Thursday, September 16

Cervantes, the school that Justa Freire and other teachers turned into an example for the world

One of the images from the end of August in Madrid was that of a municipal worker taking down the plaque on Maestra Justa Freire street (in the Las Águilas neighborhood, Latina) and restoring that of General Millán-Astray after a judgment of the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid. The judge considers that the military man did not participate directly in the coup (an opinion that is not shared by many historians). There are many voices, among which we could name that of the Ángel Llorca Foundation, who have shouted in the sky for the disappearance of the street dedicated to the teacher Freire, pioneer of the most modern public school in our country and retaliated by Franco after the war.

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Justa Freire, right next to the teacher Ángel Llorca, developed a large part of their teaching career in a very special school, the more than centennial Cervantes school at the roundabout of the Cuatro Caminos. It is worth talking about that pioneering school and these two pedagogues to think as a society what names deserve, and what not, to name the streets of our city.

The street of Maestro Ángel Llorca, which replaced that of General Rodrigo in Chamberí, managed to save itself from the judicial revisionism which followed the change of Francoist street names carried out in Madrid during the last legislature, by the way.

Centro Escolar Cervantes, experimental center and home for the children of the neighborhood

When the school opened its doors on January 15, 1918, the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood was taking off and still had little infrastructure and public services. The roundabout was a two-way door between the Ensanche norte (Chamberí) and the workers’ suburbs (Cuatro Caminos y Bellas Vistas), although in practice the Four Paths They were a single thing and their social nodes were built on the Chamberlain side: the first popular library (today known as Ruiz Egea), the Casa de Socorro, the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles or the first covered market (that of San Antonio) . The college came like manna to an orphan suburb of schools, beyond some small centers run by teachers in homes and schools sponsored by the Catholic Church.

The Cervantes was conceived from the beginning as a pioneering educational center. As of 1921, its principles were defined as an official school of pedagogical tests dependent on the Ministry of Public Instruction. The 324 students who attended the center had a school open from nine in the morning to nine at night with a dining room, film screenings, a circulating library, workshops, extracurricular activities, others for former students, among other new things in the public school of the time. Its teachers, a dozen officials proposed by the school itself, participated in international congresses and made group stays abroad.

The project was commissioned by the pedagogue Manuel Bartolomé Cossío to the architect Antonio Flórez Urdapilleta, whose family was related to the Free Institution of Education. Its brick construction still appears today in the roundabout perfectly integrated with the historic hamlet of the suburbs, a sober popular neo-Mudejar that, although today is in decline, identifies the popular Madrid that was developing then. The building was thought, therefore, from the perspective of educators, what is seen in the spaces for children to sunbathe, in the workshops (carpentry, bookbinding or artistic metalwork) or in the pioneering presence of a small pool.

The education of the center was developed on the rails of the latest educational ideas of the moment and the constant participation of the students. Starting in 1925, the 12 to 14-year-old students began to form an autonomous group, not guided by the teacher. Santiago Carrillo, a former student of the school, remembers having participated in this group, which took place in the presence of Llorca from the end of class until the center closed at nine o’clock at night. During these hours of educational freedom, the boys read or typed their texts. “We would have stayed to sleep if we had had a bed,” said the old communist politician in the documentary. Angel Llorca. The last rehearsal.

Schools are made by their teachers

Ángel Llorca was the first director of Grupo Escolar Cervantes and selected a pioneering team of seven teachers who did not know each other. He arrived in Madrid in 1913 and settled in the Student Residence, where he would live until 1936. During these years, he would end up being convinced of the central place that popular education should have in society. It was through his experience in republican circles, his contact with the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, his own previous experience in unitary classrooms or the knowledge of other European experiences – such as the New Schools – during his trips granted by the Board of Expansion of Studies .

With the arrival of the Second Republic and the conscious impulse to the public school operated during these years, Llorca was appointed member of the Board of Pedagogical Missions. His great idea had always been to support rural teachers and bring the best illustration to the villages of Spain, and now the sign of the times accompanied him.

One of the teachers of the body of professionals designed by Llorca, perhaps the most remembered today, was Justa Freire. She worked in the rural school in her native Zamora, it was in Cervantes where she developed as a teacher and pedagogue since 1921.

There he was in charge of social action, which included extracurricular activities, the relationship with families or the dining room, among other matters that gave him a special closeness with the students. Carrillo remembered her, with great affection, in charge of the workshops she attended. In addition, it was the cornerstone of some of the centre’s most ambitious pedagogical trials, such as the nursery school or teacher training.

During the Republic she would approve the oppositions to director of graduate schools, being named director of the Alfredo Calderón school center (today Father Poveda), thus becoming one of the first women to lead a team of men in a school. During the republican years he participated in the Pedagogical Missions and published texts on pedagogy.

At the end of the war, Justa Freire served a sentence in the Ventas jail – Criminal Case 16,536 – after being accused by a former colleague of having brought secular practices to their classrooms and “having once sung a song with Russian lyrics with his students” . During the two years she was imprisoned, she took charge, along with other retaliated teachers such as María Sánchez Arbós, of the adult school. This is why on occasion they have been named as the teachers of the Thirteen Roses.

During the first moments of the war, and despite being recently retired, Llorca remained in charge of the school and, later, was evacuated to the east. In December 36, he was in charge of organizing in El Perelló, just with his former collaborator, a school colony with evacuated children from Cervantes himself and from the Alfredo Calderón school, which he ran.

Both Llorca and Freire were purged by the Franco regime, as were thousands of other republican teachers. As we have said, she served a prison sentence and, when she left, she was forced to subsist by giving private classes until she was able to go to work at the British College with a secretary contract, in the mid-1950s. Shortly after, she was able to recover her career as a public school teacher, stripped of her position as director, of her seniority and punished to work outside of Madrid until the end of her career. Now he has also lost the street that bore his name since 2018.

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