Italian Educator, Physician and Humanitarian, Creator of the Montessori Method
Italian Educator, Physician and Humanitarian, Creator of the Montessori Method
We found individual activity is the one factor that stimulates and produces development.
We ourselves have lost this deep and vital sensitiveness, and in the presence of children in whom we see it reviving, we feel as if we were watching a mystery being unfolded. It shows itself in the delicate act of free choice, which a teacher untrained in observation can trample on before she even discerns it, much as an elephant tramples the budding flower about to blossom in its path.
To keep alive enthusiasm is the secret of real guidance, and it will not prove a difficult task, provided that the attitude towards the child's acts be that of respect, calm, and waiting, and provided that he be left free in his movements and experiences.
We give the name scientist to the type of man who has felt experiment to be a means guiding him to search out the deep truth of life, to lift a veil from its fascinating secrets, and who, in this pursuit, has felt arising within him a love for the mysteries of nature, so passionate as to annihilate the thought of himself. The scientist is not the clever manipulator of instruments, he is the worshipper of nature and he bears the external symbols of his passion as does the follower of some religious order. To this body of real scientists belong those who, forgetting, like the Trappists of the Middle Ages, the world about them, live only in the laboratory, careless often in matters of food and dress because they no longer think of themselves; those who, through years of unwearied use of the microscope, become blind; those who in their scientific ardour inoculate themselves with tuberculosis germs; those who handle the excrement of cholera patients in their eagerness to learn the vehicle through which the diseases are transmitted; and those who, knowing that a certain chemical preparation may be an explosive, still persist in testing their theories at the risk of their lives. This is the spirit of the men of science, to whom nature freely reveals her secrets, crowning their labors with the glory of discovery. There exists, then, the "spirit" of the scientist, a thing far above his mere "mechanical skill," and the scientist is at the height of his achievement when the spirit has triumphed over the mechanism. When he has reached this point, science will receive from him not only new revelations of nature, but philosophic syntheses of pure thought.
We recognize the immense power, the unconscious forces existing in the child on the threshold of life. For many years we have been proclaiming that it is necessary to educate the child from the moment of birth. We have traced, through study and practical experience, the ideal path leading to the world of children, of these beings whose social status has as yet not been determined, whose rights have not been recognized and who nevertheless represent the men of tomorrow.
This is our mission: to cast a ray of light and pass on. I compare the effects of these first lessons the impressions of a solitary wanderer who is walking serene and happy in a shady grove, meditating; that is leaving his inner thought free to wander. Suddenly a church bell pealing out nearby recalls to himself; then he feels more keenly that peaceful bliss which had already been born, though dormant, within him. To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the first duty of the educator. For such a delicate mission great art is required to suggest the right moment and to limit intervention, last one should disturb or lead astray rather than help the soul which is coming to life and which will live by virtue of its own efforts.
To make it clear whether or not a child has understood, we should see whether he can form a vision of it within the mind, whether he has gone beyond the level of mere understanding.
We habitually serve children; and this is not only an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful, spontaneous activity. We are inclined to believe that children are like puppets, and we wash them and feed them as if they were dolls. We do not stop to think that the child who does not do, does not know how to do. He must, nevertheless, do these things, and nature has furnished him with the physical means for carrying on these various activities, and with the intellectual means for learning how to do them. And our duty toward him is, in every case, that of helping him to make a conquest of such useful acts as nature intended he should perform for himself.
We see no limit to what should be offered to the child, for his will be an immense field of chosen activity.
This is the treasure we need today - helping the child become independent of us and make his way by himself, receiving in return his gifts of hope and light.
To prepare teachers in the method of the experimental sciences is not an easy matter. When we shall have instructed them in anthropometry and psychometry in the most minute manner possible, we shall have only created machines, whose usefulness will be most doubtful. Indeed, if it is after this fashion that we are to initiate our teachers into experiment, we shall remain forever in the field of theory. The teachers of the old school, prepared according to the principles of metaphysical philosophy, understood the ideas of certain men regarded as authorities, and moved the muscles of speech in talking of them, and the muscles of the eye in reading their theories. Our scientific teachers, instead, are familiar with certain instruments and know how to move the muscles of the hand and arm in order to use these instruments; besides this, they have an intellectual preparation which consists of a series of typical tests, which they have, in a barren and mechanical way, learned how to apply. The difference is not substantial, for profound differences cannot exist in exterior technique alone, but lie rather within the inner man. Not with all our initiation into scientific experiment have we prepared new masters, for, after all, we have left them standing without the door of real experimental science; we have not admitted them to the noblest and most profound phase of such study, ? to that experience which makes real scientists.
We have in ourselves tendencies that are not good and which flourish like weeds in a field. (Original sin). These tendencies are many; they fall into seven groups, known of old as the Seven deadly sins. All deadly sins tend to separate us from the child; for the child compared to us, is not only purer but has mysterious qualities, which we adults as a rule cannot perceive, but in which we must believe with faith, for Jesus spoke to them so clearly and insistently that all the Evangelists recorded His words: Unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall nor enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. That which the educator must seek is to be able to see the child as Jesus saw him. It is with this endeavor, thus defined and delimited, that we wish to deal.
We seek to sow life in the child rather than theories, to help him in his growth, mental and emotional, as well as physical, and for that we must offer grand and lofty ideas to the human mind.
This kind of activity (climbing, carrying etc.), which serves no external purpose, gives children the practice they need for coordinating their movements? all the child does is to obey an inner impulse.
To stimulate life, - leaving it then free to develop, to unfold, - herein lies the first take to the educator. In such a delicate task, a great art must suggest the moment, and limit the intervention, in order that we shall arouse no perturbation, cause no deviation, but rather that we shall help the soul which is coming into the fullness of life, and which shall live from its own forces. This art must accompany the scientific method.
We have learnt from him certain fundamental principles of psychology. One is that the child must learn by his own individual activity, being given a mental freedom to take what he needs, and not to be questioned in his choice. Our teaching must only answer the mental needs of the child, never dictate them. Just as a small child cannot be still because he is in need of coordinating his movements, so the older child, who may seem troublesome in his curiosity over the why, what and wherefore of everything he sees, is building up his mind by this mental activity, and must be given a wide field of culture on which to feed.
We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are a part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. This idea helps the mind of the child to become fixed, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied, having found the universal center of himself with all things.
This means that it is not enough to set. The child among objects in proportion to his size and strength; the adult who is to help him must have learned how to do so. If the adult, through a fatal misunderstanding, instead of helping the child to do things for himself, substitutes himself for the child, then that adult becomes the blindest and most powerful obstacle to the development of the child's psychic life. In this misunderstanding, in the excessive competition between adult work and child work, lies the first great drama of the struggle between man and his work, and perhaps the origin of all the dramas and struggles of mankind.
Under the urge of nature and according to the laws of development, though not understood by the adult, the child is obliged to be serious about two fundamental things ? the first is the love of activity? The second fundamental thing is independence.
We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline and self-control develops within them as a manifestation of their total freedom.
We teachers can only help the work going on, as servants wait upon a master. We then become witnesses to the development of the human soul; the emergence of the New Man who will no longer be the victim of events but, thanks to his clarity of vision, will become able to direct and to mold the future of mankind.
This system in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his senses, also takes into account a child's special aptitude for mathematics. When they leave the material, the children very easily reach the point where they wish to write out the operation. They thus carry out an abstract mental operation and acquire a kind of natural and spontaneous inclination for mental calculations.
Wait while observing. That is the motto of the educator.
We may conclude with a general rule for the direction of the education of the senses. The order of procedure should be: (1) Recognition of identities (the pairing of similar objects and the insertion of solid forms into places which fit them). (2) Recognition of contrasts (the presentation of the extremes of a series of objects). (3) Discrimination between objects very similar to one another.
Through practical exercises of this sort the children develop a true 'social feeling', for they are working in the environment of the community in which they live, without concerning themselves as to whether it is for their own, or for the common good.