diumenge, 22 d’abril de 2012

Catalan New School: its origins and development

Pedagogy consolidated as a scientific discipline by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, greatly aided by the contributions of the so-called New School (also known as active school or modern school) to education. The works of Dewey, Montessori, Tolstoi, Robin, Decroly and Freinet, among others, were crucial for the consolidation of a movement which later became the model of most of the current educational systems.

It is not widely known, however, that Catalonia was the cradle and model for the implementation of such movement inside Spain. Maria Montessori herself, her methods being banned in Mussolini's Italy, moved to Barcelona and remained there till the outbreak of Spanish Civil War in 1936. The new movement flourished in Catalonia, as in many other places around the world, with a clear aim: the eradication of an authoritarian socially uneven academic system and the inception of an active democratic modern school. Unfortunately, the ruling parts of that time, specially those involved in the centralized Spanish politics, made every possible effort to fight, silence and drown such modern project.

Nevertheless, the tour de force undertaken by those educators and fighters, with martyrs like Ferrer i Guàrdia, was not in vain, because in the sixties, under Francoist rule, the teacher association Escola de Mestres Rosa Sensat managed to revive and build upon the efforts of those pioneers; and this time there would be no turning back.

Although the beginnings of the new school in Catalonia involved many teachers, we want to focus on its main personalities:

Francesc Flos i Calcat, founder of Sant Jordi school, in Barcelona, the first Catalan school in the movement. He also founded the Association for the Defense of Catalan Education and commissioned a well-known banner defending the education in Catalan language, which has recently been used again because of the new attacks of Spanish government against Catalan language.

Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, probably the most international of these educators thanks to his libertarian ideology. His notion of modern school was, and still is, a model of rational, scientific and cooperative school. It was the inspiration for the whole libertarian educational movement in the early 20th century. In Brussels there is monument dedicated to him where an homage is paid every year on October 13th, the day he was executed because of his ideas. He was falsely accused of being an instigator of the Tragic Week, a series of bloody confrontations in Barcelona between the Spanish army and the working classes. The trial, without no guarantees whatsoever, was set up by the Spanish government after some pressures from the army, the bourgeoisie and the Church.

Joan Bardina, founder of the School of Teachers. As Ferrer i Guàrdia, he wanted a Catalan school for the working classes. He was also persecuted because of his ideas and had to emigrate to Bolivia, and later to Chile, where he died.

Pau Vila, a great activist which established the Horacian Foundation for Education, based on the New School principles. He was specially prominent in Geography and, in fact, the current division of Catalonia in comarques is due to him. He had to emigrate to Venezuela because of the Francoist repression. In 1978 he returned to Catalonia, where he died two years later.

Rosa Sensat, despite the extra difficulties for a woman in that time, performed a great activity in formulating and disseminating the New School principles. She defended women's rights to education and was the director of Escola del Bosc, the first Catalan municipal public school which operated according to the criteria of the new pedagogy. She founded other schools of Montessorian inspiration. Utterly disappointed with the Francoist regression, she ceased her activities and retired. As a recognition to her work the aforementioned teachers association was named after her.

Artur Martorell, disciple of Joan Bardina and founder of Escola de mestres Rosa Sensat. He was a teacher educator, specially in the language area. Due to his defense of Catalan language, he was persecuted and imprisoned by the Francoist regime, which kept him away from his professional tasks.

Josep Estalella i Graells, albeit his background in Physics, was the director of the republican Institut-escola de la Generalitat de Catalunya where, for the first time, he implemented the New School principles at high school level. Eladi Homs learned from Dewey's ideas during a stay in the University of Chicago. Back in Barcelona, he collaborated in Butlletí dels mestres (Teachers Bulletin, a pedagogy journal published by the Catalan government). He inspired and directed the first instalments of Escoles d'Estiu, a series of summer schools for teachers, where he introduced and disseminated Montessori's methods.

Alexandre Galí devoted his whole life to promotion of the principles of New School. Disciple of the grammarian Pompeu Fabra, collaborated with Bardina and Homs in several projects, such as the creation of Butlletí dels mestres. He was also the director of Vallparadís school in Terrassa and founded Mútua Escolar Blanquerna.

Pere Vergés, always involved in the catalanist left-wing educational movement, was the director of Escola del Mar in Barcelona, a referential centre for the new pedagogy. He helped creating the first summer camps for children.

All of these efforts put Catalonia very far ahead with respect to other Spanish territories regarding education improvements. Besides the most prominent educators we have mentioned, thousands of anonymous teachers and hundreds of schools everywhere in Catalonia saw the new pedagogy movement as a means for social improvement and for the preservation of the Catalan culture and language. Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and Franco's dictatorship put a radical end to such massive task. Many teachers were forced to emigrate, others were less lucky and suffered imprisonment or were killed because of their defense of a free Catalan school.

However, starting with the renaissance of the movement in the sixties and spanning till the end of the 20th century, other generations of educators revived and expanded the spirit of those pioneers. Among them, we want to mention Maria Rúbies (leading the renovation in Lleida area), Marta Mata (co-founder of Escola de Mestres Rosa Sensat) and Joan Triadú (teacher, defender of Catalan language and founder of several schools).

Xavier Ureta

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