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Anarchism and education


Anarchism and education

[1] and Max Stirner[2] onwards.

A wide diversity of issues related to education have gained the attention of anarchist theorists and activists. They have included the role of education in social control and socialization, the rights and liberties of youth and children within educational contexts, the inequalities encouraged by current educational systems, the influence of state and religious ideologies in the education of people, the division between social and manual work and its relationship with education, sex education and art education.

Various alternatives to contemporary mainstream educational systems and their problems have been proposed by anarchists which have gone from alternative education systems and environments, self-education, advocacy of youth and children rights, and freethought activism.


  • Early anarchist views on education 1
    • William Godwin 1.1
    • Max Stirner 1.2
    • Josiah Warren 1.3
  • The classics and the late 19th century 2
    • Mikhail Bakunin 2.1
    • Peter Kropotkin 2.2
  • The Early 20th century 3
    • Leo Tolstoy 3.1
    • Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia and the Modern schools 3.2
      • The Modern School movement in the United States 3.2.1
    • Emma Goldman 3.3
  • Later 20th century and contemporary times 4
    • Herbert Read 4.1
    • Paul Goodman 4.2
    • Ivan Illich 4.3
    • Colin Ward 4.4
  • Bibliography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early anarchist views on education

William Godwin

For English [1]

In his Political Justice he criticizes state sponsored schooling "on account of its obvious alliance with national government".[3] For him the State "will not fail to employ it to strengthen its hands, and perpetuate its institutions.".[3] He thought "It is not true that our youth ought to be instructed to venerate the constitution, however excellent; they should be instructed to venerate truth; and the constitution only so far as it corresponded with their independent deductions of truth.".[3] A long work on the subject of education to consider is The Enquirer. Reflections On Education, Manners, And Literature. In A Series Of Essays.[4]

Max Stirner

Max Stirner was a German philosopher linked mainly with the anarchist school of thought known as individualist anarchism who worked as a schoolteacher in a gymnasium for young girls.[5] He examines the subject of education directly in his long essay The False Principle of our Education. In it "we discern his persistent pursuit of the goal of individual self-awareness and his insistence on the centering of everything around the individual personality."[2] As such Stirner "in education, all of the given material has value only in so far as children learn to do something with it, to use it".[2] In that essay he deals with the debates between realist and humanistic educational commentators and sees that both "are concerned with the learner as an object, someone to be acted upon rather than one encouraged to move toward subjective self-realization and liberation" and sees that "a knowledge which only burdens me as a belonging and a possession, instead of having gone along with me completely so that the free-moving ego, not encumbered by any dragging possessions, passes through the world with a fresh spirit, such a knowledge then, which has not become personal, furnishes a poor preparation for life.".[2]

He concludes this essay by saying that "the necessary decline of non-voluntary learning and rise of the self-assured will which perfects itself in the glorious sunlight of the free person may be expressed somewhat as follows: knowledge must die and rise again as will and create itself anew each day as a free person.".[6] Stirner thus saw education "is to be life and there, as outside of it, the self-revelation of the individual is to be the task."[6] For him "pedagogy should not proceed any further towards civilizing, but toward the development of free men, sovereign characters".[6]

Josiah Warren

Josiah Warren is widely regarded as the first American anarchist.[7] "Where utopian projectors starting with Plato entertained the idea of creating an ideal species through eugenics and education and a set of universally valid institutions inculcating shared identities, Warren wanted to dissolve such identities in a solution of individual self-sovereignty. His educational experiments, for example, possibly under the influence of the...Swiss educational theorist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (via Robert Owen), emphasized - as we would expect - the nurturing of the independence and the conscience of individual children, not the inculcation of pre-conceived values.[8]"

The classics and the late 19th century

Mikhail Bakunin

On "Equal Opportunity in Education"[9] Russian anarchist [9]

He also denounced that "Consequently while some study others must labour so that they can produce what we need to live — not just producing for their own needs, but also for those men who devote themselves exclusively to intellectual pursuits.[9] As a solution to this Bakunin proposed that "Our answer to that is a simple one: everyone must work and everyone must receive education...for work's sake as much as for the sake of science, there must no longer be this division into workers and scholars and henceforth there must be only men. "[9]

Bakunin views on the relationships between children and parents pointed to the educational aspects of them and so he argued that: "We do not claim that the child should be treated as an adult, that all his caprices should be respected, that when his childish will stubbornly flouts the elementary rules of science and common sense we should avoid making him feel that he is wrong. We say, on the contrary, that the child must be trained and guided, but that the direction of his first years must not be exclusively exercised by his parents, who are all too often incompetent and who generally abuse their authority. The aim of education is to develop the latent capacities of the child to the fullest possible extent and enable him to take care of himself as quickly as possible...It is painfully evident that authoritarianism is incompatible with an enlightened system of education. If the relations of father to son are no longer those of master to slave but those of teacher to student, of an older to a much younger friend, do you think that the reciprocal affection of parents and children would thereby be impaired? On the contrary, when intimate relations of these sorts cease, do not the discords so characteristic of modern families begin? Is not the family disintegrating into bitter frictions largely because of the tyranny exercised by parents over their children?...No one can therefore justly claim that a free and regenerated society will destroy the family. In such a society the father, the mother, and the children will learn to love each other and to respect their mutual rights; at the same time their love will be enriched as it transcends the narrow limits of family affection, thereby achieving a wider and nobler love: the love of the great human family...Today, parents not only support their children [i.e. providing food, clothes, etc.] but also supervise their education. This is a custom based on a false principle, a principle that regards the child as the personal property of the parents. The child belongs to no one, he belongs only to himself; and during the period when he is unable to protect himself and is thereby exposed to exploitation, it is society that must protect him and guarantee his free development. It is society that must support him and supervise his education. In supporting him and paying for his education society is only making an advance ‘loan’ which the child will repay when he becomes an adult proper."[10]

Peter Kropotkin

Russian [11][12] So for Kropotkin "We fully recognise the necessity of specialisation of knowledge, but we maintain that specialisation must follow general education, and that general education must be given in science and handicraft alike. To the division of society into brainworkers and manual workers we oppose the combination of both kinds of activities; and instead of `technical education,' which means the maintenance of the present division between brain work and manual work, we advocate the éducation intégrale, or complete education, which means the disappearance of that pernicious distinction."[12]

The Early 20th century

Leo Tolstoy

The Russian christian anarchist and famous novelist Leo Tolstoy established a school for peasant children on his estate.[13] Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and founded thirteen schools for his serfs' children, based on the principles Tolstoy described in his 1862 essay "The School at Yasnaya Polyana".[14] Tolstoy's educational experiments were short-lived due to harassment by the Tsarist secret police, but as a direct forerunner to A. S. Neill's Summerhill School, the school at Yasnaya Polyana[15] can justifiably be claimed to be the first example of a coherent theory of democratic education.

Tolstoy differentiated between education and culture.[13] He wrote that "Education is the tendency of one man to make another just like himself... Education is culture under restraint, culture is free. [Education is] when the teaching is forced upon the pupil, and when then instruction is exclusive, that is when only those subjects are taught which the educator regards as necessary".[13] For him "without compulsion, education was transformed into culture".[13]

Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia and the Modern schools

Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, Catalan anarchist pedagogue
In 1901, Catalan anarchist and free-thinker Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia established "modern" or progressive schools in Barcelona in defiance of an educational system controlled by the Catholic Church.[16] The schools' stated goal was to "educate the working class in a rational, secular and non-coercive setting". Fiercely anti-clerical, Ferrer believed in "freedom in education", education free from the authority of church and state.[17] Murray Bookchin wrote: "This period [1890s] was the heyday of libertarian schools and pedagogical projects in all areas of the country where Anarchists exercised some degree of influence. Perhaps the best-known effort in this field was Francisco Ferrer's Modern School (Escuela Moderna), a project which exercised a considerable influence on Catalan education and on experimental techniques of teaching generally."[18] La Escuela Moderna, and Ferrer's ideas generally, formed the inspiration for a series of Modern Schools in the United States,[16] Cuba, South America and London. The first of these was started in New York City in 1911. It also inspired the Italian newspaper Università popolare, founded in 1901.

Ferrer wrote an extensive work on education and on his educational experiments called The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School.[19]

The Modern School movement in the United States

The NYC Modern School, ca. 1911–1912, Principal Will Durant and pupils. This photograph was the cover of the first issue of The Modern School magazine.
The Modern Schools, also called Ferrer Schools, were United States schools, established in the early twentieth century, that were modeled after the Escuela Moderna of Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, the Catalan educator and anarchist. They were an important part of the anarchist, free schooling, socialist, and labor movements in the U.S., intended to educate the working-classes from a secular, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools imparted day-time academic classes for children, and night-time continuing-education lectures for adults.

The first, and most notable, of the Modern Schools was founded in New York City, in 1911, two years after Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia’s execution for Jack London, and Upton Sinclair.[20] Student Magda Schoenwetter, recalled that the school used Montessori methods and equipment, and emphasised academic freedom rather than fixed subjects, such as spelling and arithmetic.[21] The Modern School magazine originally began as a newsletter for parents, when the school was in New York City, printed with the manual printing press used in teaching printing as a profession. After moving to the Stelton Colony, New Jersey, the magazine’s content expanded to poetry, prose, art, and libertarian education articles; the cover emblem and interior graphics were designed by Rockwell Kent. Artists and writers, among them Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens, praised The Modern School as “the most beautifully printed magazine in existence.”

After the 4 July 1914 Piscataway Township, New Jersey, and moved there in 1914, becoming the center of the Stelton Colony. Moreover, beyond New York City, the Ferrer Colony and Modern School was founded (ca. 1910–1915) as a Modern School-based community, that endured some forty years. In 1933, James and Nellie Dick, who earlier had been principals of the Stelton Modern School, founded the Modern School in Lakewood, New Jersey,[22] which survived the original Modern School, the Ferrer Center, becoming the final surviving such school, lasting until 1958.[23]

Emma Goldman

In an essay entitled "The child and its enemies" Lithuanian-American anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman manifested that "The child shows its individual tendencies in its plays, in its questions, in its association with people and things. But it has to struggle with everlasting external interference in its world of thought and emotion. It must not express itself in harmony with its nature, with its growing personality. It must become a thing, an object. Its questions are met with narrow, conventional, ridiculous replies, mostly based on falsehoods; and, when, with large, wondering, innocent eyes, it wishes to behold the wonders of the world, those about it quickly lock the windows and doors, and keep the delicate human plant in a hothouse atmosphere, where it can neither breathe nor grow freely."[24] Goldman in the essay entitled "The Social Importance of the Modern School" saw that "the school of today, no matter whether public, private, or for the child what the prison is for the convict and the barracks for the soldier — a place where everything is being used to break the will of the child, and then to pound, knead, and shape it into a being utterly foreign to itself."[25]

In this way "it will be necessary to realize that education of children is not synonymous with herdlike drilling and training. If education should really mean anything at all, it must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child. In this way alone can we hope for the free individual and eventually also for a free community, which shall make interference and coercion of human growth impossible."[26]

Goldman in her essay on the Modern School also dealt with the issue of Sex education. She denounced that "educators also know the evil and sinister results of ignorance in sex matters. Yet, they have neither understanding nor humanity enough to break down the wall which puritanism has built around sex...If in childhood both man and woman were taught a beautiful comradeship, it would neutralize the oversexed condition of both and would help woman's emancipation much more than all the laws upon the statute books and her right to vote."[27]

Later 20th century and contemporary times

Experiments in Germany led to A. S. Neill founding what became Summerhill School in 1921.[28] Summerhill is often cited as an example of anarchism in practice.[29] British anarchists Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer manifested that "A.S. Neill is the modern pioneer of libertarian education and of “hearts not heads in the school”. Though he has denied being an anarchist, it would be hard to know how else to describe his philosophy, though he is correct in recognising the difference between revolution in philosophy and pedagogy, and the revolutionary change of society. They are associated but not the same thing."[30] However, although Summerhill and other free schools are radically libertarian, they differ in principle from those of Ferrer by not advocating an overtly political class struggle-approach.[31]

Herbert Read

The English anarchist philosopher, art critic and poet, [32]

Read "elaborated a socio-cultural dimension of creative education, offering the notion of greater international understanding and cohesiveness rooted in principles of developing the fully balanced personality through art education. Read argued in Education through Art that "every child, is said to be a potential neurotic capable of being saved from this prospect, if early, largely inborn, creative abilities were not repressed by conventional Education. Everyone is an artist of some kind whose special abilities, even if almost insignificant, must be encouraged as contributing to an infinite richness of collective life. Read’s newly expressed view of an essential ‘continuity’ of child and adult creativity in everyone represented a synthesis’ the two opposed models of twentieth-century art education that had predominated until this point...Read did not offer a curriculum but a theoretical defence of the genuine and true. His claims for genuineness and truth were based on the overwhelming evidence of characteristics revealed in his study of child art...From 1946 until his death in 1968 he was president of the Society for Education in Art (SEA), the renamed ATG, in which capacity he had a platform for addressing [32]"

Paul Goodman


Goodman thought that a person'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...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."[33] As far as the current educational system Goodman thought that "The basic intention behind the compulsory attendance laws is not only to insure the socialization process but also to control the labour supply quantitatively within an industrialized economy characterized by unemployment and inflation. The public schools and universities have become large holding tanks of potential workers."[33]

Ivan Illich

The term [33]

Colin Ward

Colin Ward in his workroom, October 2003
English anarchist Colin Ward in his main theoretical publication Anarchy in Action (1973) in a chapter called "Schools No Longer" "discusses the genealogy of education and schooling, in particular examining the writings of Everett Reimer and Ivan Illich, and the beliefs of anarchist educator Paul Goodman. Many of Colin’s writings in the 1970s, in particular Streetwork: The Exploding School (1973, with Anthony Fyson), focused on learning practices and spaces outside of the school building. In introducing Streetwork, Ward writes, “[this] is a book about ideas: ideas of the environment as the educational resource, ideas of the enquiring school, the school without walls…”. In the same year, Ward contributed to Education Without Schools (edited by Peter Buckman) discussing ‘the role of the state’. He argued that “one significant role of the state in the national education systems of the world is to perpetuate social and economic injustice”".[35]

In The Child in the City (1978), and later The Child in the Country (1988), Ward "examined the everyday spaces of young people’s lives and how they can negotiate and re-articulate the various environments they inhabit. In his earlier text, the more famous of the two, Colin Ward explores the creativity and uniqueness of children and how they cultivate ‘the art of making the city work’. He argued that through play, appropriation and imagination, children can counter adult-based intentions and interpretations of the built environment. His later text, The Child in the Country, inspired a number of social scientists, notably geographer Chris Philo (1992), to call for more attention to be paid to young people as a ‘hidden’ and marginalised group in society."[35]


The Modern School magazine, Spring, 1920
  • Archer, William. The Life, Trial, and Death of Francisco Ferrer. London: Chapman and Paul. 1911
  • Avrich, Paul. The Modern School Movement: Anarchism And Education In The United States. AK Press, Jan 30, 2006
  • Boyd, Carol. P. The Anarchists and education in Spain. (1868-1909). The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 48. No. 4. (Dec. 1976)
  • Ferm, Elizabeth Byrne. Freedom in Education. New York: Lear Publishers. 1949
  • Goodman, Paul. Compulsory Mis-Education. New York: Horizon. 1964
  • Graubard, Allen. Free the Children: Radical Reform and the Free School Movement. New York: Pantheon. 1973
  • Hemmings, Ray. Children’s Freedom: A. S. Neill and the Evolutions of the Summerhill Idea. London: Allen & Unwin. 1972
  • Jandric, Petar. "WorldHeritage and education: anarchist perspectives and virtual practices." Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, vol.8. no.2
  • Jensen, Derrick. Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Chelsea Green, 2005, ISBN 978-1-931498-78-4
  • Stirner, Max. "The False Principle of Our Education - or Humanism and Realism." [1] . Rheinische Zeitung. April 1842
  • Suissa, Judith. Anarchism and Education: a Philosophical Perspective. Routledge. New York. 2006
  • Suissa, Judith. "Anarchy in the classroom". New Humanist. Volume 120. Issue 5 September/October 2005

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "william godwin and informal education" by infed
  2. ^ a b c d Introduction to The False Principle of our Education' by Max Stirner by James J. Martin
  3. ^ a b c Political Justice by William Godwin
  4. ^ byThe Enquirer. Reflections On Education, Manners, And Literature. In A Series Of Essays. William Godwin
  5. ^ The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, volume 8, The Macmillan Company and The Free Press, New York 1967
  6. ^ a b c The False Principle of our Education' by Max Stirner
  7. ^ Palmer, Brian (2010-12-29) What do anarchists want from us?,
  8. ^ "Introduction of The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren" by Crispin Sartwell
  9. ^ a b c d "Equal Opportunity in Education" by Mikhail Bakunin
  10. ^ , translated and edited byBakunin on Anarchy Sam Dolgoff, 1971.
  11. ^ "Brain Work and Manual Work" by Peter Kropotkin
  12. ^ a b Fields, Factories and Workshops: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work by Peter Kropotkin
  13. ^ a b c d "The Emergence of Compulsory Schooling and Anarchist Resistance" by Matt Hern
  14. ^ Tolstoy, Lev N.; Leo Wiener; translator and editor (1904). The School at Yasnaya Polyana - The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy: Pedagogical Articles. Linen-Measurer, Volume IV. Dana Estes & Company. p. 227. 
  15. ^ Wilson, A.N. (2001). Tolstoy. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. p. xxi.  
  16. ^ a b Geoffrey C. Fidler (Spring–Summer 1985). """The Escuela Moderna Movement of Francisco Ferrer: "Por la Verdad y la Justicia. History of Education Quarterly 25 (1/2): 103–132.  
  17. ^ Francisco Ferrer's Modern School
  18. ^ Chapter 7, Anarchosyndicalism, The New Ferment. In Murray Bookchin, The Spanish anarchists: the heroic years, 1868-1936. AK Press, 1998, p.115. ISBN 1-873176-04-X
  19. ^ Francisco Ferrer. The Origin and Ideals of the Modern School
  20. ^ Avrich, Paul, The Modern School Movement, AK Press (2005), p.212: At the Ferrer Center, Berkman was called “The Pope”, Goldman was called “The Red Queen”.
  21. ^ Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, “Interview with Magda Schoenwetter”, AK Press (2005), ISBN 1-904859-27-5, ISBN 978-1-904859-27-7, p.230: “What everybody is yowling about now — freedom in education — we had then, though I still can’t spell or do multiplication.”
  22. ^ a b Avrich, Paul, The Modern School Movement. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1980); Avrich, Paul, Anarchist Portraits, Princeton: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-00609-1 (1988)
  23. ^ AERO-GRAMME #11: The Alternative Education Resource Organization Newsletter
  24. ^ Emma Goldman. "The Child and its enemies."
  25. ^ Emma Goldman. "The Social Importance of the Modern School"
  26. ^ Emma Goldman. "The Child and its enemies."
  27. ^ Emma Goldman. "The Social Importance of the Modern School"
  28. ^ Purkis, Jon (2004). Changing Anarchism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.  
  29. ^ Andrew Vincent (2010) Modern Political Ideologies, 3rd edition, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell p.129
  30. ^ Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer. The Floodgates of Anarchy
  31. ^ Suissa, Judith (September–October 2005). "Anarchy in the classroom".  
  32. ^ a b . Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, vol. 24, no.1/2, 1994, p. 375–90PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative educationDavid Thistlewood. "HERBERT READ (1893–1968)" in
  33. ^ a b c d e f ROBERT H. CHAPPELL. ANARCHY REVISITED: AN INQUIRY INTO THE PUBLIC EDUCATION DILEMMA. Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol. 2, No.4, pp 357-372 Pergamon Press. 1978.
  34. ^ Illich, Ivan (1971). Deschooling Society. New York: Harper and Row.  
  35. ^ a b the encyclopaedia of informal education.Mills, S. (2010) 'Colin Ward: The ‘Gentle’ Anarchist and Informal Education’ at

External links

  • Anarchist texts on education at the Anarchist Library
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