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La Verneda-Sant Martí Adult School: A Reference for Neighborhood Popular Education

by Adrianna Aubert, Bea Villarejo, Joan Cabré & Tatiana Santos - 2016

Background/Context: The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, located in Barcelona, Spain, is a reference at the international level because of its trajectory and its contributions to the transformative movement in democratic education. The school was created in 1978 to address the demands of the working-class residents of the La Verneda neighborhood, who needed an adult school that could reverse the lack of academic education of neighborhood adults. This school builds on the precedents of popular education developed by the libertarian movement prior to the Franco dictatorship. Since its beginnings, the school has continuously taught people to read and write, helping adults obtain academic degrees that facilitated their labor insertion or promoted their access to university. The school’s success is confirmed by the current data: It counts approximately 2,000 participants, 5 workers, and 150 volunteers. The key to its success is an effective democratic organization and functioning as well as broad development of activities and an accessible schedule—the school is open Monday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.—that meets the real needs of neighborhood residents. The adult participants, together with the teachers and the volunteers, determine and organize the activities that will be conducted in the school.

Purpose: This article analyzes the democratic organization of this school and its relation to libertarian education in the early 20th century in Spain to investigate two research questions. First, what type of democratic organization and functioning is contributing to increasing the educational level and skills of nonacademic adults? Second, how does this organization contribute to the improvement of the quality of life achieved through the La Verneda neighborhood’s movement?

Research Design: The article reviews the literature on libertarian education in Spain and addresses the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí and Schools as Learning Communities. Additionally, other documents related to the history, activities, and functioning of this school and different types of documents about the neighborhood in which it is located are analyzed. Interviews with participants (this is how adult learners refer to themselves) and communicative observations in classrooms, assemblies, and meetings during the school year 2012–2013 were conducted to contrast with the information found in the internal documents of the school. Findings/Results: Besides the documents found on the School foundation that made explicit the libertarian educational ideals, the study identified these principles in the whole evolution and success of the Adult School until the current time. Particularly, we identified three main results: (1) nonacademic adults take part in all of the decision-making processes, therefore, all activities reflect their interests and needs, increasing their educational level and skills; (2) the school is open to the community and has engaged many diverse people as volunteers who contribute to a broad and high-quality education; and (3) the democratic organization of libertarian origins has influence beyond the School walls: a neighborhood movement to improve the quality of life and the transformation of children’s schools into Learning Communities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This article concludes that the principles present in libertarian education in the early 20th century in Spain have been included in the organization and in the education provided by the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí. These principles are contributing to increasing the educational level and skills of nonacademic adults as well as improving the quality of life achieved through the La Verneda neighborhood’s movement. Future research should focus on how this school model has been transferred to other schools and how it influenced the work of the teachers.

With the death of Franco (1975) and the challenge of overcoming the traces of a long-lasting dictatorship (1939–1975) that increased social, economic, and, particularly, educational inequalities, the organizations and initiatives that had been forbidden during this period reemerged to reconstruct their foundations and to make up for lost time (Capitán Díaz, 1994; Negrín, 2012; Zambrana, 1999).

The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, located in Barcelona, is the result of one neighborhood’s enthusiasm. This enthusiasm led to neighbors’ decision to change their reality and to recover the ideals that placed education at the heart of social transformation. Researchers have already studied this internationally recognized experience (Sánchez-Aroca, 1999); however, there is a gap in the literature regarding the influence of the ateneos and rationalist schools1 from the libertarian movement (developed before the Spanish Civil War) on the origin, the principles, and the organization of this exceptional school.

The present article contributes by expanding the knowledge on this influence. The libertarian ateneos have been defined as one of the most lasting and most prestigious cultural experiences in Spanish contemporary history (Guereña, 2006; Navarro, 2003; Villacorta, 2003). The ateneos are the result of the self-organization of the working class, which created space for education and access to high-quality culture for the less educated population (Vilanova, 1992). These spaces also support debate and critical thinking regarding the situation surrounding the workers’ lives (González, 2013).

This article analyzes the elements of democratic organization of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí that were influenced by libertarian education. Prestigious international intellectuals from different parts of the world have acknowledged the contribution of this school to democratic education. For example, Carol D. Lee, former president of the American Educational Research Association, said after visiting this school (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, n.d.), “Your example is inspiring and uplifting. Your work forms the fundamental basis for democratic participation and leadership. In our increasingly diverse and interdependent world, what you do is a model for us all. I have seen much to show when I return to Chicago.” The international recognition of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí is only one example of how the exceptional nature of this educational experience is being transferred to other social and educational movements that also fight for social transformation. The financial crisis of 2008 has placed quality education in the spotlight for its potential to overcome social inequalities (Damme & Karkkainen, 2011; European Commission, 2011). In particular in Spain, there is a need to attend to the thousands of young adults who left the educational system to access the labor market at times when no academic degrees were required; these young people constitute a great portion of the unemployment lists and thus increase their risk of social exclusion (Muñoz de Bustillo, Antón Pérez, Braña Pino, & Fernández Macías, 2009; Vallejo & Dooly, 2013). The search for new political and social alternatives enhances the search for more democratic ways of organizing that actually respond to the concerns and needs of a population excluded from education (Castañeda, 2012). For instance, the Promise Neighborhoods initiative, implemented in different cities in the United States, makes an effort to build a bridge between schools, families, and communities for effective collaboration. This program evidences the need for trust among neighbors, public and private institutions, and educational institutions so neighbors can have a say in the implementation of local initiatives (Geller, Doykos, Craven, Bess, & Nation, 2014). According to a study on the Clare Horizon neighborhood, an urban area in the midwestern United States (Scanlan & Miller, 2013), collaboration between school and community in decision making reduced inequalities in marginalized regions and offered educational opportunities that responded to the needs of the neighborhood. This sort of bottom-up collaboration was actually key in the libertarian education.

This article evidences how an educational project that is self-organized by the citizens, just like the ateneos in the beginning of the 20th century in Spain, can provide solutions to a population that is increasingly disenchanted by the existing power structures (Castañeda, 2012; Flesher, 2014). These arguments will be developed into four sections. First, the research method implemented for this study is presented. Second, the origins and the libertarian background of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí is introduced, focusing on the origins of the working-class neighborhood and the influence of libertarian educational experiences. Third, the principles of libertarian influence and democratic organization that led this school to increase the educational level and skills of nonacademic people and improve the quality of life of the neighborhood are identified. Fourth, the transference of these key principles from this school to primary and secondary schools is described. And finally, conclusions and avenues for future research are drawn.


This study of the libertarian and democratic organization influence on the La Verneda-Sant Martí School was developed through three methodological steps. First, there was a literature review on libertarian education in Spain, especially focused on the libertarian ateneos, other social movements, adult education at the time, and the Franco regime. The literature review also addressed studies on the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí and on the Learning Communities project. The searches were done in peer-reviewed journals included in international recognized databases, such as JCR-ISI Web of Science and Scopus. This first step contributed to the elaboration of aspects of the educational experiences of the libertarian movement in Spain relevant to current education.

The second step was a review of other documents, such as school proceedings and activity reports, magazines, newsletters, documentaries, and archived materials related to the history, activities, and functioning of this school and of the neighborhood where it is located. This material has contributed to enriching knowledge regarding the context of the school and the neighborhood, and it also helped to approach the adult school—its creation, organization, and work—more directly. In addition, demographic, historical, and political data from the La Verneda neighborhood were also collected to obtain an overview of the population and its social and educational needs, both at origin and today.

Finally, interviews with participants (this is how adult learners refer to themselves) and communicative observations in classrooms, assemblies, and meetings during the 2012–2013 school year were conducted to contrast with the information found in the internal documents of the school. The participants interviewed had been first involved in training courses as learners, and most of them became later volunteers in the school.


The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí is located in the neighborhood of La Verneda, which is in the Sant Martí district in the northeast of the city of Barcelona. In the 19th century, the Sant Martí district was considered to be one of the most industrialized regions in Spain (Ajuntament de Barcelona, n.d.; Caballé, n.d.; Consoli, 2013). However, the territory of the present neighborhood was not used as residential grounds until the mid-20th century. Instead, it was composed of fields for farming or factories and industrial areas. However, in the 1950s, people from other parts of Spain began to arrive in Barcelona to work in the growing industries. Most of these people were migrating from rural or depressed urban areas as a result of the changing Spanish economy. These immigrants began to create shanty towns in different parts of Barcelona (Campo & Genestar, 1981). To prevent the growth of shanty towns, the city council decided to regulate the use of uninhabited territory in La Verneda. On the July 16, 1956, this work began. A total of 36,500 apartments were built on a surface of approximately 43 Ha.2 The construction was unequal over the diverse areas of the neighborhood, but real estate speculation led to the construction of apartment houses higher than 16 floors, thereby contributing to a high density of 1,250 people per Ha. The primary goal was to accommodate as many immigrants as possible who were coming to work, especially for the factories of this district (Campo & Genestar, 1981). However, the relocation of all the people who were living in shanty towns in this district was not achieved until 1989, when the last shanty town, La Perona, disappeared (Moya, 2014).

As the neighborhood grew outside of its historical urban core and as the result of real estate speculation during the Franco regime, the La Verneda neighborhood emerged with no common culture or history on which to build a common identity. Additionally, the primary interests of the migrant population (to work to make a living and maintain the family) and the political situation of the first 20 years of the dictatorship led, according to some social and educational analyses, to an understanding of the neighborhood as “asleep” (Campo & Genestar, 1981). However, according to Giner (2011), this interpretation is not exactly true: Neighborhood participation began to grow in the 1970s because the social movement to improve the living conditions in the neighborhood could not emerge until the end of the dictatorship.

At this time, the neighborhood of La Verneda had high illiteracy rates (Campo & Genestar, 1981). Data from a census taken in 1970, still within the regime and conducted ​​with the intention of hiding reality, targeted the population “older than 10” (to minimize the impact of figures). Nevertheless, the percentage of illiteracy3 was 7%, 2% among men and 5% among women (Campo & Genestar, 1981). There were no data on the educational levels of the missing 93% of the population.

Research on the foundation of the adult school in the La Verneda neighborhood (Giner, 2011) evidences how some people who had remained in the clandestine movement took advantage of this moment to promote and strengthen democratic processes, pushing for liberation from 40 years of oppression by the fascist regime. These people made the decision to move to working-class disenfranchised areas such as La Verneda. This neighborhood was one of the few that had not yet started to organize to improve their living conditions. In her account, Giner introduced connections to the libertarian influence on this school, which self-organized from below. She argued that those who created the school, from the very beginning, had a clear idea of the two main criteria to build from: the contributions of the international scientific community in the field of education, and the educational contributions that had flourished in Spain before Franco’s coup d’etat, such as the libertarian cultural tradition.

The idea of creating an adult school based on these principles was shared with the members of the Education Committee of the Neighborhood Association of La Verneda and with some organizations in the neighborhood, ranging from the Libertarian Ateneo and the church to all political parties. The school had to rely on all neighborhood residents and the pluralistic coordination of all local organizations. The document Rationale for an Adult School in La Verneda-Sant Martí de Provençals (“Justificación de la Necesidad de Una Escuela,” 1979) was elaborated by the assembly of participants and teachers from the Adult School of La Verneda in one of the first meetings. It contains the signatures and seals of the organizations and political parties that agreed to provide joint support for the opening of an educational space. This document evidences that, from the very beginning, the space for decision making in the school was the assembly of the entire community. This format prevented the school from falling into the hands of the political parties, which were then taking power in some neighborhood associations.

In 1978, when institutional support for the creation of an adult school was achieved, an old building built by Franco’s “national movement” that had been a residence for women in the “women’s section of the movement” remained empty. Fathers and mothers in the neighborhood occupied the building to establish a nursery there. Because the purpose of the occupation was solidarity and service to the community, they accepted the proposal to locate the adult school in that building as well. Both the nursery and the adult school started their activities in 1978. The residents asked the city council, as the source of public administration, to take responsibility for the maintenance of the building. The city council agreed and started working to prepare the building for this use. Meanwhile, the adult school’s classes were developed in other areas of the neighborhood, such as the Libertarian Ateneo. On December 12, 1982, the building was inaugurated, and the Adult School moved in (Tellado, Serrano, & Portell, 2013).

The struggle of the people of the district to keep control over the school rather than relinquishing power to a political party evidences how the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí recovered the essence of the libertarian ateneos in Spain, developed from the early 20th century to the end of the civil war. In 1939, the dictatorship exiled and persecuted the people involved in the libertarian movement to silence them forever. In the following section, a summary and description of the libertarian ateneos is presented.


The ateneos have been defined as one of the most enduring and most prestigious cultural experiences in the history of contemporary Spain, especially those that were part of the libertarian movement (Guereña, 2006; Navarro, 2003; Villacorta, 2003). These ateneos began in the mid-19th century and were promoted by the bourgeoisie (Villacorta, 2003). In the early 20th century, the denominated libertarian ateneos were created by the workers’ movement. These were considered to be authentic universities for the people (Keene, 2001; Navarro, 2003; Villacorta, 2003). As an example of the success of this initiative, counting only the members of the ateneos gathered in the Catalan Union of Workers’ ateneos (one of the Spanish regions), there were already more than 10,000 members (Solà, 1993–1994). These ateneos emerged in contrast to the denominated bourgeois leisure class and as a tool for educating people (Navarro, 2003). The ateneos not only promoted the education of people with very low levels of education but also encouraged critical debates on the situation of male and female workers (González, 2013). The desire of male and female workers to access high-quality culture and the importance of education within the anarchist movement contributed to a multitude of courses, assemblies, conferences, and cultural events held at these ateneos (Vilanova, 1992). At that time, there was a high level of illiteracy in the working class in Barcelona: 1 in 2 adults (Keene, 2001). This type of workers’ organization based on self-organization and cooperation contributed to the rapid introduction of ​​the anarchist ideology in Spain, especially among workers (Comellas, 1988). This way of functioning for the workers, along with the strength of anarchist organizations such as the National Confederation of Workers (CNT) union established in 1910, enhanced these workers’ ability to create these libertarian ateneos. Autodidacticism, the self-management of education, and the acquisition of knowledge by these male and female workers contributed to education in the ateneos being consistently based on high-quality standards. Even when conferences were held, the speakers were always asked to go beyond the content that could be found in books or written texts (which had already been read by the workers; Tabernero-Holgado, Jiménez-Lucena, & Molero-Mesa, 2013).

The libertarian ateneos became a space where male and female workers could organize an education that their social and economic situation had prevented access to, that attended to their needs, and that was consistently based on quality standards. Thus, the workers’ organizations created the necessary tools for educating and enhancing the culture of male and female workers, offering a scientific and antiauthoritarian education (Ackelsberg, 2005; Tiana, 2003). For this reason, these libertarian ateneos were open in the evenings, and courses and conferences were held on Sundays. In particular, women were taken into account as one of the groups with the most difficulty accessing education and with higher levels of illiteracy (Ackelsberg, 2005). The ateneos therewith became the primary agent of education for male and female workers, compensating for the shortcomings of the formal educational system (Guereña, 2006). Among the studies they offered were Esperanto, history, science, general knowledge, reading groups of classic literature, theatre, and poetry. These courses did not aim at generating knowledge deposits or indoctrination, but rather at enhancing the capacity for critical thinking and a spirit of emancipation (Gamero, 1997), including social and personal behavior, the role of women, and so on, always taking a progressive and revolutionary perspective. Because one of the objectives was to become fully integrated in the daily life of the popular neighborhoods of the cities, offering the workers social, cultural, and free time activities with an emancipatory perspective that went beyond partisan politics was the key to providing access to education for those people who most needed it (González, 2013).

During the Second Republic (1931–1939), there was a peak for the popular ateneos thanks to the rise of the libertarian movement and the Social Revolution of 1936 in Spain (Solà, 1978). In addition, the number of rationalist day schools for the children and night schools for the adults also increased in every neighborhood, and they were set up within the anarchist unions and the libertarian ateneos. As a result, the CNT’s unions and the libertarian ateneos became not only instruments of struggle but also centers of proletarian education and cultural development. These libertarian educational experiences were contributing to working-class people envisioning a new economy, new work and social relationships, and a federation of internally autonomous neighborhoods (Paz, 2007).

This educational and cultural libertarian movement disappeared with the establishment of the Franco regime (1939–1936). However, after Franco’s death, social movements from the neighborhoods, such as the case of La Verneda, recovered the essence of these educational experiences in terms of both the organizational form and the objectives sought.


In this section, evidence drawn from the literature and the documentary review demonstrates how the libertarian and democratic organization of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí helps to increase the educational level and skills of nonacademic adults and improves the quality of life in the neighborhood as a whole. The elements identified in this type of organization are related to the following features: Decisions are taken by the participants, who are nonacademic working-class adults, the priority is to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people and groups in the neighborhood, community involvement is achieved through volunteering, and importance is placed on both instrumental learning and the comprehensive development of the individual as well as collective work with other organizations in the neighborhood.


With the same spirit of self-organization as the libertarian educational experiences, the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí has never been connected to any political party, public administration, or other organization. The school has never belonged to anyone other than its participants (Ackelsberg, 2005; Comellas, 1988; Tellado et al., 2013). In the libertarian ateneos, decisions were taken by consensus in the different spaces created, such as assemblies and working committees (Tiana, 2003, 2006). Similarly, the assembly became the highest decision-making body of the school. Everyone from the school and the community has the opportunity to participate in the assembly. The decisions taken are highly important and affect the educational projects, the offered activities, and the management. For example, the closure of the financial period and the budget are approved at the end of the year; decisions such as whether a new course on Spanish as a second language or a new course on financial literacy should be implemented are taken at the assembly (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2002, 2014). The assembly is held every month and a half at different times (morning, afternoon, and evening) to facilitate attendance for the largest number of participants possible. Some days before holding the assembly, the person responsible for each group/classroom/course, whether volunteer, participant, or educator, reports on the assembly agenda in his or her group; some time is reserved to discuss and make proposals on issues that arise. The agreements reached in each class are then brought to the assembly by one of the participants. Therewith, everyone can be represented.

There are other spaces for management and decision making, such as the Weekly Coordination and the Working Committees in which observations have been made. Here, the meetings for the Weekly Coordination, which are held to evaluate, analyze, and organize the daily life with all the members working at the school, have been observed. These weekly meetings are always open to anyone who wants to participate. At these meetings, the teachers make sure that everyone attending the meeting understands the issues being addressed to ensure that everybody feels comfortable in this space.

The Working Committees comprise participants, volunteers, and teachers at the school. Their function is to carry out the tasks arising from the decisions taken in the assembly. To highlight only one of these committees, there is one responsible for managing and working on issues related to cultural diversity. Their meetings are open to everyone who wants to participate, and the group is composed of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, to strengthen the role of the participants as decision makers in this project, there are two participants’ associations, Agora and Heura, which represent the school and have the final say in decision making. Agora is an association composed of all school participants, and Heura comprises female school participants (Àgora Statutes, 2013; Heura Statutes, 2013).

This libertarian and democratic organization has prevented the school from falling into corporate interests during its over-three-decades-long existence. Because the nonacademic adults have the final say in decision making, it has been possible to maintain the school’s mission to serve the educational interests and needs of the most vulnerable people in the area.

This democratic organization is complemented by a dialogic leadership of teachers, volunteers, and participants. Dialogic leadership is the process through which the leadership practices of the school are created, developed, and consolidated via the coordinated efforts of teachers, students, families, nonteaching staff, volunteers, and other community members (Padrós & Flecha, 2014). In their commitment as dialogic leaders, they seek to work together by supporting and promoting actions that contribute to transforming the school and the community.

To ensure that the democratic essence is not lost and that the hundreds of people who are becoming involved at the school each year learn about it, principles are worked on and reported on in different spaces that are especially established for this purpose. For example, in the assembly and in the different committees, those participants who know the school well explain the principles and functioning of the school to the other. During assemblies, immigrant people who do not yet speak Spanish are accompanied by someone who speaks both their language and Spanish to translate the discussion and encourage their participation. The democratic principles of the school’s functioning can also be found in written documents, for example, in the annual Activity Report of the school, which is accessible to all participants. As an organization of public service, they must ensure spaces for democratic participation to enhance the involvement of participants in the management and decision making. In the Activity Report 2013, we found:

All people must have equal opportunity to make their contributions; communication must be motivated by the force of the best argument; the agreements reached under these conditions must be respected; disagreements have to be expressed in the spaces for public debate and decision making, and not in private spaces where the arguments cannot be refuted; hence, to make participation real and active in all spaces for participation, decision making and coordination, we have some criteria for this functioning. These are: open to everyone, to individuals and neighborhood organizations, participants, volunteers, employees of the school associations, etc., the agenda, and its schedule of start time and end has to be respected, we have to try to listen and help as many people intervene as possible, therefore we try not to make too long speeches and we give priority to those people within the assembly who have not yet intervened. (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2013, p. 30)

The enduring existence of this school evidences how direct democracy can be compatible with efficiency. Just one year after the creation of this school, it already had 100 participants (Giner, 2011). The most recent data drawn from Activity Report 2013 indicate that during the 2012–2013 academic year, 2,470 people had participated in its diverse educational and cultural activities. Among them, 1,153 were newly enrolled participants, and 1,317 were former ones. The 148 volunteers, along with 5 educators hired by the associations, provided 297 course hours per week for free, from Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.


A democratic and libertarian education leads to placing the interests and needs of nonacademic adults experiencing greater inequality first. The review of the literature on the school and the interviews conducted have identified reported experiences of different adults who represent some of the different profiles of school participants (Beck-Gernsheim, Butler, & Puigvert, 2003; Casals, 2004; García, Ferrada, & Ruiz, 2011). They actually embodied different sorts of social exclusion that the school addressed for all of them.

A priority of the libertarian movement was providing the maximum number of workers access to a quality education. This effort by the libertarian movement organizations led the anarchist worker to become an educated person. Although working-class families had a very precarious economic situation, they read good literature together after dinner, discussing cultural and intellectual issues and incorporating critical thinking since very early in their lives (Ovejero-Bernal, 2005). Such a process of personal transformation can also be identified in the interviews with the participants of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí. Some illustrative examples such as Ana, Yusuf, and Francisco are presented.

Ana is an example of how this school is helping to overcome the double inequality suffered by nonacademic women, that is, gender inequality and the inequality of not having had access to education before. For the libertarian movement, especially for the organization Mujeres Libres [Free Women], overcoming gender inequality through education was essential. Mujeres Libres worked specifically to achieve access to education for working-class women as well as to transform personal and social relationships and engender “a certain level of culture, consciousness of power, and capacity for self-government” (Martín-Moruno & Ordónez-Rodríguez, 2009) as members of the community (Kaplan, 1971).

Ana has been a student at the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí since 1979. She came to Barcelona from a village in the province of Seville, in the South of Spain. She became literate and achieved her degree in basic education at the school. The democratic atmosphere that she encountered in this school very soon made ​​her feel as though she could also participate in the assemblies, providing feedback and learning from others. These democratic spaces empower people who are becoming literate, who often then become active participants in the management of the school. Ana shifted from not daring to speak in public to becoming engaged in the women’s association, Heura, and working for the rights of women within the school and the neighborhood. In addition to learning to read and write and continuing her studies, Ana has developed skills such as speaking in public, moderating a meeting, and holding speeches at conferences and discussion forums. In 2001, she participated in a conference organized at the University of Barcelona side by side with renowned feminist scholars like Judith Butler (Beck-Gernsheim et al., 2003; García et al., 2011). Ana, together with other nonacademic women who spoke at a panel, claimed rights for women with no academic qualifications who have been excluded from the spaces of feminist debate.

Just like Ana, who came to Barcelona during the internal migrations of the 1960s and 1970s in Spain, most participants of the libertarian ateneos in Barcelona in the early 20th century were male and female workers who had come to this ever-growing city from other parts of Spain to work in industry and in the construction of facilities such as the Metro [underground] (Figueres, 2003; Juliá, García, Jiménez, & Fusi, 2003; McRoberts, 2001; Termes, 1984). Many of these people did not have access to basic education, and their living conditions were miserable. In the ateneos, they found a space where they could obtain an education while also organizing their communities to improve their lives (Ackelsberg, 2005; González, 2015). The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, similar to the libertarian ateneos, has always given priority to the needs of the most disadvantaged people in the neighborhood, such as these young immigrants. For example, libertarian ateneos were an important space for social inclusion of young immigrants who came from other regions in Spain to work in Barcelona. Between 1920 and 1936, young people aged 16 to 24 made up the biggest population group in Spain. The mass migration of young workers from rural areas to urban industrial centers in the 1920s and 1930s filled Spain’s factories with large numbers of impressionable young men and women looking for ways to adapt to their new lives. The libertarian ateneos not only were a cultural and educational space for these youth but also became a social space where youth felt like they were home (Getman-Eraso, 2011).

In the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí’s first two decades, the majority of participants were working-class neighborhood residents, just like Ana. Most of them had no basic academic qualifications, and many women were illiterate (Nash, 1991; Termes, 1984; Zambrana, 1999).

Two decades later, this had changed, and other people began to arrive in the neighborhood—primarily immigrants from North Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe—to work in construction (because of real state overexpansion) or in the service sector (INE, 2009). The number of immigrants in Spain increased from 637,085 in 1998 to 3,730,610 in 2005 (Bernardos, 2009). Catalonia was a major recipient of this foreign immigration, and the city of Barcelona specifically received a great number of immigrants (Figueres, 2003; McRoberts, 2001; Termes, 1984). The neighborhood La Verneda, like other neighborhoods in Barcelona, received much of the immigrant population. After the participants discussed this new neighborhood reality, the school responded quickly to the demands for education made by the new residents (Babel, 2010; Sánchez-Aroca, 1999). As a result, the school not only began to organize Spanish and Catalan as a second language to address these people’s needs but also became “a family” for some of them and a space for the coexistence between cultures in the neighborhood.

Yusuf is a young Moroccan who came to Barcelona in the beginning of 2000 at the age of 22 without knowing Spanish. A friend told him about the school; there he learned to speak the language and then decided to continue studying to obtain a Degree of Secondary Education. He finally became engaged in one of the school’s Working Committees that worked to meet the neighborhoods’ diverse needs. This young man not only learned Spanish and continued his studies but also obtained a job and became a role model for many young Moroccans in the same situation.

The adult schools set up in libertarian ateneos and unions of the early 20th century were also places that offered young and not-so-young people a second chance to obtain an academic degree (Viñao-Frago, 2010). Many young people and adults who were not able to study when they were children or who had to abandon their studies before they graduated in order to work and contribute to their family’s economy were able to obtain academic degrees that helped them into labor inclusion. The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, since its very inception, has worked to make this possible in the neighborhood. This school is still essential to meeting the needs of the many youth without academic degrees who have become unemployed as a result of the 2008 economic crisis.

With the economic crisis that began after the bursting of the housing bubble, thousands of people lost their jobs, and in 2014, Spain reached 55% in youth unemployment (INE, 2014a). The vulnerable situation of many of the people in the neighborhood increased. The data show that since 2007, there have been 547,966 home evictions in Spain, most being primary residences (INE, 2014b). These data do not include evictions on the grounds of nonpayment of rent. The most affected groups have been immigrants, young people, and those without basic academic qualifications (Santa Cruz, Siles, & Vrecer, 2011). Many of those who came at a time of abundance, with plenty of job opportunities, were then left without work and without education, while some of those with some academic background had no certificate to confirm their degree (CEDEFOP, 2010).

In the school we also find young Spanish people who had abandoned their studies years before. They failed in an educational system that did not meet their needs and that led them to believe that studying was not for them (Ross & Leathwood, 2013; Santa Cruz, Siles, & Vrecer, 2011; Vallejo & Dooly, 2013). These youth, who dropped out of school, could find precarious occupations and even well-paid jobs in the construction sector before the crisis (Muñoz de Bustillo et al., 2009). They are now unemployed, young and not so young, and have returned to education to seek opportunities. The largest group at the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí for the 2012–2013 school year consisted of  people between 18 and 44 years of age (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2013).

Francisco is one of those who returned to training after losing his job. He came to the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí at the age of 39 after being fired from the labor market and without any expectations of finding work because he had no academic qualifications. His story shows that despite the lack of motivation that led him to leave school early and enter the labor market with ease, the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí changed his expectations and his attitude toward education : “I just went to the School to get a degree. Two weeks after I started the classes, I changed the ‘chip’ [attitude]. I found out that I was able to be interested in studying and I liked learning.” Francisco found a job during midterm, but he did not stop his classes because he had become aware of the importance of education beyond obtaining a degree, and he wanted to be part of the school.

In times of economic crisis, racism grows, and ideologies such as Nazism gain followers (ECRI secretariat, 2011). The functioning of this school has always given priority to meeting the needs of those in a situation of greater inequality, and in the spaces for debate and reflection, every single person is taken into account and listened to; these qualities create an environment in which solidarity, not racism, is increasing. Solidarity was also one of the main values that the actions of the libertarian movement were based on (Laqua, 2014). Researchers have described this reality as the creation of communities of solidarity (Richards, 2006). It is well documented how in these solidarity communities, the working-class residents helped each other to meet their needs. In Francisco’s story, his empathy for other young immigrants like he who have lost their jobs can be identified.

Francisco recognizes that participating in this school has made him a better person. When he is asked about his relationship with immigrants from his class, he has nothing but praise for his classmates. He remembers that once, one of the Moroccan participants waited for him all afternoon in the school to return some borrowed notes. Francisco said, “Very few people do that.”

The stories of Anna, Yusuf, and Francisco are just a few of many similar stories from people at this school. These stories show how, similar to the libertarian movement of the early 20th century, free and quality education for all people, especially for the most vulnerable, has been a priority throughout this school’s history.


In the ateneos and rationalist schools of the libertarian movement, education was based on science, thus overcoming education based on superstition or folk assumptions (Tiana, 2006). Providing an education based on scientific evidence is another principle that the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí holds in common with the educational experiences of the libertarian movement. Based on the scientific evidence that family education helps to overcome school failure and early school leaving (Gatt, Ojala, & Soler, 2011; Moussa-Inaty & de la Vega, 2013), the participants decided that the school should commit to reducing school failure among the children and youth of the neighborhood. Therefore, they decided to implement a project providing family education in the primary and secondary schools of the area in most need (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2010). The project started in five primary schools, and the education activities were determined according to the interests of the families. They ranged from courses on Catalan, Spanish, and English as a second language, to literacy classes, to information and communication technology (ICT) workshops. In addition, classes are offered oriented toward helping families help their children with homework (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2009–2010). The project coordinator emphasizes the importance of this family education for the educational success of children in the neighborhood and highlights that there were parents who never read with their children before. In relation to these statements, a 9-year-old boy whose mother, an immigrant from Ukraine, participated in the family education project explained,

I liked it very much when my mother came to study Catalan. I thought it was good idea that she learned the same language as I did. It is very funny because we go to the same school at the same time. I told her that I liked how she speaks in Catalan and that I was very proud of her. She got excited. This helps her to help me with my homework and to understand Catalan people.

The feelings of this child are just one example among many others that show the influence that family education is having on families in the neighborhood. Family education, and especially the education of working-class women, was also a priority for the libertarian movement of the early 20th century. The importance of community and family education for the working class, and especially for mothers to enhance educational interactions that would influence the education of their children, was recognized by the libertarian movement. The organization Mujeres Libres [Free Women]4 elaborated specific educational programs for female workers with this aim. They emphasized that these programs for mothers should eliminate what they called “cultural subordination” (Mujeres Libres, 1937). The Free Women provided parenting courses with the purpose of encouraging mothers to have cultural and educational interactions that would favor their children’s education so that in the future, these children would fight for a new life without subordination or inequality (Ackelsberg, 2005; Mujeres Libres, 1937).


The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí depends on approximately 150 volunteers who represent another essential element of the school. Volunteers were also crucial in many of the rationalist schools that proliferated under the libertarian movement during the first three decades of the 20th century (Solà, 1978).

These schools were open to the community, and everybody could become involved and collaborate. They respected the libertarian principles and were run according to the motto, “Everyone according to their possibilities, everyone according to their needs” (Kropotkin, 1913). The people who voluntarily collaborated were called “friends of the school” and, together with the families and teachers, they all managed the school and took decisions democratically, always considering what would be best for everyone (Berenguer, 1988). Thanks to the excellent work of the libertarian movement in the education of the working-class people, many came to acquire knowledge in a great number of fields. In life stories of Spanish anarchist men and women, we identified that after their own training in the ateneos, they volunteered to train others in the ateneos for adults or in rationalist schools for children (Alexander, 1999; Ovejero-Bernal, 2005). For instance, documents from a rationalist school in Mataró (a city close to Barcelona) show that they had between 250 and 300 students, aged 6 to 16, and five teachers, but only one had official credentials. In his life story, this teacher explained that the school had as good a team as any state school of the time. They taught regular subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, literature, and mathematics through algebra for all students. In addition, there were other more advanced subjects for those who had a higher education level. Sometimes these courses were taught by intellectuals who worked closely with the libertarian movement, thus also with their schools (Alexander, 1999).

The involvement of volunteers from the community at the school is not just a libertarian principle. Research has also evidenced that this type of involvement can lead to improved learning and academic performance as a result of the increase in and diversity of learning interactions experienced by students (Gómez, Munté, & Sordé, 2014). In the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, the volunteers are very diverse, being of different cultural origins, ages, educational levels, and socioeconomic status. This school, like the rationalist schools and the ateneos, grounds its educational practices in both research evidence about the importance of community involvement, and solidarity as a libertarian principle (Bookchin, 1998; Wilde, 2013). In the adult school, the solidarity to overcome social and educational inequalities keeps the volunteers and the community united (Sánchez-Aroca, 1999). In libertarian theory and practice, this involvement is known as “mutual aid” (Kropotkin, 1972).

Isabel is another of the residents who, like many other working-class families, arrived in the neighborhood in the 1960s. Her personal narrative starts with illiteracy. She explained that she did not want to start her marriage with a fingerprint on the records, and how she finally signed with an illegible signature she had practiced for days. Isabel had managed to “survive” being unable to read or write. Day after day, and year after year, she had learned to find tricks to hide her illiteracy. For example, she would say that she forgot her glasses, or she would hide in the background to be far away from a sign, a menu, or a letter. She tried everything possible to hide from people that she could not read or write. When she finally learned of the adult school in the neighborhood, she decided to break with that secret and start literacy classes. Now, at the age of 75, she teaches other women, some of her generation from the postwar period, but also new immigrant women who came from other countries in recent years. She explained that she is proud to contribute to changing the lives of these women, just as others in this school helped her to change her life.

Ana Maria, 63 years old, is another of these women. She enrolled in school for the 1995–1996 academic year to obtain her degree in secondary education. In only two years, she not only obtained the degree but also became involved in the dialogic literary gatherings. They were reading Quixote, a book she had at home but had never opened and decided to change that. Later, she also started to collaborate as a volunteer in the school’s administrative management. Similarly, Paco, at the age of 40, signed up to obtain a degree in secondary education. Later, he volunteered by offering history classes because he felt passionate about that. He then decided to combine volunteering with his own preparation for the exam to access higher education. He wanted to be a college student in history. Angela also arrived in Barcelona in the 1960s, migrating from the South of Spain. She started to attend basic education classes and ended up reading Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway, among other authors. She explained how the book The Old Man and the Sea impressed her because it reinforced in her the idea that the elderly can do anything they please. She explained that as a consequence of participating in the literary gatherings, she can now exchange books with her daughters or surf the Internet with her grandson. Angela became involved as a volunteer through the associations, participating in the school management, and she ended up in involved in the coordination of the literary gathering. Saïd, a 26-year-old Moroccan, abandoned law school to emigrate to Spain in 2002. He enrolled in the school to learn Spanish, and now he teaches his mother language, Arabic, on Wednesday afternoons. Each of these stories shows the strong potential of volunteering, which emerges in a school project in which volunteers are the participants who, in addition to embodying self-transformation, have a say, propose ideas, and made decisions.

Another type of volunteer in this school are young university students who are excited to collaborate with such an organization. Some are students in the field of education or social sciences who want to become teachers or community workers; others find in the school a meaningful place. Among them we found Jian Sun, a 22-year-old economics undergraduate. He volunteers teaching Chinese on Sunday mornings. He arrived from China with his family at the age of 12 and learned about this school because his mother was learning Spanish and Catalan there. She first volunteered teaching Spanish as a second language to adult immigrants and now teaches Chinese because, he says, it has become a trend among Spaniards. Jian Sun states that, when he finishes university, he does not want to be just one more entrepreneur, but rather to contribute to society, maybe from the field of education. Similarly, Miguel joined the school when he was studying communication in college. He learned about the school through a professor who also volunteered. He spends many weekdays and weekends at the computer room of the school, teaching digital literacy and helping with ICT matters. He said that he would like to work on improving user-friendly access from the perspective of nonacademic computer users.

Other volunteers are neighbors, university faculty, or professionals in different fields who have come to know about this project and want to contribute socially. This great diversity of volunteers, together with the five teachers of this school, makes possible an excellent adult school in a working-class neighborhood of Barcelona in which all activities are free. The volunteers are crucial to the school’s ability to offer an education that meets the needs of the participants and contributes to enhancing their skills and educational level.


The libertarian movement of the early 20th century was based on a comprehensive conception of education, that is, an education that encompasses the study of science, technology, arts, and culture, while the critical spirit is also encouraged to achieve the integral development of the individual (Nash, 1991). This conception of education was influenced by the anarchist pedagogue Paul Robin, who created an internationally known school in the late 19th century in France. According to this view of education, this must respect the physical, intellectual, moral, and free development of the individual, far from any dogmatism (McLaren, 1981). To accomplish that, in the ateneos and other educational organizations of the libertarian movement, high-quality education was offered to male and female workers (Guereña, 2006; González, 2013; Tabernero-Holgado, Jiménez-Lucena, & Molero-Mesa, 2013; Tiana, 2006). One example of this was the advanced courses for workers held in a popular university established by the CNT in the buildings of an former seminary in Barcelona. Its teachers included many of the faculty of the University of Barcelona, as well as many from the schools that the anarchists ran before (and during) the Spanish Civil War. The popular university offered a wide range of courses, including sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. There was a particular emphasis on economics (Alexander, 1999). These libertarian popular universities did not try to preach anarchism. Juan Pintado, who in later years became a leader of the CNT in exile, explained that as a student in the popular university of Barcelona, he never heard a lecture on anarchism, although he “did hear much about liberty” (Alexander, 1999, p. 668).

The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí inherited this conception of comprehensive education from the libertarian movement. The education offered attends the interests of the participants and provides access to education for all; it is always a priority that no person be left behind, and this school has never indoctrinated participants in any political ideology (Casals, 2004; Sánchez-Aroca, 1999). The educational provision has changed over the years to respond to the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood and in society in general (Babel, 2010).

As a consequence of the financial crisis and its economic impact on families, the assembly decided to create a course on financial literacy. Through this course, neighborhood residents are developing skills and acquiring new knowledge regarding personal finances to improve their management of their personal economics in order to enable them to distinguish good credit from toxic credit and to help them to determine whether a bank employee is providing a clear explanation or not. Moreover, in addition to basic education and literacy, the school offers preparatory courses for the degree in secondary education and for people older than 25 to access higher education.5 Language learning and ICT are other priorities for participants because these skills increase the possibility of finding job opportunities. Therefore, the school offers different English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Chinese courses as well as courses on different information and communication technologies. Enrollment in these courses is open throughout the year so that no one is left out.

Similar to the comprehensive libertarian education, cultural education and the development of critical thinking are also priorities at this school. One of the cultural activities that is having the greatest impact on increasing skills and educational levels is the dialogic literary gatherings (Flecha, 2000; Serrano & Mirceva, 2010) in which adults with no academic degrees read classic literature by writers such as Joyce, Dostoyevsky, and Woolf. The first dialogic literary gathering6 was founded in 1980 in the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí; today it has become the movement called “1001 Dialogic Gatherings,” promoted by the Spanish Confederation of Federations and Associations of Participants in Adult Education (CONFAPEA) to disseminate this cultural and educational experience in Spain and worldwide. The origin of this experience is influenced by other educational experiences that promoted the access of workers in Spain to classical culture from the late 19th century until the end of the Civil War in 1939. This access was promoted in the libertarian ateneos, the rationalist schools, the ILE (Institución Libre de Enseñanza) [Free Institution of Education], the Popular University of Blasco Ibáñez, and the theater groups promoted by the Pedagogic Missions, such as La Barraca of Federico García Lorca (Giner, 2011). During that time, it was common to organize collective readings of classic works of world literature in the labor movement.

In one of the life stories of Spanish anarchists published in the literature, Carrasquer, a militant of the CNT who created a rationalist school in his neighborhood, explained how an effort was made to establish libraries in each school and ateneo, something that had been comparatively rare before the Spanish Social Revolution of 1936.7 Often these libraries were stocked with books contributed by the citizenry (Alexander, 1999). Many workers, including Durruti, who was one of the anarchist leaders of the Social Revolution, were self-taught, reading at these libraries and discussing the books with others. These libraries were used to find classic works of literature and of the major thinkers of humanity (Paz, 2007). The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí created the dialogic literary gatherings influenced by this libertarian cultural tradition to overcome the dominant theories based on reproductionism and on the deficit that excludes adults of disadvantaged social classes from accessing this type of culture (Flecha, 2000; Flecha & Giroux, 1992). As in the educational experiences of the libertarian movement, the variety of activities offered at this school is aimed at the development of the person. The priority is for all people to have the opportunity to access high-quality culture and to acquire the basic knowledge necessary to be included in today’s society.


Solidarity and mutual aid are two of the main principles of the libertarian movement that led to the Spanish Social Revolution of 1936. The desire to be independent from any political party that would impersonate the voices of the people led these revolutionaries to become organized in Revolutionary Committees. In every neighborhood, there was one Revolutionary Committee in which male and female workers, along with their children and anyone else in the community, could work together for the collective organization of services, factories, education, and so on (Preston, 2001).

In stories collected in the literature on the libertarian movement, solidarity and fraternity are identified as one of motors for social change (Berenguer, 1988; Ruiz-Eugenio, 2010). The people themselves, although many had not had access to education, organized in these committees independently. A female worker who was involved in one of the Revolutionary Committees of Barcelona in 1936 explained the following in her story (Berenguer, 1988, p. 70): “The majority of us had no education. We had not been to school past the age of eleven or twelve. . . . Fraternity, which was our main principle, was the answer. Above all else, we had to help and support each other in our struggle.” Another of the life stories, collected from a female worker involved in one of these committees, highlights the importance of solidarity as a form of organizing the community and as a key feature that led the workers to transform their lives (Ruiz-Eugenio, 2010, p. 62):

It was a constructive Revolution, it involved changing people’s way of life, people’s morality, people’s confidence, it was something else that we all wanted, well I went along with that way of thinking. The only way to support it is by doing something. . . . The question was to help each other mutually. Solidarity, in that sense, was all that was necessary.

The educational task carried out in rationalist schools and libertarian ateneos during the first decades of the 20th century merged into the Social Revolution. The Spanish libertarians maintained the idea that their organizations had to develop educational and cultural activities, allowing the workers to become aware of their social function and their collective power to transform society (Tiana, 2006). This school has inherited the libertarian movement awareness of a collective commitment to transforming society.

The political parties assumed control of the neighborhood associations that had been created when, in the late 1970s, the dictatorship came to an end and the democratic transition began. The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí played a key role in preventing culture and education from being colonized by political parties (Giner, 2011). The school encouraged culture and education to grow stronger among the people and remain free from political colors because at that time, political colors made it difficult for people to reach consensus. The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí exclusively wanted to depend on dialogue and deliberative organization, which could help the school to enrich its participants with the power of radical transformation. Other organizations followed suit that preferred to be an alternative for the plural and radically democratic citizenship instead of being under the guise of a political party. From these premises, a coordinating body for the neighborhood organizations is born: VERN, which was legalized in 1986. For the first time, a neighborhood association was not the only intermediary between the residents and the local administration; instead, VERN, as an umbrella organization, was the valid source of interaction for any collective claim supported by the people, and the organizations and political parties relied on their coordinated agreement, which was stronger than a single small association alone (VERN Statutes, 2012).

The educational project of this school is based on the premise that individual transformation needs to be accompanied by the social transformation of the environment (Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, 2005). For this reason, the school became an active agent within VERN, the coordinating organization for all. The current school principal, in an interview for a renowned teachers’ journal in Spain, argued (Bergós, 2010, p. 12), “We are well aware that if we want to change the educational difficulties we also have to change the inequalities in our neighborhood. We work closely with other entities to contribute to the improvement of the problems in the district.”

The school has been very active in improving the quality of life of people in the neighborhood through VERN (Tellado et al., 2013). A participant of the school interviewed described, “The neighborhood was a handful of tall buildings crowded with workers, without green areas and without public transportation.” Now, as a result of the struggle and collective work of all the organizations within VERN, large parks have been built. In the same place the administration wanted to build a highway to ease traffic into the Barcelona city center, a beautiful avenue with trees now crosses the neighborhood; several metro stations were also constructed in the 1990s that now connect the neighborhood with the rest of the city (Sánchez-Aroca, 1999; Tellado et al., 2013).


Libertarian ateneos, or popular universities for workers and rationalist schools for their children, departed from the same conception of education (Alexander, 1999). The experience of the libertarian adult education influenced the rationalist schools and vice versa.

The model of democratic organization from the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí has also been transferred to early childhood, primary, and secondary education schools in Spain and Latin American countries through the project called Schools as Learning Communities. Currently, more than 200 schools have been transformed into Learning Communities.8 The La Verneda-Sant Martí Adult School is the first Learning Community of this movement. The transference of this model to other schools implies that the participants decide, on the grounds of valid arguments, how to respond to the needs of the contexts in which the schools are located.

In Schools as Learning Communities, the teachers, together with the entire educational community, manage the school based on the needs and suggestions of all members, with the clear purpose of transforming the context and contributing to improving the lives of the children and adults who compose the community (Ríos, Herrero, & Rodríguez, 2013).

It is precisely this purpose, together with a clear grassroots functioning, that makes possible the transformation of school environments into Learning Communities. The living conditions of the neighborhood residents improve simultaneously with the academic performance of the students because transformation goes beyond the classroom. The Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, just like the ateneos of the libertarian movement of the last century, becomes a neighborhood hub by involving the entire school community in the implementation of educational activities that contribute to academic improvement and social transformation (Brown, Gómez, & Munté, 2013; Elboj, Pulido, & Welikala, 2013).


Literature exists on the experience of the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, but there is a gap in this literature highlighting the influence of the libertarian movement on its origins and functioning. To address this gap, this article identified the libertarian influence on the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí, both on its origins and on its present functioning. The libertarian elements that have been identified as greatly influencing the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí are the principles of self-organization and self-management; working for those who are in a situation of inequality; solidarity and mutual aid in the community in which everyone contributes to according to his or her potential; and high-quality education and commitment to the social transformation of the environment.

The two research questions that guided this article were: What type of democratic organization and functioning contribute to increasing the educational level and skills of nonacademic adult people? How does this organization contribute to the improvement of the quality of life achieved by the neighborhood’s movement? In a democratic and libertarian organization, it is crucial that nonacademic adults take decisions in the assemblies. In this school, the participants are significatively increasing their educational expectations, levels, and skills because all the activities are developed to meet their needs and interests. For this reason, illiterate women from the postwar period can now learn to read and write, and they can also teach literacy to other women of their generation and to new immigrant women who, from different circumstances but like them, did not have access to education. They thus engage in the struggle for women’s rights. This school also makes it possible for young and not-so-young people who abandoned school without obtaining basic qualifications and facing unemployment as a consequence of the deep economic crisis in Spain to ultimately obtain a degree and seek further opportunities. Some of these people have even been able to find work during these difficult years. These young unemployed here share classrooms with young Moroccan or Latin American immigrants who also live in the neighborhood and establish new friendships and solidarity with them.

The evidence from the reviewed literature suggests that nonacademic adults not only increase their educational level but also change their lives and improve the lives of others in the neighborhood of La Verneda. The Adult School has historically played a key role in improving this quality of life. As we have appreciated, the school was crucial in coordinating different neighborhood associations into an umbrella organization that provided them with the strength to succeed in improving the neighborhood—for instance, through achieving public transportation and green zones. The school has contributed daily to improving a neighborhood that was considered to be asleep by many.

Today, the impact of Schools in early childhood, primary, and secondary education transformed into Learning Communities is widely visible and recognized for the improvements in the outcomes for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the reduction of early school leaving. The Learning Communities are rooted in the Adult School of La Verneda-Sant Martí. More research is needed on the transference of a successful school in a working-class neighborhood to other schools, and the influence on families’ involvement and on the work of the teachers with them. Moreover, further research will also face the challenge of identifying the never-ending presence of grassroots utopian historical initiatives in any present project that is able to achieve and sustain social and educational change.


1. The libertarian ateneos were meant for adults, whereas the rationalist schools were meant for children. But some rationalist schools, such as the Modern School of Ferrer i Guàrdia, organized lectures and discussions for parents, families, and the entire community on Sunday mornings. Another article in this special issue explains the experience of this school (Garcia, Redondo, Padrós, & Melgar, 2016).

2. One hectare (Ha) equals 2,471 American acres.

3. The indicator used by the regime in 1970 to describe illiteracy was “does not read nor write.”

4. Free Women is an organization of the libertarian movement specifically composed by working-class women. For more information, see the article about Free Women in this special issue (Giner, Ruiz, Ángeles Serrano, & Valls, 2016).

5. The exams to access university for people over 25 years targets those who lack an educational certificate that would allow them to enter university.

6. The history, functioning, and principles of dialogic learning, which are the foundation of the dialogic literary gatherings of the Adult School of The Verneda-Sant Martí, are explained in the book Sharing Words (Flecha, 2000). Details on this experience have also been published in scientific articles (Sánchez-Aroca, 1999).

7. The Spanish Social Revolution started on July 19, 1936, and ended in May 1937. Noam Chomsky (2006) has highlighted this movement as the most extraordinary libertarian revolution in history. This revolution was a response to the military coup d’etat. The CNT-FAI (National Confederation of Labor-Iberian Anarchist Federation) and the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification), favorable to libertarian communism, mobilized thousands of people through Revolutionary Committees, taking control of important economic sectors of Spain.

8. More information on Learning Communities can be found on the official website: http://utopiadream.info/ca/centros-en-funcionamiento/llista_cda


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 4, 2016, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19362, Date Accessed: 2/26/2021 11:29:20 AM

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  • Adrianna Aubert
    University of Barcelona
    E-mail Author
    ADRIANA AUBERT is professor in the Department of Sociological Theory, Philosophy of Law and Methodology of the Social Sciences at the University of Barcelona. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Horizon 2020 Project SOLIDUS: “Solidarity in European Societies: Empowerment, Social Justice and Citizenship” and WP9 leader on this project. Recently publications: “Amaya: Dialogic Literary Gatherings Evoking Passion for Learning and a Transformation of the Relationships of a Roma Girl With Her Classmates,” Qualitative Inquiry, 21(10), 858–864 (2015); and coauthor of Compartiendo las diferencias en un mismo espacio ¿Comunidad Societal o Patriotismo de la Constitución? Scripta Nova. Revista Electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales, 17, nº 427 (1), (2013).
  • Bea Villarejo
    University of Barcelona
    E-mail Author
    BEATRIZ VILLAREJO is predoctoral researcher with a Catalonia government fellowship in the Department of Theory and History of Education at the University of Barcelona. Her career as researcher highlights her collaboration in INCLUD-ED: Strategies for Inclusion and Social Cohesion in Europe from Education (FP6). Her research is focused on improving education and preventive socialization of online gender violence and among teenagers, as well as social inclusion and democratic participation of vulnerable groups. She has recently published Flecha, R., & Villarejo, B. Pedagogía crítica: Un acercamiento al derecho real de la educación. Revista Internacional de Educación para la Justicia Social (RIEJS), 4(2), 87–100 (2015).
  • Joan Cabré
    Rovira y Virgili University
    E-mail Author
    JOAN CABRÉ is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Pedagogy at the Rovira i Virgili University (URV). His main research interests are social inclusion, communicative methodology of research, and ICT. He is participating in Evaluating the Impact and Outcomes of EU SSH Research (7FP). His recent publications are: Diez, J., & Cabré, J. (2015). Using dialogic talk to teach mathematics: The case of interactive groups. ZDM, 47(7), 1299–1312; and Pulido, C., Elboj, C., Campdepadrós, R., & Cabré, J. (2014). Exclusionary and transformative dimensions: Communicative analysis enhancing solidarity among women to overcome gender violence. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(7), 889–894.
  • Tatiana Santos
    University of Girona
    E-mail Author
    TATIANA SANTOS is an assistant professor in the Department of Business, University of Girona (UdG). Her main areas of research include adult education, community involvement, and the analysis of the factors that promote solidarity as a motor of change and social transformations. Her most recent publications are: Oliver, E., & Santos, T. (2014). Preventive socialization against cyberbullying. Communication & Social Change, 2(1), 87–106; and Santos, T. (2015). Learning communities and overcoming poverty in Brazil. Intangible Capital, 11(3), 334–349.
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