Legacy

While the Ferrer schools produced no celebrities, their graduates included a prominent dancer, a leading architect, and numerous other professionals, including doctors, psychologists, and teachers. Graduates tended to excel in later academic pursuits. In 1917 the first graduates of the Stelton colony, Ray Miller Shedlovsky and Emma Cohen, entered high school at New Brunswick and made a strong showing, Emma graduating as Valedictorian.

The adult center at the New York school should also be credited with the intellectual and artistic climate it helped establish, where Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow, Margaret Sanger, Robert Henri, Alfred Stieglitz, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Jack London, Emma Goldman, Will Durant, and others would meet and learn from each other.

The Modern School Association’s impact on education is difficult to measure. However, there are some links to later educational projects. James Dick, Jr, son of Modern School figures Jim and Nellie Dick, was involved in establishing the Summerhill Society in New York City. Another Summerhill founder, Paul Goodman, was familiar with the Stelton colony and its Ferrer school. Several Stelton teachers and alumni went on to positions at private and public schools, bringing their experiences with them. A number of Stelton alumni even established libertarian schools themselves, including the Walden School in Berkeley, CA and the Open Door School in Charlotte, NC. While it was active the Modern School Movement had the attention of educational innovators.

The Modern Schools did not usher in the anarchist goal of maximum liberty and equality. Yet historian Paul Avrich notes that of the Modern School graduates he has encountered, “the great majority have carried away a strong cooperative and libertarian ethic, a spirit of mutual aid and individual sovereignty, which has remained with them throughout their adult years, regardless of their politics or occupations.” Avrich is also inclined to agree with the observation that Modern School graduates seemed “more interesting than the average run of their contemporaries,” retaining “a certain freshness of outlook, a measure of self-confidence, a degree of versatility,” which distinguished them as a group from graduates of traditional schools. (352) While Avrich is quick to note the shortfalls of the Modern School Movement, including its reliance on one single method of education for all pupils regardless of their temperaments and the dogmatic methods of some of its teachers, he considers the achievements of the Modern Schools to be impressive.

The relative success or failure of the Modern School Movement must be weighed in terms of how realistic its goals were and how well it achieved these goals. While they did not usher in a social revolution they did create pockets of freedom in education that nurtured successful students.