, academic sociologists and licensed teachers have developed into a vast intellectual monolith that is venerated by society. This absurd worship of public schooling is based on the belief that social and economic advancement are inextricably related to the quality of education received." Goodman believes that the compulsory education system or any similar form of formal education is designed to inculcate a sense of subservience and acquiescence in the student, and to shape acceptable patterns of behavior and thought conducive to the status quo of state capitalism and to the financial elites who are the real holders of power in our so-called democracy. Religious schools he considered even worse stultifying factories of indoctrination and conformity.
It is in the schools and from the mass media, rather than at home or from their friends, that the mass of our citizens in all classes learn that life is inevitably routine, depersonalized, venally graded; that it is best to toe the mark and shut up; that there is no place for spontaneity, open sexuality and free spirit. Trained in the schools they go on to the same quality of jobs, culture and politics. This is education, mis-education socializing to the national norms and regimenting to the nation's "needs" . . . .
At present when formal education swallows up so much time of life and pretends to be practical preparation for every activity, the ideological processing is especially deadly. Those who succumb to it have no wits of their own left and are robots.
Goodman claims that one's most valuable educational experiences occur outside the school. Participation in the activities of society should be the chief means of learning. Instead of requiring students to succumb to the theoretical drudgery of textbook learning, Goodman recommends that education be transferred into factories, museums, parks, department stores, etc, where the students can actively participate in their education. With an emphasis on voluntary education and intrinsic motivation, it is essential that there be a large variety of educational opportunities.
Teacher certification can be dismissed as a state system of rubber stamping. Its inherent function is to insure the systematic indoctrination of state preceptors and to control the elements of supply and demand in the teaching profession. Incidental education would utilize the expertise of druggists, storekeepers, mechanics, etc. to introduce students to the realities of vocations or professions. There would be significant emphasis on science and technology.
Finally contemporary education must inevitably be heavily weighted toward the sciences. . . . Our aim must be to make a great number of citizens at home in a technological environment, not alienated from the machines we use, not ignorant as consumers, who can enjoy the humanistic beauty of the sciences, and above all, who can understand the morality of a scientific way of life.
The ideal schools would take the form of small discussion groups of no more than twenty individuals. As has been indicated, these groups would utilize any effective environment that would be relevant to the interest of the group. Such education would be necessarily non-compulsory, for any compulsion to attend places authority in an external body disassociated from the needs and aspirations of the students. Moreover, compulsion retards and impedes the students' ability to learn.
The basic intention behind the compulsory attendance laws is not only to insure the socialization process but also to control the labor supply quantitatively within an industrialized economy characterized by unemployment and inflation. The public schools and universities have become large holding tanks of potential workers.
The universities are no longer free intellectual communities that participate actively on society. Goodman feels that they have evolved into academic corporations that have alienated students and professors through formal administrative procedures.
My argument, then, is a simple one. The colleges and universities are, as they always have been, self-governing communities. But the personal relations in such communities have come less and less to consist in growing up, in the meeting of veterans and students, in teaching and learning, and more and more in every kind of communication, policing, regulation, and motivation that is relative to administration. The community of scholars is replaced by a community of administrators and scholars with administrative mentalities, company men and time servers among the teachers, grade seekers and time servers among the students. And this new community mans a machine that, incidentally, turns out educational products.
Goodman's intense polemic against compulsory public schooling can be summarized by the following quotation from his Compulsory Miseducation and the Community of Scholars:
The school system as a whole with its increasingly set curriculum, stricter grading and incredible amounts of testing, is already a vast machine to shape acceptable responses. Programmed instruction closes the windows a Little tighter and it rigidifies the present departmentalization and dogma. But worst of all it tends to mummify the one lively virtue that any school does have, that is a community of youth and adults.
Ivan Illich (1927-) is popularly recognized for his critical expose, Deschooling Society. Illich was born in Vienna and was educated in Rome's Gregorian University, where he received a master's degree in theology and philosophy, and at the University of Salzburg, where he received a doctorate in the philosophy of history. The most complete biography of Illich can be found in Francine Gray's Divine Disobedience. Illich's intense argument against compulsory public schooling generally reiterates Paul Goodman's critique, but Illich adds a revolutionary flavor to deschooling: the dismantling of the public education system would coincide with a pervasive abolition of all the suppressive institutions of society.
Illich condemns public schooling for a variety of reasons. The general theme is that the nature of man is incongruent with the centralized and institutionalized society of the technocrats. The paradigm of the technocratic society is the public school. It is venerated in a religious sense for it makes futile promises of economic advancement and social mobility to the modern proletariat. Illich maintains that this new world religion has to be disestablished from the state and that this will be a violent process.
The time of reformation, desecularization and the disestablishment of the school will bring processes analogous to those which occur in the breakdown of established Churches . . . we will see struggles for investiture, struggles for local control and struggles for freedom from dogma. We will experience the rise of lay preachers, sectarianism, heresies, inquisitions and religious wars.
Illich charges public schooling with institutionalizing acceptable moral and behavioral standards and with constitutionally violating the rights of young adults. "Children are neither protected by the 1st amendment or the 5th when they stand before the secular priest. The teacher is at once the guide, teacher and administrator of a sacred ritual."
In the economic spectrum, the school alleviates the burden of unemployment by detaining significant numbers of would-be workers. Illich contends that compulsory public education is economically unsound and a useless waste of time. He suggests that tax revenues allocated to public education would be unquestionably put to better use by developing skill centers and an educational voucher system or edu-credit cards, as Illich refers to them.
Skill centers would be set up so that anyone at anytime could choose instruction among hundreds of available skills. These centers would be publicly financed, and each citizen's edu-credit card would entitle the holder to their use. Illich emphasizes on-the-job training and contends that trade schools should be a part of related industries rather than remain independent of them.
Instead of the trade school, we should think of a subsidized transformation of the industrial plant. It should be possible to obligate factories to serve as training centers during off-hours, for managers to spend part of their time planning and supervising this training, and for the industrial process to be so redesigned that it has educational value. If the expenditures for present schools were partly allocated to Sponsor this kind of educational exploitation of existing resources, then the final results - both economic and educational - might be incomparably greater.
IIlich subscribes to Goodman's belief that most of the useful education that people acquire is a by-product of work or leisure and not of the school. Illich refers to this process as "informal education". Only through this unrestricted and unregulated form of learning can the individual gain a sense of self-awareness and develop his creative capacity to its fullest extent. Illich also concurs with Goodman's opposition to teacher certification for similar reasons. Licensing serves to discriminate between those who have acquired diplomas from public schooling and those who have not. Illich believes that industry and educational systems should not discriminate because of licenses but should provide performance tests for specific job-related skills.
Illich's ideal educational system would include the edu-credit cards and skill centers in addition to the central concept of "learning webs". This educational system would have three purposes: to provide access to available resources to all who want to learn: to empower all who want to share what they know; to find those who want to learn it from them; to furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenges known. The system of learning webs is aimed at individual freedom and expression in education by using society as the classroom. There would be reference services to index items available for study in laboratories, theatres, airports, libraries, etc.; skill exchanges - which would permit people to list their skills so that potential students could contact them; peer-matching, which would communicate an individual's interest so that he or she could find educational associates; reference services to educators at large, which would be a central directory of professionals, paraprofessionals and free-lancers. Illich's "web system" is a well-thought-out alternative to public schooling. Its emphasis on a prodigious supply of educational resources, individual freedom of choice, unrestricted accessibility, and self-development, all seem to provide a solution to the problems of compulsory public schooling. However, the viability of Illich's "web system" is dependent upon the principle of centralization. Centralization implies the creation of a bureaucracy that coordinates and manages a comprehensive system. In the case of the web system it appears that its management could be undertaken by a small group of people. This could lead to a system of education more frightening and Orwellian than the present state of affairs. This reasoning is pure supposition and should be taken as such.
The intellectual precursors of the contemporary opponents of compulsory public schooling, were for the most part the European anarchists of the nineteenth century. Ivan Illich has indicated that,
As far as my criticism of schooling is concerned, the most important direct influence of which I am aware is that of Mr. Everett Reimer. . .The intensity of our joint exploration puts - in my opinion - other direct influences in the shadow. Among those l9th century authors whom you mention, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and Stirner were certainly points of reference in our conversation.
Everett Reimer reiterates Illich's deschooling theme in his only major publication, School is Dead: Alternatives in Education (1971). It would appear that Reimer did not directly influence the work of lllich, but rather that their relationship was of mutual benefit. In the foreword to School is Dead, Reimer stated
This book is the result of a conversation with Ivan IIlich that has continued for fifteen years. We have talked of many things, but increasingly about education and school, and eventually, about alternatives to schools.
This would seem to indicate that the educational viewpoint of the European anarchists of the 19th century was the major influence upon the contemporary critique espoused by Ivan IIlich.
Paul Goodman indicated in the introduction to Peter Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1970 edition) that "Kropotkin's running critique of the system of formal education also continually strikes home"."
In a general survey, all of these opponents of public schooling criticized the institution because of its perverse relationship with the government. The schools inculcated beliefs and behavior that were politically and economically beneficial to the power structure of the state.
The emphasis on the need to integrate theoretical and practical education is supported by Bakunin, Proudhon and Kropotkin, and this belief is reiterated in the proposals of Illich and Goodman. Proudhon's idea that both the theoretical and practical aspects of technical education should be carried out in the factories and in workingmen's associations is similar to Illich recommending that industry incorporate the trade schools of contemporary times.
Goodman's support of the thesis of integral education is evidenced by the following:
Dispense with the school building for a few classes; provide teachers and use the city itself as a school, its streets, cafeterias .. .and factories. Where feasible, it certainly makes more sense to teach using the real subject-matter than to bring an abstraction of the subject-matter into the school building as curriculum.
And other commonality is the basic belief that education is synonymous with life and that the most useful learning experiences are acquired outside the confines of the classroom. Goodman's and Illich's recognition of informal or incidental education is significantly close to Max Stirner's proposition that knowledge and school were integrated into life and could only be discovered through social interaction.
Tolstoy follows suit, in his polemic against public schooling which refuted the necessity of learning to read and write.
Among people who stand at a low level of education, we notice that the knowledge or ignorance of reading and writing in no way changes the degree of their education. We see people who are well acquainted with all the facts necessary for farming and with a large number of interrelations of these facts, who can neither read nor write; as excellent military commanders, excellent merchants . . . and people simply educated by life who possess a great store of information and sound reasoning, based on that information. . . .
The concept that a system of national education serves to maintain class disparities is generally accepted by the European anarchists and by the contemporary deschoolers. However, there are specific ideological differences within this general consensus. The mutualist, collectivist and communist strains of anarchy as propounded by Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin strongly emphasized the principle that national education would cater to the middle class and would be detrimental to the urban and agrarian proletariat. Ferrer and Tolstoy recognized the principle of class struggle but they were also concerned with the problem of self-ownership within the suppressive educational environment of the public schools.
The individualist anarchism of Max Stirner was based upon the concept of an absolutely free development of the individual, and consequently disregarded the argument that a system of national education would cater to one class or to another. Within this spectrum of anarchy, IIlich and Goodman would probably come closest to Ferrer and Tolstoy. Both groups recognized that compulsory public schooling was designed to maintain the inherent class structure of society, but they also emphasized the negative effect that compulsory public schooling had on the individual. Godwin's conception of anarchism would place him much closer to the individualist strain of Stirner than to the socialistic principles of Bakunin, Proudhon and Kropotkin.
Another common element subscribed to by these opponents of public schooling was the belief in utilizing small educational groups. In many cases this would correspond to the social organization in a stateless society. All of the European anarchists supported the principle of a federation of small associations and it follows naturally that this idea would be applied to education.
The problem of finding adequate educational resources not imbued with the dogmatism of the state is explicitly indicated in the works of Godwin, Ferrer, Stirner, and Kropotkin:
We may open any book of sociology, history, law, or ethics: everywhere we find government, its organization, its deeds, playing so prominent a pas that we grow accustomed to suppose that the state and the political man are everything.
This problem is implied by both Goodman and Illich, for both recognize and identify the process of indoctrination that occurs in the public schools which utilize "acceptable" educational textbooks.
The curricular emphasis on science or upon developing a working knowledge of the scientific method seems to be a general trait of the European anarchists. This emphasis has largely been adopted by both Goodman and 11lich, although it has evolved into an affirmation of technical education."" Mikhail Bakunin clearly indicated the necessity of acquiring an education based on science.
Since no mind . . . is capable of embracing . . . all the sciences, and since a general knowledge of all sciences is absolutely necessary for the complete development of the mind, instruction divides naturally into two parts: the general one, giving the principal elements of all sciences . . . and the special part, necessarily divided into several groups or faculties every one of which embraces a certain number of mutually complementary sciences.
This paper has been concerned with depicting the common elements between the 19th century anarchistic opponents of public schooling and two contemporary counterparts -Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich. All held to varying degrees that education was experientially synonymous with life. Pedagogy should be viewed as an unfettered and ongoing enquiry into those areas of individual and collective interest(s), which in their entirety define the perimeters of their culture or cultures. Educational authority, imposed from above, and manifest in governmental or ecclesiastical institutions, only creates a synthetic environment that is antithetical to learning. Educational authority and organization should be an internal function and responsibility of freely formed communes and cooperatives, i.e. those social units envisioned as the basic units of a new and liberated social order.
Although there are many dissimilarities between these thinkers, it appears that the central arguments against public schooling developed by the anarchists in the nineteenth century have been rejuvenated and reiterated in the works of Paul Goodman and Ivan Illich.