Margaret Sanger, "Modern Schools in Spain, Part II," June 1916.
Source: " The Modern School, June 1916, pp. 38-41."
This is the second article in a three-part series. For preceding article see "Modern Schools in Spain," May 1916; for following article see "Schools and Education in Spain," August 1916. For draft version see LCM 130:126.
The education of the average man and woman is much neglected. He may not know the simplest plant or flower, but one look from the eye, one tone of the voice, is understood in a flash and action begins accordingly. Even the little gypsy children in the outskirt streets of Barcelona with their little dirty feet and tattered clothing, who dance weird dances and flatter strangers for pennies, have a natural intelligence beyond belief.
Someone has said that the Spanish are "perfect masters of saying everything and doing nothing", which I do not consider entirely true, but certainly they are the people of MAŅANA (tomorrow), with a maddening procrastination in all their plans which puts everything out of the mind on the promise of the future tomorrow. To an American especially is this maddening, whose habits are a constant rush, and who expects to see and know all Spain in a month. While the Spaniard will not be hurried and enjoys talking about doing things more than he enjoys doing them, and measures his time of the day, when asked what o'clock it is, by replying: "Four hours more of the sun."
In imagination I think the Spaniard is even richer than the French or Italian, and, laughable as it is, Don Quixote represents the Spanish temperament and character more truly than one could imagine. The strong enthusiasm which is shown for a project and the still stronger imagination which not only sees the matter begun but also finished, so characteristic of Don Quixote, is Spanish essence. Don Quixote thought nothing of invading cities and beheading giants, but it all ended in thinking about it. "All that I consider already done." He lost all interest after the plan was conceived, which shows again the natural hatred for drudgery and routine which the execution of a plan usually means.
Yet I feel there is a certain strain of fatalism about the Spaniard. I sometime think their "attempts" are carried out more from a spirit of revenge and personal hatred than from a feeling of social protest. This knowledge makes the authorities less liable to inflict tortures on political prisoners, knowing there may be a personal accounting called for.
The Spanish have very little praise for Spain or Spanish things, and exalt things foreign more than their own. There is an almost universal desire to cheat the Government and disobey it always, when possible. When I asked, after seeing little children leading blind people about the streets day after day, if those children were not compelled to be in school, the comrades laughed and said that even so important a matter as education, if compelled by the Government, would be opposed by the people, who feel that government sinks and debases everything it touches, even education. On another occasion, I watched with amazement a crowd of thousands of people promenade one night upon a freshly laid cemented pavement in the Rambla which had only been finished that afternoon. The fact that the authorities had placed ropes across both ends of the promenade and had placed a huge sign, "No trespassing allowed", was like a red rag before a bull, and at once everyone walked upon the pavement. The following night, however, I noticed six mounted policemen on both sides of the pavement, and nobody seemed to give either incident the slightest concern. Again, on crossing the frontier on going from France to Spain, I was in the carriage with three people coming from Paris, all trades-people no doubt: one large middle-aged Madonna-faced woman, a small gray-haired middle-aged man, evidently husband and wife, and a young man of, say, twenty-five. They were carrying boxes and huge parcels from Paris. As the train approached Por Bon (where the customs are), they unwrapped parcels and boxes, and much of the contents disappeared into the blouse of the woman. She removed her mantilla and placed a new hat on her head Yards of lovely lace went into her bodice. All the other goods went into the pockets and lining of the man's clothing, and the boxes were thrown out of the windows. At last, there were some few rolls of braid left which went inside the young man's socks, caught by the garters. The art of smuggling is well known and considered as natural as eating and drinking.
The strong love of ridicule in the Spanish closely resembles the French, though they are less apt to accept new ideas than the French. Some of the bitterness against authority is shown in proverb, "Prison and Lent are for the poor". The peasant who is ground down to the border of starvation is instinctively courteous and dignified, though embittered. Someone has said Spain is "the land where small meannesses are unknown", and to me it does not seem at all exaggerated, when one knows the great regard they have for one's personal feelings. A little instance I will relate to show you.
In Barcelona, overlooking the sea, stands a large column of Columbus, towering high above the city. At the base of the statue are scenes of various stages of his experience of the voyage and his return to the Court of Isabella and Ferdinand, etc., etc. Each scene is represented by small figures set in bronze. all very beautiful in every detail. The effect, however, was greatly spoiled to me because so many of the figures were missing, while nearly everyone of them had a head, leg, arm or foot missing. After looking at this for sometime and pondering over it, I came to the conclusion that figures so strongly set and made had not easily been removed and decided it had something to do with the Spanish-American War. I laughingly suggested this to several comrades who, though they knew of my opinions on patriotism and my lack of national feeling, would not admit that as the cause. Neither could I find the explanation from them. The only excuse or explanation was that ruffians had done it for sport. After leaving Spain and coming to England, I happened to mention the incident to one who knows Spain well, and who said I had been correct in my conjecture; that the people had stoned the statue of Columbus, and had tried to demolish it entirely at the time of the Spanish-American War. It would be an almost impossible task to find the Spaniard in all Spain to admit this to an American visiting that country.
There is so much one wants to say, because there is so much one loves of Spain, though there is a certain sadness that a country which at one time was the most powerful in the world has today, in the year 1915, almost no roads, to say nothing of railroads, no schools worthy of the name, few libraries, no art galleries; while sanitation and hygiene are strangers. Yet on the other hand, there is a gladness in one's heart that there is still a place in Europe where the people have retained their individuality. The few advantages of communication between towns and villages are a great drawback, and one good comrade said the greatest revolutionist will be the man who shall install a series of railroads throughout Spain. The centre pump still exists in every town or village, and even in the largest cities, like Barcelona, many are to be seen. Men and women carry the water to their homes in jugs in just the same primitive way as was done centuries ago.
Living is cheap, perhaps the cheapest of any country in Europe. The worker still wears his red, blue or black sash, with blue or black French blouse and white canvas shoes, which have rope soles. The wages are very low, of course, but there is not that poverty-of-the-soul look in the beggar in Spain that exists in the average man or woman of other countries. Priests are everywhere. In long black robes and hats they parade the streets chanting their foolishness early in the morning. The church bells are constantly ringing and churches are numerous. And in the train of the church in Spain, as in every country in which it exists, are the police, the army, the beggars, the blind and crippled and maimed--upon whom it feeds, and ignorance and illiteracy upon which its power is based.
Is it not natural that one knowing these people as Ferrer knew them, must have desired for them a freedom for their expression?
And yet I wonder at the strength and courage which dominated him in establishing the Modern School in Spain.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project