Monday, October 13, 2008

modern school reunion 2008

Today is the 99th anniversary of the death of anarchist, freethinker, and education pioneer Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, which sparked the international movement which was founded to carry on his ideas. Since I covered the basic background in my original Modern School post two years ago, I will link to that rather than repeating myself.

Instead, I will concentrate on the 36th annual reunion of the Friends of the Modern School, held on September 20 at its usual location at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. As usual, it functioned as a social reunion for alumni (mostly of the Stelton school and colony which was near New Brunswick), but this time, the proceedings were enlivened by an unusually large group of interested outsiders.

Author Perdita Buchan spoke about her book Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden (which has appeared previously on this blog) which allots a chapter to eight utopian colonies in the Garden State, including one for Stelton. The Emma Goldman Papers project's and the Kate Sharply Library's Barry Pateman followed up his talk from two years back on Emma Goldman with a similarly scrupulous and informative look at another, far lesser-known anarchist personality connected to the Ferrer movement, Hippolyte Havel. Havel never completed a full-length book (although he did pen the pamphlet "What's Anarchism"), and so is best known for his short biographical essays on Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre that are preserved in their collected essays, but he was interesting in his own right, with an eccentric personality masking a thouhgtful mind, and Pateman has read many of Havel's uncollected periodical works and vouches for their value. And a third event was a panel on "Free Schools of Today", with people from a variety of schools with similar approaches, including Mary Lois Adshead, from Marietta Johnson's School of Organic Education and longtime resident of the single-tax colony of Fairhope, Alabama, who has recently moved to the Garden State herself (and changing her blog from Finding Fairhope to Finding Myself in Hoboken, including her take on the event); Alan Berger of the Brooklyn Free School in NYC; Isaac Graves from the Albany Free School and the Harriet Tubman Free School in Albany, NY; and several people from the newly opened Manhattan Free School. The Alternative Education Resource Organization's Jerry Mintz was there as usual, but also brought a van full of alternative-education people with him, and there were also people from the Beehive Collective. Plus, the mix of insiders and outsiders made the conversations particularly lively. As Dale Burns put it in the Education Revolution e-newsletter, "There was a common idea, an inspiration, a current which electrified the air: the idea of education in its truest form, that learning should be about the learner and the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. The Modern School was a community in which a school was interwoven, a place where living and learning went hand in hand. A place someone could learn as much or as little as they were comfortable with, where generations could interact freely and neighbors could be depended upon. This is the essence of the Modern School."

Also, the other projects of the Friends of the Modern School continue to move along: last year, they published Recollections from the Modern School Ferrer Colony, a collection of personal accounts by Victor Sacharoff and other Stelton residents (available from AERO here); they continue to maintain the marker at 79 School St., Piscataway, NJ, put up in 2005; and they hope to complete an anthology of writings about the modern school which was left unfinished by the late Paul Avrich. Jerry Mintz has also transfered his recordings of some of the reunions to DVD (such as the 2007 one).

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