1513 Hall Johnson Road
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Montessori Method - April 2012
AMI Teacher Trainer, BGMS Pedagogy Advisor
We offer this article in connection with the study of differences between traditional education and the Montessori Method. It first appeared in The BGMS Connection in December 2009, and is here revised.
In all of educational theory, past and present, Montessori represents a new paradigm. As a way of thinking, it is categorically different from other models and practices in education. The pivotal point is the approach—the fundamental attitude toward The Child. Montessori asks not what should children learn, but how do they learn. This approach leads to unique ways in which to relate with children.
Dr. Montessori said:
“That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”1
Her observations and discoveries were first physiological and medical; then developmental; then social. She very quickly discovered and communicated a profound respect for the fragile little being who is born and who, almost independently, builds body, brain, intellect, personality, emotions and compassion—in short, a life. In her time, infants were considered to be a ‘blank slate’ (tabula rasa), ready for inscription by adult society. Children, until adulthood, were considered the property of adults, to be seen and not heard; and most often, to be used as property.
But she observed and studied children. She looked deep into their creative process, and it led her to a new appreciation:
“…the adult who comes into intimate contact with such children is well aware that new and mysterious feelings are awakened in him, and he begins to step aside. He acquires a sort of humility, for he thinks, ‘This child can do so many things without my direct help, without my urging him to do them.’” 2
She literally taught the world how to appreciate the child in a new light. Not only is every child a self-created being—depending upon environments, beginning with the womb—but each has a unique potential for rescuing the state of humanity. Toward the end of her life she wrote and lectured widely on the child as the only hope for world peace (a concept deceivingly complex). For this work she was recognized and lauded in the United Nations. She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Truly, she had a unique perspective on childhood, which is to say all children in all times and places. She speaks of it not only scientifically, but poetically, reverentially:
“I saw before me the figure of the child… We do not see him as almost everyone else does, as a helpless little creature… We see the figure of the child who stands before us with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow.” 3
When we speak of reverence for the child we are not referring to a saccharine emotion. This is not about warm fuzzies. The subject is not religious, although it is deeply spiritual. If ‘reverence for the child’ is not ‘worship of the child,’ what then is it?
Reverence for the child is, first, reverence for life itself, and reverence for the mysteries of the timeless cycle by which all life appears, grows, matures, reproduces itself, and reenters the maturational cycle. Dr. Montessori, a medical scientist who was deeply religious, arrived at a grandly cosmic scheme of education based on the fundamental needs and natural tendencies of all people. Montessori elementary education in particular is known as Cosmic Education, an integrated understanding of the manner in which all things are related and interdependent. The late Camillo Grazzini, AMI elementary trainer in Bergamo, Italy, and seminal thinker, said:
“It is this vision of an indivisible unity made up of energy, of sky, of rocks, of water, of life, of humans as adults and humans as children that lends a sense of the cosmic to Montessori’s thinking. This cosmic sense pervades all of Montessori’s work, both her thinking and her educational approach for all of the different planes and stages of development of the human being: from birth without violence to the Infant Community, to the Casa dei Bambini [primary], to the elementary school, to the Erdkinder [farm school] community for adolescents.
“Quite clearly, then, this cosmic vision belongs by right to the whole of the Montessori movement: it is indeed the key which gives us a shared direction and a common goal in our work.” 4
We see clearly Dr. Montessori’s reverence for creation, for life, and for the human role in the cosmic drama. Her life’s focus was on that point in the cycle where new life begins; where the life energy is fresh, unsullied, bursting with potential—The Child. As no scientist or philosopher before her, she comprehended the magnitude of each little life, each little child who miraculously conquers the obstacles of the world, building a life of uniqueness, purpose and meaning:
“I … stood in still and silent admiration of this spontaneous activity of the children. The greatest triumph of our system of education will always be to obtain the spontaneous progress of a child.” 5
Our reverence, therefore, is not for the individual child, but for the divinely mysterious process by which each and every child self-creates, manifesting the life potential by incarnating the surrounding environment. Then our role becomes self-evident—that we must support life; that education is and must be support for life; that we must remove obstacles to development; and that above all we must not be the obstacles to development. What Montessori said about teachers may be appropriate for all adults:
“When [the teacher] feels herself aflame with interest, ‘seeing’ the spiritual phenomena of the child, and experiences a serene joy and an insatiable eagerness in observing them, then she will know that she is ‘initiated.’ Then she will become a ‘teacher.’” 6
1Maria Montessori, 1916/1965, Spontaneous Activity in Education, vol 1, The Advanced Montessori Method, p 50. NY: Schocken.
2Maria Montessori, 1949/1972, Education and Peace, pp 123-124. Thiruvanmiyur: Kalakshetra.
3Ibid, p 183.
4Camillo Grazzini, ‘Maria Montessori’s Cosmic Vision, Cosmic Plan and Cosmic Education,’ pp 81-82, Conference Proceedings. Paris 2001.
5Maria Montessori, 1948/1967, The Discovery of the Child, p 168. NY: Ballantine.
6Maria Montessori, 1916, 1965, pp 140-141.