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The Modern School Movement

The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States

Paul Avrich
Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 478
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  • Book Info
    The Modern School Movement
    Book Description:

    In this comprehensive study of the Modern School movement, Paul Avrich narrates its history, analyzes its successes and failures, and assesses its place in American life. In doing so, he shows how the radical experimentation in art and communal living as well as in education during this period set the precedent for much of the artistic, social, and educational ferment of the 1960's and I970's.

    Originally published in 1980.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5318-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Part I: New York

    • Chapter 1 The Martyrdom of Ferrer
      (pp. 3-33)

      On October 13, 1909, Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, a Spanish educator and freethinker, was shot in the trenches of Barcelona’s Montjuich fortress. Following a mock trial, at which no solid evidence against him was brought forward, a military court had found him guilty of fomenting a popular insurrection, which had raged for a week—the “Tragic Week,” it was called—before being crushed by government forces. The execution of Ferrer, the founder of rationalist schools, provoked an international outcry. A little-known figure outside radical circles, he was catapulted into sudden prominence. On both sides of the Atlantic there were meetings...

    • Chapter 2 The Francisco Ferrer Association
      (pp. 34-68)

      In the United States, as in Europe, the martyrdom of Ferrer inspired a vigorous movement to establish schools on the model of the Escuela Moderna. His execution, a major story in the American press, dominated the headlines ofThe New York Timesand other leading newspapers, lifting his name from obscurity and arousing curiosity about his ideas. ‟Paradoxical as it may sound,” wrote a participant in the New York Ferrer School, ‟the volley of shots fired into the body of Francisco Ferrer on October 13, 1909, at Montjuich prison in Barcelona did more to stir up interest in modern education...

    • Chapter 3 The Ferrer School of New York
      (pp. 69-110)

      At its public meeting of October 13, 1910, held to commemorate the first anniversary of Ferrer’s death, the Ferrer Association pledged itself to establish a Day School in New York on the lines of the Barcelona Escuela Moderna. Toward this end, the sum of five hundred dollars was collected, augmented by contributions from Alden Freeman and E. B. Foote. Quarters were found at 6 St. Mark’s Place, half a block east of Cooper Union, where the memorial had taken place. A small, old brownstone on the south side of the street, the building still stands, with a plaque near the...

    • Chapter 4 Rebels and Artists
      (pp. 111-164)

      The Ferrer School, established in 1911, became an important focus of cultural and social ferment in the years preceding the First World War. In New York City this was a period of extraordinary intellectual brilliance, in which many of the seminal ideas of twentieth-century politics and art were being developed. Anarchism, socialism, syndicalism, revolution, birth control, free love, Cubism, Futurism, Freudianism, feminism, the New Woman, the New Theater, direct action, the general strike—all were intensely discussed at the Modern School. ‟The place seethed with animation and debate of vital issues,” said Harry Kelly, ‟and no cause was too poor...

    • Chapter 5 Three Anarchists
      (pp. 165-182)

      The three men who form the subject of this chapter, Leonard Abbott, Harry Kelly, and Joseph Cohen, were nearly exact contemporaries. All three were born in the same decade, Kelly in 1871, Abbott and Cohen in 1878. All three died in 1953, the year which also marked the demise of the Stelton school, of which they were the principal founders. All three began their radical careers at an early age, sharing a sympathy for the working class, a belief in the dignity of labor, and a hatred of industrial capitalism. All were endowed with intelligence and with an ability to...

    • Chapter 6 Lexington Avenue
      (pp. 183-216)

      July 4, 1914, dawned bright and sunny, ideal weather for the Independence Day picnic arranged by Leonard Abbott at his cottage in Westfield, New Jersey, to which the whole Ferrer School crowd had been invited. Jack Isaacson, who was planning to attend, left his apartment on East 103rd Street to buy the morning paper. It was shortly after 9 a.m. As he approached the corner of Lexington Avenue there was a terrific explosion, ‟a crash like that of a broadside from a battleship,” and he saw a piece of a body, a man’s arm, fly through the air and fall...

  6. Part II: Stelton

    • Chapter 7 The Early Years
      (pp. 219-255)

      On Sunday, May 16, 1915, the Modern School moved from New York to Stelton. The weather was unpropitious, for it rained all day and the air was raw and chilly. Arriving at Stelton station on the early morning train, more than a hundred adults and children marched a mile and half in the downpour and reached the colony soaked to the skin. Their spirits, however, were not dampened, as Alexis Ferm remarked, ‟for when were pioneers deterred from their endeavors by the hardships imposed by nature!”¹

      Except for Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, who were both on lecture tours, nearly...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 8 Elizabeth and Alexis Ferm
      (pp. 256-288)

      The Ferms—Aunty and Uncle, as they were affectionately called—were among the earliest pioneers of libertarian education in the United States. In October 1901, at the same time as Ferrer in Barcelona, they started a free school in New Rochelle, moving to Brooklyn and then to the Lower East Side, before ending up at Stelton in 1920. Both—and especially Elizabeth—were strong personalities who left a deep imprint on the Ferrer movement, in which they were involved for nearly thirty years. Their arrival at Stelton signaled a new departure for the school, which embarked on its most creative—...

    • Chapter 9 Mohegan
      (pp. 289-311)

      At the beginning of 1923, Harry Kelly, whose passion for starting colonies rivaled William Thurston Brown’s passion for starting schools, learned of a tract of land for sale in upper Westchester County, about forty-five miles from New York City. The property, fronting on Lake Mohegan, occupied 450 acres a few miles east of Peekskill. Once the estate of General John Paulding of the Continental Army, who in a well-known episode of the American Revolution had aided in the capture of Major André, it now belonged to the Baron de Hirsch Fund, which for several decades had sponsored Jewish agricultural colonies...

    • Chapter 10 The Declining Years
      (pp. 312-349)

      After leaving Mohegan in June 1928, Jim and Nellie Dick returned to Stelton, where for the next five years they served as co-principals of the school and resumed their old job of running the Living House. The colonists, wrote Jim to the Ferms, had agreed to refrain from interfering. ‟They are evidently heart-sick of the floundering about that has existed since you both left. There is quite a young element here growing up and making themselves felt, so while I have some of our old pupils by my side, and the softening down of factional disputes, I have accepted it...

  7. Chapter 11 Conclusion
    (pp. 350-354)

    The Modern School Association of North America was disbanded between 1955 and 1961. This occurred on the eve of a remarkable resurgence of interest in anarchist thought and activity. The social ferment of the 1960s, which accompanied the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, saw a revival of radical experimentation on a wide scale. The ideas of libertarian education emerged again with renewed vitality. Shortly after the publication in 1960 of a compendium of A. S. Neill’s writings,Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child-Rearing, a tide of enthusiasm for the Summerhill idea swelled across the country. In New York...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 355-402)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 403-428)
  10. Index
    (pp. 429-447)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 448-448)