Maria Montessori case Essay
This month marks the 100th anniversary this month that Maria Montessori opened a school in Rome. A century later, there are more than 22,000 schools that bear the name Montessori in over 110 countries worldwide. Her ideas, once laughed at, has become very influential not only in The United States but all across Europe as well as other parts of the world as her influence has touches every corner of the world “Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference.” (Montessori, 1997) Marie Montessori was ahead of her time and only in contemporary society has come to fully appreciate her contributions to the field of education. In her book: The Absorbent Mind Marie Montessori details her ideology behind the schools as well as what constitutes the most advantageous learning environment for a student and how a teacher can provide such a place. “The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself. A single observation is enough to prove this.” (Montessori, 1997) From this premise, Maria Montessori built her three levels of obedience.
The structure of discipline assumes a certain degree of obedience. Before a child reaches the age of three, he is truly unable to obey unless what is asked of him happens to correspond with one of his immediate urges. At this stage, his personality hasn’t formed to the level where he is capable of making a choice to obey on his own. It is this time in a child’s life which Montessori termed the first level of obedience. “Our children chose their work spontaneously, and by repeating the world they have chose, they develop an awareness of their actions that which at first was but a vital impulse ( horme) has become a deliberate act. This little child’s first movements were instinctive. Now, he acts consciously and voluntarily, and with this comes an awakening of his spirit.” Montessori, 253) A toddler can obey, but this is not always the case. This is the time in a child’s life when instruction is needed but always to remain careful that the parent or teacher does not overemphasize their role within the child’s environment. “By instinct and logic (or perhaps through the shared of life with children for thousands of years) the adult knows that all one can do at this age is to forbid, more or less violently, those actions that the child continues to do not withstanding.” (Montessori, 259). Maria Montessori always gave a great deal of credit to children and in her ideas on the three levels of obedience, was careful not to hinder the growth and development by bowing to conventional wisdom of the day in giving 100% instruction to the child and expecting them to follow said instruction blindly.
The second level of obedience is reached when the child is capable of understanding another person’s wishes and can express them in his own behavior. The second level is when their child can always obey, or rather when there are no longer any obstacles deriving from his lack of control. “The child can absorb another person’s wishes and express them in his own behavior.” (Montessori, 260) When this second level of obedience is reached, most parents and teachers would think they had reached their goal. Most adults ask only that children obey. This is where Montessori changes from her predecessors and the conventional wisdom of her day. For example: “A child forgets to make the bed. The adult gives another demonstration, wordlessly looking at both sides of the bed to make sure they are even. The next day the child makes the bed. The fourth day the child forgets to make the bed. The adult reminds the child, and the child goes cheerfully to make the bed.” ( Lillard, 1995) If in this example, the child protests, the adult simply smiles and suggests that the task be completed together, knowing that the child may have forgotten how to do it.
The goals of Montessori are to reach the third level which she called “joyful obedience. “At this stage the child has internalized obedience, or we might say, had developed self-discipline where he sees clearly the value of what is being offered to him by authority and rushes to obey.” (Lillard, 154). This is not blind obedience at all, but is an informed choice by an independent human being which has grown in freedom and developed to its fullest potential. “With this level of obedience comes a degree of self-respect in which a child cannot help but respect the rights and needs of others alongside her own. This is one of the main premises within the Montessori teaching model.” (Lillard, 67) The child is then able to learn and grow freely in the security of a community of respectful individuals. Also, a large degree of the child’s social skills are developed during this time period. After a few days the child can make the bed with just a verbal reminder. At some point, the child will reach the third level and make the bed perfectly without any reminders. All of us learn faster and better in a trusting relationship. Trust is developed by offering assistance in a clear, concise and kind manner. The adult doesn’t ask the child to do something that is too difficult or belittle the child for not being able to do it.
To have any meaningful discussion of these questions, it would seem that our first priority should be to define this thing called discipline. “Montessori herself held that discipline is “not …a fact but a way.”(Lillard, 67) True discipline comes more from within than without and is the result of steadily developing inner growth. Just as the very young child must first learn to stand before she can walk, she must develop an inward order through work before she is able to choose and carry out her own acts. Surprisingly enough, Montessori found that it was through the very liberty inherent in her classrooms that the children were given the means to reveal their inner or self-discipline. Independence did not diminish respect for authority but rather deepened it. One of the things that aroused her greatest interest was that order and discipline seemed to be so closely united that they resulted in freedom.
All of the above factors motivated Montessori to concentrate a great deal of her time and attention in The Absorbent Mind to this specific time in a child’s life. It was the most crucial time of a child’s life, yet at that time, it was the most neglected. Montessori, did much to help bridge the two together. “What about the period from birth to the sixth or seventh year? The school, so-called, takes no interest in this. An interest in putting the psychic life of babies, as social problems, does not exist.” (Montessori, 1997). Montessori was deeply concerned with the aspects and stages of a child’s life, where she felt, conventional wisdom had failed to appropriately focus on specific aspects of a child’s development.
Montessori’s approach to education was rooted in her observation of children. “The most difficult thing to make clear to the new teacher is that because the child progresses, she must restrain herself and avoid giving directions, even if at first they are expected; all her faith must repose in his latent powers.” (Montessori, 23) Through this observation comes the growth and discipline of a child’s three levels of obedience. The focal point and the subject which revolves around all of her theories and motivations is the child. Montessori focuses on the needs of the child as it speaks to their environment and capabilities. Once this is accomplishes, a child develops his potential at his own rate of development and many times, the levels of obedience are followed accordingly. It is important, Montessori states, not to push or rush the child in their development but to let the child set the pace of their own learning and understandings. “The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.” (Montessori, 12) Montessori had a very optimistic opinion but a rather pessimistic opinion of adults and their ability to corrupt the child with their beliefs and ways of doing things by his own instruction. This is the basis of the Montessori Method and the importance in its unique take on the educational needs of children at their most critical time of development.
Lillard, P. ( 1995). Montessori: A Modern Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Montessori, M. (1997).The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt Publishing.
Montessori, M. (1997. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Crown Publishing.