1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

1907-2007: Celebrating 100 Years of Montessori Why Change?

March, 2007
Leave a comment 2944 views

2007_CentenaryArticle_02_02 “To lead, we need not know the answers. We must only convene the circles, frame the conversation, and direct attention to the issues that matter. It is the community that will rise up to our calling – joyful to be invited, heartened to be involved – and it is the community that will lead us past our illusions, beyond our fears, and into a reality brighter and bolder than all our imaginings,” writes Jan Phillips in The Art of Original Thinking.

  This applies to both adults and children alike. Leadership in an adult community can safely be grounded on these principles. They are sound, because they promote communication, and provide realistic guidelines, rather than set impossible to reach goals for “leadership workers.” They are appealing and inspiring because they are inviting and conducive to participation. For these same reasons, they clearly set an important pillar or foundation that sets basic requisites for participation. How? By stating that one does not need to know all the answers, but rather stimulate dialogue, curiosity and discovery. And this is why they also apply to children. We may also say that in particular they apply to Montessori, because in Montessori environments, be it at school or at home, the child is perceived as the leader. (Now read again Jan Phillips’ words, under this light, placing the child in the leading position and adults as part of the community that is invited, side by side with other children, to participate… What qualities are we to have? What is expected of us? And, as adults lead, and invite other adults, do profiles and expectations change?)

2007_CentenaryArticle_02_01   Montessorians seek to “Follow the Child” and lead by following. Adequate guidance is possible only in response to the needs children express and that must be met. A prepared environment, and prepared adults, will do all they can to meet the needs of children entrusted to their care. It is challenging, but the responsibility becomes less threatening, because those involved come to realize and accept that they do not have to have all the answers. What one needs is the ability to entice, invite, promote dialogue, foster curiosity and make sure joy is associated with the tasks at hand. These tasks are the daily activities we all engage in. Some important, others less. A never ending learning and working gamut of occupations and possibilities. All this activity can be equated with a single word: discovery. For adults, courage is also needed to recognize and accept what one does not know. Up to a certain age, children are not self-conscious when it comes to discovery. For them, it is just a matter of basic needs that must be satisfied. They follow their instincts, the inner drive that requires essential skills to be acquired.

  As we celebrate the Montessori Centennial, the most important task at hand may well be to ask questions, redirect attention to those issues that are relevant to both children and adults, and reflect upon what Montessori is, and what, as individuals and communities, we would like it to become. This means that we must be open to accept change.

  The questions that we need to ask and the issues to be pondered are not new, in many if not most cases. Some were being asked almost one hundred years ago. Those who speak in favor of or against Montessori seem to have been using almost, if not completely, the very same arguments, with little variation.

  As Hermann Röhr, the German historian and comparative educationist stated[1], “The truly remarkable thing is that the discussion surrounding her [Dr. Montessori’s] ideas is just as lively and full of controversy today as it was when they were first published.” Can this fact per se be seen as evidence that Montessori is, so to speak, fulfilling its “mission?”

  When we ask the question, “What defines Montessori?” how many different answers do we get, and why is it there seems to be so many different opinions? What are the “basics” that all Montessorians, and maybe even non-Montessorians, researchers, etc., agree upon as defining Montessori? And, we can ask, once these “basics” have been defined, do all agree that they have the same meaning and imply the same? For example, when we speak of “meeting the needs of the child,” and “self-guided learning” are we all thinking about the same thing?

  Already back in 1927, Arthur St. John[2], pondering the ills of our societies, said, “it appears that we live in a world of division and strife, with much injustice.” Then he further adds that in its present state “The community as a whole is helpless,” and concludes “I suspect that a helpless community is, in large proportion, made up of helpless individuals.” According to St. John, our societies’ defects were then, as are today, economic, political, religious, and all need urgent attention. In his lecture published in The Sociological Review, he goes on to point out what seems to him “to be an underlying defect, which perhaps receives less recognition, the removal of which, I submit, lead to the removal of all the others. I ask you, do not all this stupidity and inertia, all this strife and ill-will, arise out of the fact that man has not yet attained to understanding of himself, has not yet gained self-mastery?

  “Is not this twofold achievement—self-knowledge and self-mastery—the road, and the goal, both of individual and of social human development—of social progress?”

  Social progress, Dr. Montessori envisaged, is Man’s task. And social progress will lead to more just societies. Individuals, who have attained self-knowledge and self-mastery, will behave with empathy towards their environments, and one another. Altruism, ultimately, is conducive to 2007_CentenaryArticle_02_04World Peace. This goal, Dr, Montessori thought, is attainable with and through the Child only.

  St. John goes on to state “the current education of the day is not calculated to lead either to self-knowledge or to self-mastery. The  Montessori method opens the way towards both.” Times have brought along many changes. Montessori was offering then an approach that others were not. Today, boundaries and differences are no longer in many cases that visible. Even more traditional environments embrace several approaches.

  Arthur St. John was speaking in favor of Montessori. Over the last hundred years, others have spoken both in favor and against Montessori. It still happens today. Mostly, it seems like Montessori is still either embraced or rejected. I believe that as we celebrate the Centennial, and more and more data and research is available, that we try to put things into perspective, and shed new light on Montessori and Dr. Montessori’s ideas.

  By asking questions, and being open to change, Montessorians may well finally start being seen not as a legion of devotees, who pledge all to a cult and their guru (as some often put it), but as dedicated individuals. Montessorians dedicate their lives to the cause of children, their rights, their needs, and have a common vision, that follows principles observed by Dr. Montessori as universal to all children. This vision is not sectarian, but indeed shared with most of their peers who work with children, whatever their denomination or chosen educational approach. A vision that, we want to believe, needs to be non-judgmental, is based on cooperation, fosters inquisitive spirits that are always ready to ask questions and accept different answers, as well as explore different possibilities.

  What questions need then to be asked? Recurring questions touch issues such as “freedom” and how much of it, and how should it be understood. Another sensitive issue is that of “tests,” “grades,” “evaluation,” “certification” and “diplomas;” when it comes to both children and adults/Montessori teachers. “Mixed ages classes, spanning three years, like, for example, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15…” are a commonly accepted indicator of genuine Montessori schools and classrooms, but there are schools that have adopted different age groupings, such as 3-4, 5-6, etc. So, in these cases, are they still Montessori? Computers” have been an issue in Montessori circles for quite a while now. Should early education classrooms be equipped with computers? Should 3, 4, 5 year olds be allowed to work with computers, or should Montessori environments stick with the traditional approach of more active, sensorial, hands-on, concrete activities? If computers are to enter the classroom for children in the 3-6 age group, how should they use them? If not, why not? “Creativity,” “imagination” and “fantasy” are concepts that are still not clearly understood, in terms of Montessori philosophy—especially “fantasy.” The “role of the adult” as guide raises also questions as to what exactly adults should do, and not do, when interacting with children; are “punishments and rewards” acceptable or not? Is “timeout” to be understood as punishment? Does it depend on how it is implemented?

  When in 2003 Bretta Weiss Wolff was chosen by the American Montessori Society (AMS), to receive the distinction of AMS Leaving Legacy, Dottie Sweet Feldman, then Scholarship Fund administrator, introduced her as an individual that “ponders ideas, sees relationships, and connects those beliefs and projects future courses of action.” I can think of no better way of summarizing in a short sentence the profile of the ideal Montessori teacher, aka directress or director. All these skills are not acquired through any specific training per se, but are rather developed through practice—aka, continuous, everyday, fieldwork “training.” They require courage, imagination, a broad range of interests and an unending curiosity, organizational skills and “seer” qualities. Ability to constantly change. It requires faith in both the adult and the child, and an unflinching determination to trust, that is firmly set upon altruism— to be of service to others. Dr. Montessori spoke of this journey as the inner preparation of the teacher. I like to think of it as inner preparation of any adult or individual.

  She spoke of adults working with children needing to be like scientists, servants and saints. Scientists because they need to observe, experiment, be willing to start anew time and again, and be honest about the conclusions drawn from their observations. Any preconceived ideas must be discarded, theories held onto only until they are proven right or wrong and then, used as stepping-stones for further and better work, allowing evolution and helping growth. Servants because they need to be ready to serve the child. This kind of service cannot be conditional; there can be no likes and dislikes, no judgmental attitudes, no hesitation. When a child needs help, it must be promptly and adequately provided. Her image was that of a butler waiting upon his master, knowing and anticipating, or even guessing, his every need. The saint is the image of love unfeigned, of total dedication to a superior Master, of submission of one’s will to one Higher. Dr. Montessori always spoke of the Child as a superior being, superior to adults because of its potential, thus, deserving unconditional love. A love that stems from the ability of the one who expresses it to see the divine spark in all life. A form of love usually referred to as Agape[3].

  If we want to make Montessori more accessible to all, and increase its visibility, as Bretta Weiss Wolff proposed, we need to be able to change that which needs to be changed, and, to start with, accept change ourselves. Dr. Montessori is no longer around, so, to be true to her legacy, one must be bold enough to follow the “spirit of Montessori” rather than what may be considered the “letter of Montessori.”

  According to Bretta Wolff, "the spread of Montessori education into a wider variety of settings will go forward with firm resolution that quality must be ensured." She also asserted that "the present work with the other Montessori organizations [she was referring to organizations in the USA] will open doors for future collaboration in which no one group will sacrifice its own standards but all will benefit from joining forces.” She concluded, still referring to the status quo of Montessori in the USA, by saying that, and I paraphrase her words, change may be risky, but failure to plan for the future will not only limit our growth but threatens the survival of Montessori education. I believe this applies to Montessori in general, not only in the USA.

  As Montessori keeps growing and spreading, it is essential that we see the future as rich in untapped resources, an horizon of endless opportunities – especially for cooperation. Today, there are Montessori programs that cater to the needs of children from birth to adulthood. Many parents, educators, etc., no longer see boundaries separating different approaches, different methods, different schools of thought – but adopt all approaches and strategies, using them as tools, with one single end in mind: better serve children and meet their needs.

  If we nurture an understanding of Montessori that sets aside (false) purism and mechanicist paradigms, protocols and fixed formulas, in favor of solid principles, the possibilities are limitless, because our concern is simply to serve children. Making use of all resources available to us at present—and these tools are amazingly varied and rich—one question we can ask, and that summarizes this approach, is simple: Are we being creative enough? Are we daring enough?

  Can we celebrate change, as we celebrate the individuality of each child? Or will we compromise our work and our future, because we defend holism in theory but, in practice, we perpetuate all the vices that allow ghettos to keep proliferating? Intellectual ghettos can be worse than physical ones.

  As far as Montessori in the USA is concerned, Bretta Wolff mentioned two main obstacles that can stop progress, over-regulation and lack of adequately prepared teachers. I also believe these to apply to Montessori in general.

  As far as over-regulation goes, one can appeal only to deregulation if one can trust individuals to call upon themselves the responsibilities that come along with freedom. As for adequately trained teachers, we must ponder what training, and its purpose, is. I ask again, are we daring enough? And maybe we should ask too, are we confident enough? If so, why compromise, rather than challenge the status quo of what needs to be changed? Dr. Montessori left no space for doubts when she said that we needed a new society. Others have asked similar questions and have proposed changes, suggested alternatives, questioned the validity of obsolete ideas, social structures, action and thinking patterns. What we must try to do is find, understand, and deconstruct the self-built traps that do not let our societies grow, but perpetuate the drama we all act in and find the necessary alternatives.

  If the defects in our societies have been brought to daylight, and we know what needs to change in our environments, why is change so slow to come? Montessorians working with children on a daily basis must dare to implement changes. Make sure that there is coherence and sustainability in their work. Wolff asked questions that are still to be answered: “Does the conduct of training supply a role model for classroom practice? Is the candidate’s individual growth supported and facilitated? Is the program’s environment nurturing and physically and psychologically supportive of learning? Why are tests generally deplored for children, but embraced in training? Is the stress and pressure felt by both students and teachers unnecessarily excessive? Are teacher candidates treated with the respect they are expected to give to their students? Teacher education programs do a great job of communicating methodology, but do cultivation of spirit and of Montessori philosophy occur simultaneously?” Although Wolff concluded that “teacher education cannot be individualized in the same way as Montessori education for children,” she also said that respect “is basic to Montessori philosophy and methodology,” and thus must apply to all equally. She also raised another question: “If the process of education of teacher candidates is not an appropriate model of Montessori philosophy in this aspect, what are students seeing and feeling during this process?"

  Although I understand Wolff’s reasoning, I dare ask if what we are faced with today, is not at least in part somewhat a standstill situation, when it comes to teacher training. We need to dismantle this false adult-child dichotomy we are perpetuating. Why? Because teacher training has been, in many ways, standardized. We can’t give respect to and fairly treat children and not do the same when it comes to adults. Why can we not follow the adult, as we follow the child? Why can’t adults be trained, not by following some more or less set curriculum, but instead, by focusing on philosophy and principles, enabling adults to flexibly respond to the challenges directly and indirectly proposed by the children and other adults. Why can’t training follow a more personalized curriculum? Wouldn’t this allow adults to bring into full play what they can do best, rather than let many a teacher, once having received her or his diploma, defensively slip into comfort zones (read routines), falling short, feeling inadequate, because they do not favor this or that subject, and thus naturally avoid those areas of the curriculum that they, for some reason, do not feel confident to fully explore?

  Math, we know, is one of these areas, but there are teachers who, for example, never dare to step into “music land,” never dare sing or dance. Others shrink from doing any art work, and hide behind step-by-step crafts’ manuals and books—nothing is wrong with these, as long as they do not stifle creativity and compromise self-confidence. If, as we know and Wolff also mentioned, and I paraphrase, there is no magic in the environment nor in the materials and the strength and difference of Montessori is in the philosophy, why don’t we teach the philosophy and apply those philosophical principles thoroughly, also with adults!? Judgment kills creativity. This applies to both children and adults. Spontaneity is sucked out of life by praise, punishments and rewards—in whatever way they may be disguised. This also applies to both children and adults alike. Is it possible that by not allowing enough space for adults to see their individuality recognized, we are undermining that which we want to preserve and promote? By doing so, I believe, we would allow adults to fully bring into play their innate potential and better serve children. If we want children to have confidence and be self-guided learners, why, then, treat adults differently? Where is the respect due to all, and how can we expect adults to treat children differently from what they are being treated—and by their own peers!?

  Change isn’t easy, and can be frightening. Back to where we started this article, we can say that indeed we may not need to know the answers, just convene the circles, frame the conversation, and direct attention to the issues that matter. But we need to rise to the challenges of the community, as the community rises up to the calling. We cannot invite and then kill the joy of those that were invited. We can’t say that we need and want others to volunteer, contribute, and then, ignore their efforts. In a word, dishearten those who want to get involved and have something to contribute, by wasting their gifts. We can’t provide for a child’s needs by insisting in giving that child what some fixed, preconceived idea tells us are the needs of the child. Only by observing and listening to the child’s requests, and providing accordingly, can we be effective. Why should it be different with adults? Can we brush their needs aside, impose formulas, force them to warp their feelings, and then, expect them to perform at their best?

  We truly need to lead by being led: led past our illusions, beyond our fears, and into that brighter and bolder reality that surpasses our imaginings. Only then—when we can accept change—can our thinking be called original and become the origin of something that will bring about even greater, bolder changes and help progress.



Series on Montessori education contributed by Mammolina Children’s Home Montessori Kindergarten

Photo Credits:

B&W: http://www.montessoricentenary.org

Color: Mammolina Children’s Home Montessori Kindergarten

[1] Maria Montessori (1870-1952), PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIV, no. 1/2, 1994, (89/90), p. 169-183.

[2] Montessori and Social Progress, 1927, Arthur St. John, The Sociological Review Journal of the Sociological Society, Vol. XIX. Nº. 3, July 1927. P. 197-207

[3] Dr. Montessori was a catholic, thus probably her choice of the image of the saint as embodiment for a superior form of love. I believe she never used the word Agape in her writings, yet, the idea is subjacent. The word has been used in different ways by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including Biblical authors. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. Christian writers have generally described agape, as expounded on by Jesus in the New Testament, as a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary. It is non-discriminating, has no pre-conditions, and is something that one decides to do. It is nowadays commonly used in this sense, without any religious implications, as a state of unconditional love that is considered the ultimate goal of all sentient evolution, detached from any sort of personal gain or concerns, even the expectation of retribution, of being loved back.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • MSN Reporter
  • MySpace
  • RSS
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz

admin Montessori Education

Related Articles

  • No Related Post
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.