Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Child's Part in World Reconstruction

"If education were to be conceived along the lines of transmitting knowledge, the problem would remain without solution for ever."

Maria Montessori (MM) is trying to draw a point of difference here. Her method is not about "what" children learn, but focuses on the "how", "why", and "where".

"Education must take a different path..."

This path is set out for us:

We must have "consideration of personality" - Does this mean acknowledging that children have an inherent personality that they are born with? And that every child has their own unique temperament?

We must intent to "help the development of the psychic powers inherent in the individual" - I think this means that we have to consciously believe that each of our children is in possession of their own unique set of "powers" that they will use to construct their "psychic" or inner self.

"This cannot be attained by teaching" - We need to rethink the role we play as adults in the development of the children around us. Our self-importance as our children's teachers, sometimes clouds their ability to hear their inner guide. We need to find an alternative role - as the child's protector, leaving them free to grow themselves within a safe, secure and supportive environment.

We need to provide "an environment specially prepared for the children"

We need to prepare this environment in such a way that the children can "absorb whatever culture is spread in the environment without any one teaching them"

"All children have this power of absorbing culture" - this means ALL children - sometimes I lose faith that my child has this power. I interfere in the process and try to direct his interests towards what I choose for him, or I get bored when he stays with something for a long period to the exclusion of everything else. I forget that he has this amazing power, and I believe that I know better. Then I wonder why he avoids this work - I have clouded his guide.

MM gives a clear definition of "education":
It is a "natural process"
It is "spontaneously carried out"
It can only be acquired "by experiences upon the environment"

I question myself now - is this the definition of education for me? Yes, I believe it is.
And then I ask - how can I help the other adults in my child's life to believe this too?

Mmmm, only chapter one and already plenty of food for thought!


  1. "All children have this power of absorbing culture" - this means ALL children - sometimes I lose faith that my child has this power...I forget that he has this amazing power, and I believe that I know better.

    YES! Exactly my thoughts. There are times when he just doesn't seem to "get" what I'm trying to teach him, but then he surprises me with something else he has learned that I did not even start teaching him. I need to follow his lead more and squash my preconceived notions of what I think he SHOULD be learning.

    I also want to add that this was particular powerful to me, "Men are not yet ready to shape their own destinies; to control and direct world events, of which--instead--they become the victims." I've never cared for the word "destiny" as I felt it had a tinge of fatalism to it and disregarded free will. However, the way that MM uses it here is very in sync with what I believe. It is all about action and purpose, which is exactly what I want my children to view their lives as--purposeful and in their own hands, using their own mind to think and decide.


  2. Lately I’ve heard several parents and grandparents comment, either in person or on the radio, that their child/grandchild is much more aware of environmental issues than they ever were. These children, evidently, do their best to keep their parents and grandparents accountable for the way they use energy, how they dispose of their waste, what means of transportation they choose, and the kind of purchases they make. Generation X, and those generations that came before are being educated by the children. Partly this is because it is these very children whose lives are going to most directly be shaped by the decisions now being made.

    In 1949, when Maria Montessori delivered these lectures, the lectures that became the book The Absorbent Mind, the entire world had so recently been rocked by the two World Wars, wars that directly affected her own life, that the primary fear for the future was the continuation of further wars and conflicts. Considering that which followed: the Cuban missile crises, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Korean conflict, the series of Israeli/Palestinian confrontations, the two Iraq Wars, the Falklands Conflict, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, just to name a few, proves that Montessori’s concerns were well-founded.

    Wars may continue, but they are now known to be only one of the many ways in which humans are destroying themselves. In reading the second paragraph of “The Child’s part in World Reconstruction” it occurred to me that with very little editing our children’s current leadership in environmental issues can be reflected. She writes:

    “Today, while the world is in conflict, and many plans are afoot for its future reconstruction, education is widely regarded as one of the best means for bringing this about.”

    I would revise as: “Today, while the world is in environmental crises, and many plans are afoot for its future protection, education is widely regarded as one of the best means for bringing this about.”

    This is, I believe, in keeping with the Montessori philosophy. It has caused me to consider what other extremely important issues, besides conflict and the environmental crises, we can improve by emphasizing it in the education of our children. Poverty, AIDS, human rights violations, and consumerism, are just a few that come to mind. These issues are all connected creating a world caught in a cycle of self-destruction. It is almost too late for us, as adults, to do anything significant to change the direction in which we are headed. But it is not too late for our children. And if there is anything we can do, anything great, with far-reaching effects, it is educating our children rightly.

    Education, as Montessori adamantly asserts, is not simply “education of the mind” or the “mere transmission of knowledge,” but education of the wholeness of a person. “We must take into account a psychic entity, a social personality, a new world force, innumerable in the totality of its membership, which is at present hidden and ignored.” We have to develop our children (or more properly put, allow our children to develop) in all their wholeness, all their greatness, allowing them to “unfold their inborn psychic powers.”

    “Psychic” is a term often avoided by educators because it is most commonly understood as something otherworldly, or someone who is in touch with otherworldly forces. This, however, is not what Maria Montessori meant. She was a doctor and psychologist, and she uses the term in its psychological meaning: that which pertains to the human mind, the human soul, that which is outside the “normal” scientific knowledge. Our schools today are so deeply entrenched in the idea of the scientific method, of defining things only insofar as they can be contained, quantified, sliced, diced, and identified, that the idea of enriching the souls of students is an almost entirely foreign concept.

    In essence, most schools focus so much on teaching children to read that they fail to teach children to love to read. They teach scientific principles and forget to allow the children to be filled with wonder at the natural world. Numbers and logic are impressed upon the children but they are not shown the beauty, order, and art that can result from using these numbers in creative ways.

    And the majority of schools begin to teach children even these things far too late, for if we want children to love and care for the world into which they were born, if we want them to value human life and appreciate all the magical aspects of nature and science, if we want them to love to learn, we must offer them the chance to experience these things from the very beginnings of their lives. They will absorb so much, if we just give them the opportunity to do so! And if they are to become joyfully contributing members of society with open minds and hearts, we need to value our children now. For “if help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.”

  3. Meg, convincing the other adult in your child's life is a slow process. I slowly have helped my husband see how Maria's philosophy makes sense by reading small articles to him and making comments of amazement and comparing traditional learning vs Montessori. I do not get a reaction from my husband but I know he is listening because I see him change every day in his methods of talking to the children and guiding them.

    This way of "education" applies to all ages. I can't make my College students learn. I provide experiences for them that allow them to appreciate and learn the subject matter.

    Veronica, what you said here "I need to follow his lead more and squash my preconceived notions of what I think he SHOULD be learning." is the problem that many Montessori teachers also face because parents put so much pressure on the school on what the students should be learning.

    My question is: how can schools, even Montessori schools, really provide this type of education when the children are not in a natural environment?

  4. This is the sentence which struck me the most: "The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child." This reminds me of the philosophy of God as the "unmoved mover," attracting us to Him by Who He is and the environment He created for us.

    Maybe this is why I am looking for more specifically practical applications.

    Part of my reading of Montessori's works is to not only teach my child, but also to teach myself. I need the same kinds of things that he does (like an ordered environment), even though we are at different times of learning. I still need to work on becoming the example I want to show him.

    I really like reading y'all's thoughts on these ideas.

  5. Hmmm. I have to many thoughts to comment. Or at least, comment and make sense. Hmmm. I'm mostly amazed at how timely and right on MM was then and now. My husband thought most of my Monetssori ideas were insane and cultish with our first child, and now, with #2 only 4 months, he's agreeing to most all of those things. Experience has taught him that MM knew what she ws talking about, and that perhaps, the trditional way of doing things isn't the best way. I need to think some more.

  6. Magda: Thank you for pointing out that sentence. "The teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange a series of motives for cultural activity in a special environment made for the child." That was the sentence I took away with me this week as well. I talk too much when I teach, always have. So today when I "let my boys learn" (the other message I took away from this chapter) I tried to shut up for once. I talked about how it went briefly in my blog post today here:

    It reminded me of the difference between SEEING a good Montessori presentation (nearly silent in the examples I've seen to date) and reading the presentation out of a manual (25 steps to button the button frame If you put thought and care into your presentation it's worth a 1000 words but the child absorbs so much more.

  7. To comment on Magda and My Boy's Teacher posts, in Chapter 7 of the Discovery of the Child, Maria goes into detail on how a teacher should give a lesson and the "why". She lists three characteristics of a lesson: none or few words, simplicity, and objectivity. She says that adults think, "Wow, how simple" but in reality it is very difficult to keep it simple. Teachers tend to overwhelm a child with a ton of information.

  8. Woops! I'm already behind! Will finish my chapter tomorrow night I hope & post then :)


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