I wrote this text for Anarkistiska Studiers blogg which is not up anymore. I there for post it here for you. It was originally split up into 4 parts, but here it comes as a full text.


Once I asked an anarchist friend of mine how she had raised her two daughters who are around my own age to become anarchists as well? Her answer was simple. She hadn’t “raised” them to become anarchists. No special rules. They were allowed to play with Barbie-dolls and eat at McDonalds - in contrast to many other families with less libertarian leftwing views.

At the time, these statements sounded like deadly revolutionary sins. But in later conversations with other anarchists who grew up in families in which one or several adult family members were anarchists, I discovered that none of them had felt that there has been a lot of nagging about anarchism.

During these talks we also discovered that most of the ones, we knew, who had grown up with anarchist parents have become anarchists themselves. The political engagement differed within the families. What they had in common was the feeling that they had more freedom during their upbringing than their friends. This led to the idea - once you have tasted freedom, you want to continue to be free. The same idea is imbued within the anarchist thinking. The only way to learn how to live in freedom is to live in freedom - no detours.

Anarchism is about independent individuals who come together to achieve common needs, goals and visions. The goal of anarchist pedagogy is to create individuals for that society. Freedom loving individuals who dare to think for themselves and go their own paths. They should also be responsible and respect other people’s individuality and freedom.

Throughout time anarchists have devoted themselves to adult education based on the same principles; the strengthening of the individual and awakening of the desire to learn. But in order to limit the subject this text will focus on children.


Seeing the child as a person of their own is central to the anarchist pedagogy. Already in 1865, Michail Bakunin wrote, in a manifesto for an anarchist association [1], that those who would be a part of the association had to be convinced not only of the equality of women but also that of the child. The child did not belong neither to the parents nor the society but, rather it’s own future freedom. Society should have no other aim or duty than giving the child a rational, human education based on justice and respect. The child should under no circumstances be abused or punished. In the same spirit and around the same time, the anarchist and teacher Louise Michel started to experiment at her private school in Montmartre in Paris. [2] She combined playing with learning and treated the children with respect. 

Witnesses tell about how the children loved her, clinging all over her and even playing jokes on her. Louise, rather than punish them, played along with their jokes instead. In her footsteps a couple of so called Modern Schools popped up in France, here, orphaned children could both study and live. They wanted to prove that children from “bad backgrounds” could , if given the possibilities and access to education, also become something “good”.

Another mile stone in the history of anarchist pedagogy is the Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer's work. [3] Ferrer ran his Escuela Moderna in the early 20th century, who taught radical social values. The school became a counter weight to the Catholic church’s monopoly on education in Spain.The school was soon shut down by the state. But the state did not stop at that.

In 1909 after a riot by soldiers who refused to go out and fight a war to defend Spanish colonies, Ferrer was imprisoned and executed. He was innocently accused of instigating the insurrection. The execution sparked international protests - but also interest in his pedagogy.

After his death more and more schools started both in Spain and around the world, mostly in the US where anarchists founded many so called Modern Schools. [4]

Michail Bakunin

Louise Michel

Francisco Ferrer


The anarchists criticized the pedagogy of the public school because it quelled the children’s free souls into being obedient, respecting authorities and being submissive - they were formed to fit the state and capitalism. In her magazine Mother Earth, the famous anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) wrote her article “The Child and it’s Enemies” [5], in it she wrote that the society did not want to create uncompromising individuals with human emotions and independent thoughts, but “a patient work slave, professional automaton, tax-paying citizen, or a righteous moralist.”

But the anarchists did not leave the children who went to public schools to fend for themselves but engaged together with other actors in different campaigns to ban corporal punishment in the schools. 

In the anarchist schools they wanted the intake of knowledge to be done as free and natural as possible. The children shouldn’t just repeat what they had learned automatically, but also understand how they could use that knowledge to learn more. The idea is that children are always learning things naturally, while playing. If one did not interfere with this natural process the child’s lust for learning would increase. Curiousness and adventurousness was encouraged as much as possible so that the children would develop into full and independent thinking individuals. The children came to school, did what they felt like doing, and learned things by doing. Other ideas that were dominating in the schools were vegetarian food and a lot of outdoor activities.

At the school in the colony Stelton, New Jersey, where many anarchists lived they had a kind of boarding-school for the children who’s parents lived somewhere else. It was a dormitory without walls where the children lived all year around. During winter they simply had to embed themselves with plenty of blankets and plaids. The Montessori-pedagogy also had an influence in some schools. In addition they made a great effort to erase the hierarchy between students and teachers.

The belief in the natural learning was strong. A story from a Modern School in the US, which is hard to validate, tells the story about a couple of boys who at the age of 10 still had not learned how to read and write. One day when they went out from the school to go on an adventure, like they usually did, they slipped into a silent movie show.

There, they got so disappointed because they could not read the text on the cinema screen, that the day after they realized the need of being able to read, and they learned to read and write.


The schools wanted to keep both religion and politics outside of the learning process. Instead the schools focused on humanistic and rational values. Aurora Molina, who went to school during the Spanish Revolution during the 1930s, recounts in the documentary Vivir la utopia: “We never read Bakunin, or Kropotkin, but rather Tolstoy and more humanistic works, it wasn’t a revolutionary schooling”. [6]

The anarchists distanced themselves from the authoritarian socialist's pedagogy where children were used as propaganda material. In the book Free Women of Spain [7] the phenomenon of children marching in uniforms is seen as a abomination: “Children cannot, and ought not, be either catholics, socialists, communists or libertarians. Children should only be what they are: Children”. [8]

Since the schools were working class oriented, beside from regular teachers, regular workers also teach their profession, for exampel painting, weaving or carpentry. A person without feeling or creativity, however, was not viewed as potential teacher. The following are the teachers at the Spanish modern school’s guidelines: [9]

(1) Pedagogy must be considered an art, based in creativity.

(2) Education is about a teacher’s discovering in every child and at every moment the living truth that each child and each moment has to offer.

(3) There is no doctrine so perfect as to be legitimately imposed on a child.

(4) A teacher should not love ”children in the abstract,” but each child in his or her particularity, and should attempt to learn from each child.

(5) A teacher should teach according to the capacities and abilities of each

particular student.

(6) A teacher should avoid competition and external rewards and punishments.

(7) Classes should be small (ideally, no more than ten children per teacher).


All of the schools didn’t always live up to their ideals and many got economical problem. In the US many schools was forced to close down after just a few years. But the school in Stelton, New Jersey held on all the way into the 1950. In the book Anarchist Voices - An oral history of Anarchism in America [10] by Paul Avrich many people who was involved in the different schools are interviewed. There, many former students testifies that for example punishments occurred at the school in Stelton.

Many choose to explain it by the fact that the founders of that school, Uncle and Auntie Ferm was not real anarchists, but rather more interested in trying out their own experimental pedagogy. Another explanation was that Auntie Ferm never managed to shake of her catholic upbringing and years in a convent.

One of the former students, Lydia Miller, tells in the book how she, much to the surprise of her anarchist mother, came to like the state run school much more. She needed the structures, not all children fit the free atmosphere. On the other side some things weren’t that free at the Stelton school.

Outside the dormatory at the Stelton School , 16 of may 1915.

As a child Lydia Miller loved to read books, and learned to read at a very young age. But Auntie Ferm was convinced that books weren’t good for children under the age of 10 years, so Lydia was not allowed to be in the school liberary. Lydia Miller felt that the biggest flaw of the school was that it was not anarchistic enough. [11]


In the south western Spain, in the town of Mériead lies the perhaps only official anarchist school that still exists in the country. The following text is based on an article from the book Anarchist Pedagogies [12] and was written in 2007. At the time of this article the school had 58 students between 1.5 to 17 years of age.

The school has chosen distinct anarchist values as their base despite pressure from some of the parents who wanted to make the school bourgeois by keeping the pedagogy but not the values [13]. The school has eight teachers, seven female and on male teacher. They prefer to call themselves “facilitator of experiences and processes”. The children call them by their first name or simply just “the adults”.

The school doesn't belong to the category of libertarian schools where the children can turn up and do whatever they want whenever they feel like it.

Instead the school is build upon a dynamic process which is the creation of a functioning collective glued together by certain outspoken values. The rights of the children and teachers are equal. The school is centered around different values picked from the anarchistic philosophy: equality, justice, solidarity, freedom, non-violence, culture and the most important: happiness. How these values are being taught is just as important as what they represent.

Self-management is a keystone in Paideias operations. The teacher Martín Luengo tells how after each break the children are loosing this. When they come back and for example there are carrots to be cut the children looks wondering at the teachers. At home the adults have done everything, that is not how it works at the school. Each aspect of the school is decided upon by everyone at the school at a general meeting. From lunch menu, time schemes, personal conflicts to what subjects that should be studied. Each detail is discussed collectively and without coercion.

“Their minds aren’t free when they have to ask what to do! [...]They are free when they know what they want. It is so much simpler to be told what to do than being free. Passing on your responsibility to others is easy” explains Martin Luengo. [14] The children are a part of different work groups with different tasks: taking care of the school yard, clean the locations and cook food. The role of the adults is not to tell the children what to do, instead the children manage themselves. In the food-group the role of the adult is to guide the children in nutrition knowledge and similar things. With that knowledge the children choose a menu for the rest the school themselves.

The preparations of the food is seen as an important part not only to mingle at lunchtime but also to teach oneself to become more independent and trust ones own judgement.

Before each semester a general meeting, asembleas, is organized. At the meeting they discuss how the last semester went, which subjects the students want to study in their workshops, which work groups they want to be a part of and how the schemes will be. There are four age groups, all with their own name of their choice and classroom. The age groups are 5-7 years old, 7-8 years old, 9-11 years old and 12-15 years old.

The pre-school also has their asemblea each morning. which is held by 4-5 year old children. One of the teachers explains to the impressed interviewer that these children are almost better than the older ones in keeping a general meeting - because they take it so seriously. The toddlers who cannot speak yet, naturally, cannot be part of the decision making, but they still know what a general meeting is, you sit down quietly. and listen.


In the middle and high school the Paideia school have so called commissions, consisting of two to four students. These commissions rotate so everyone gets a chance to be a part of them. Their tasks is to be mirrors that reflects the work at the school.

One example is the solution commission, whose task is to see if there are any problems or conflicts at the school. They should then try to solve the problem. If they cannot solve it, a general meeting is called in order to try to find a collective solution. Other commission groups observe the school bus, or take care of school material, there is also a commission to so make sure that schools values are being to practice the schools anarchist values are being followed.

Even the studies are somehow self-management. When the different groups have decided which subject they want to study, the students get to sign a “contract”. There they write which personal goals they have and when they decided study, the students get to sign a “contract”. There they write which personal goals they have and when they decided to have managed them. The contract also includes which school books to use and projects they want to make, how they plan to practice the schools anarchist values and which common work group they want to be a part of.

The lessons are self-driven almost entirely without the teacher present. When the student has done their schoolwork the teacher goes through it. At the end of each semester the students goes through how it went to reach their goals together.

According to the authors of the articles, the lessons are a bit chaotic. But despite this the school can brag about having good results in the national examination tests. Due to the fact that the school is not recognized by the state, these test have to be done in other schools. Instead of grades, the school uses reviews which includes all parts, subjects, collective work, values and so on.


In the article, which is based on the reporters three day visit at the school a conflict arises. A new boy at the school Pablo got accused by a classmate, Miguel, of biting him. Miguel didn’t want to show Pablo his drawing. The kids calls for a general meeting. A confident seven year old girl takes on the role as facilitator. One by one the children tells their version of what happened. It’s only after Pablo loudly protested, before it was his time to speak, an adult comes, Lali, to see if she can be of any help. One student suggests that they should compare the bite mark on Miguels arm. The kids all bites their own arm but the bite mark on Miguels arm isn’t Pablos. Lali asks if Miguel has bitten himself, he shakes his head. She explains to Pablo that he can not force anyone to do something they don’t want. She goes on and tells Miguel that he has to help Pablo if he does something violently. She then leaves it over to the facilitator, who in turn asks for suggestions of solutions.

Someone suggests that Pablo should not be allowed to be a part of the group anymore, another one suggests he should be outside of the activities the school does together for a while. Lali comes up with another solution: Pablo is new at the school and have to learn to act in a different way. How will he able to learn that if he is not part of the group? The group needs to help him and he must respect the group. After voting Lalis suggestion is accepted.

To be shut out from the collective is the most common form of correction - study and eat alone without ones friends. Afterwards you have to let the others know that you have understood that you did something wrong by calling for a general meeting. At the meeting you have to explain yourself, and then the asamblea decides its verdict.

“The whole process puts Maoist self criticism and confession rituals into mind” the reporters notes, “but the weight on the responsibility of both the individual and the collective, and the constant process of eliminating all forms of authority, quickly made us change our mind”. [15]

Just as would be expected from an anarchist school there have been student rebellions. A couple of students tell an anecdote about when the teachers was expelled from the school and the students ran the school by themselves: A strict rule at the school is that it’s not allowed to leave the general meeting without permission from the facilitator.

A general meeting was unusually messy, the student were screaming at each other, Pepa, the principal, got so irritated that she went without permission and the other teachers followed. As this was not allowed the student decided to expel the teachers. The teachers went on with it and left the school. The students took care of both the school, each other and their school work for a week before realizing it was to much for them. Then, they simply just contacted the teachers and asked them to come back.


When the reporters meet two students who have finished their years at Paideia and now study at state run schools they find out that both them, Johanna and Laura, often come and visit Paideia, sometimes even every day. They feel that the school is more like a family than a school. Everyone has a responsibility and take care of each other.

When Laura started at the state run gymnasium, she was shocked that the students sat with their back towards each other. Another thing she reacted on was the relationship and atmosphere between teachers and students. They perceived it to be ultra-masculine, men who is shouting and giving orders and only uses masculine terms all the time. But the hardest thing for them was to leave Paideia. They tell us that they learned how to learn new things and there fore have a great advantage compared to their classmate, who seem to miss both that and the motivation.

Something that puzzle the reporters is that neither Johanna or Laura are anarchist activists. And they have not heard about other former students who are. They asks themselves if the school really is a part of the social movements. Or does it only creates free children who in the end ends up being a part of the capitalist cog wheel?

Does these young adults, schooled in anarchism really want a radical change? Or perhaps they have learned to hide their anarchism and become a part of society, disguised as hair dressers, mail men, and nurses. The teacher Marti Luengo gives her point of view: “We do not want to create a rolling hoop of anarchists. Each student has to chose their own path” [16] . To her the ideal student is “someone who practice anarchism and anarchistic values wherever they are”. [17]

She continues, “In Spain many of the youths who is attracted to anarchism does not understand it’s basic ideas. They are attracted by violence and riots without embodying its true values. In fact they embody precisely what the state identify anarchism with, disorder and dirtiness. If you can’t change your way of thinking, then you can’t change anything att all. In Merida the students communicates their values to others - there is more free thinking locally here, more libertarian unions and a strong alternative culture”. [18] 

She finishes with a grin, “No student has ever gotten married”. [19]


  1. Michael Bakunin, ”The International Society or Brotherhood”, 1886, ”No Gods No Masters – An anthology of Anarchism”, Daniel Guerín, AK Press 2005 Edition, p 157-158 ISBN 1-904859-25-9.
  2. Edith Thomas, ”Louise Michel”, 1980, Black Rose Books. ISBN 0-919619-07-4
  3. Martha A. Ackelsberg, ”Free woman of Spain – Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women”, 2005, AK Press, p 81-82, ISBN 1-902593-96-0
  4. Paul Avrich, ”Anarchist Voices – an oral history of Anarchism in America”, 2005, AK Press, p 191, ISBN 1-904859-27-5
  5. Emma Goldman, ”The Child and its Enemies, by”, 1906 , ”Mother Earth”, April no 2, p 7-15.
  6.  ”Vivir La Utopia”, at 32 min 27 seconds.
  7. Martha A. Ackelsberg, ”Free woman of Spain – Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women”, 2005, AK Press, ISBN 1-902593-96-0
  8. Martha A. Ackelsberg, ”Free woman of Spain – Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women”, 2005, AK Press, p 165, ISBN 1-902593-96-0
  9. Martha A. Ackels, ”Free woman of Spain – Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women”, 2005, AK Press, p 166, ISBN 1-902593-96-0
  10. Paul Avrich, ”Anarchist Voices – an oral history of Anarchism in America”, 2005. AK Press, ISBN 1-904859-27-5
  11. Paul Avrich ”Anarchist Voices – an oral history of Anarchism in America”, 2005, AK Press, 2005, p 273-274, ISBN 1-904859-27-5
  12. Robert H. Haworth (Editor), ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press 2012, p 107-121, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  13. Robert H. Haworth (Editor), ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press, p 118, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  14. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press, p 109, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  15. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press 2012, p 117, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  16. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”,2012, PM Press, p 121, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  17. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press, p 121, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  18. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press, p 121, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7
  19. Robert H. Haworth (Editor) ”Anarchist pedagogies – collective actions, theories and critical reflections on education”, 2012, PM Press, p 121, ISBN 978-1-60486-484-7