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Remembering the Modern School

November 6, 2017
Alexander Khost

Alexander Khost speaks at the Friends of the Modern School meeting at Alexander Library. Photo credit: Malaika Jawed / The Daily Targum

Last month, the Libraries hosted the 45th annual gathering of the Friends of the Modern School at Alexander Library. From 1915 to 1953, the Modern School was an anarchist community located in the North Stelton Area of Piscataway Township that provided students an alternative education based on the principles of Spanish educator and activist Francisco Ferrer.

The Friends of the Modern School was founded in 1973 to preserve the memory of the Modern School. Its inaugural meeting was held at Rutgers and featured a keynote by historian Paul Avrich, who authored The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States (Princeton University Press, 1980).

Around the same time, the Modern School Collection in Special Collections and University Archives was established, and additional material is donated to the collection at each meeting of the Friends. Now the largest extant archival collection about Modern Schools, the Modern School Collection contains the official records of the Modern School of Stelton in addition to items donated by the school’s students and teachers, spanning the period from about 1880 to 1974.

This year’s meeting featured feminist writer Vivian Gornick, whose book Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life (Yale University Press, 2011) chronicles the story of Emma Goldman, one of the original organizers of the Ferrer Association in New York, which led to the Modern School’s founding. It also featured a screening of The Ferrer Colony, a short documentary by Rutgers alumnus Alexander Hilerio, and Friends vice president Alexander Khost. A Rutgers alumnus himself, Khost founded the Teddy McArdle Free School and play:groundNYC, a junkyard playground for children.

The Ferrer Colony from Alexander Hilerio on Vimeo.

Students in free schools “learn how to negotiate, they learn their own interests and skills, they learn their strengths and weaknesses and what they want to work on,” Khost told the Daily Targum in an interview.

“[Rutgers students] should consider themselves lucky to have the archive of the Modern School here because it was leading the way, really, into the 20th century, to make this approach one that people knew about,” he said.