"Introduction." by Henry W. Holmes
AN audience already thoroughly interested awaits this translation of a remarkable book. For years no educational document has been so eagerly expected by so large a public, and not many have better merited general anticipation. That this widespread interest exists is due to the enthusiastic and ingenious articles in McClure's Magazine for May and December, 1911, and January, 1912; but before the first of these articles appeared a number of English and American teachers had given careful study to Dr. Montessori's work, and had found it novel and important. The astonishing welcome accorded to the first popular expositions of the Montessori system may mean much or little for its future in England and America; it is rather the earlier approval of a few trained teachers and professional students that commends it to the educational workers who must ultimately decide upon its value, interpret its technicalities to the country at large, and adapt it to English and American conditions. To them as well as to the general public this brief critical Introduction is addressed.
It is wholly within the bounds of safe judgment to call Dr. Montessori's work remarkable, novel, and important. It is remarkable, if for no other reason, because it represents the constructive effort of a woman. We have no other example of an educational system–original at least in its systematic wholeness and in its practical application–worked out and inaugurated by the feminine mind and [Page xviii] hand. It is remarkable, also, because it springs from a combination of womanly sympathy and intuition, broad social outlook, scientific training, intensive and long-continued study of educational problems, and, to crown all, varied and unusual experience as a teacher and educational leader. No other woman who has dealt with Dr. Montessori's problem–the education of young children–has brought to it personal resources so richly diverse as hers. These resources, furthermore, she has devoted to her work with an enthusiasm, an absolute abandon, like that of Pestalozzi and Froebel, and she presents her convictions with an apostolic ardour which commands attention. A system which embodies such a capital of human effort could not be unimportant. Then, too, certain aspects of the system are in themselves striking and significant: it adapts to the education of normal children methods and apparatus originally used for deficients; it is based on a radical conception of liberty for the pupil; it entails a highly formal training of separate sensory, motor, and mental capacities; and it leads to rapid, easy, and substantial mastery of the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic. All this will be apparent to the most casual reader of this book.
None of these things, to be sure, is absolutely new in the educational world. All have been proposed in theory; some have been put more or less completely into practice. It is not unjust, for instance, to point out that much of the material used by Dr. Walter S. Fernald, Superintendent of the Massachusetts Institution for the Feeble-Minded at Waverly, is almost identical with the Montessori material, and that Dr. Fernald has long maintained that it could be used to good effect in the education of normal children. (It may interest American readers to know that Séguin, [Page xix] on whose work that of Dr. Montessori is based, was once head of the school at Waverly.) So, too, formal training in various psycho-physical processes has been much urged of late by a good many workers in experimental pedagogy, especially by Meumann. But before Montessori, no one had produced a system in which the elements named above were combined. She conceived it, elaborated it in practice, and established it in schools. It is indeed the final result, as Dr. Montessori proudly asserts, of years of experimental effort both on her own part and on the part of her great predecessors; but the crystallisation of these experiments in a programme of education for normal children is due to Dr. Montessori alone. The incidental features which she has frankly taken over from other modern educators she has chosen because they fit into the fundamental form of her own scheme, and she has unified them all in her general conception of method. The system is not original in the sense in which Froebel's system was original; but as a system it is the novel product of a single woman's creative genius.
As such, no student of elementary education ought to ignore it. The system doubtless fails to solve all the problems in the education of young children; possibly some of the solutions it proposes are partly or completely mistaken; some are probably unavailable in English and American schools; but a system of education does not have to attain perfection in order to merit study, investigation, and experimental use. Dr. Montessori is too large-minded to claim infallibility, and too thoroughly scientific in her attitude to object to careful scrutiny of her scheme and the thorough testing of its results. She expressly states that it is not yet complete. Practically, it is highly probable that the system ultimately adopted in our schools will combine [Page xx] elements of the Montessori programme with elements of the kindergarten programme, both "liberal" and "conservative." In its actual procedure school work must always be thus eclectic. An all-or-nothing policy for a single system inevitably courts defeat; for the public is not interested in systems as systems, and refuses in the end to believe that any one system contains every good thing. Nor can we doubt that this attitude is essentially sound. If we continue, despite the pragmatists, to believe in absolute principles, we may yet remain skeptical about the logic of their reduction to practice–at least in any fixed programme of education. We are not yet justified, at any rate, in adopting one programme to the exclusion of every other simply because it is based on the most intelligible or the most inspiring philosophy. The pragmatic test must also be applied, and rigorously. We must try out several combinations, watch and record the results, compare them, and proceed cautiously to new experiments. This procedure is desirable for every stage and grade of education, but especially for the earliest stage, because there it has been least attempted and is most difficult. Certainly a system so radical, so clearly defined, and so well developed as that of Dr. Montessori offers for the thoroughgoing comparative study of methods in early education new material of exceptional importance. Without accepting every detail of the system, without even accepting unqualifiedly its fundamental principles, one may welcome it, thus, as of great and immediate value. If early education is worth studying at all, the educator who devotes his attention to it will find it necessary to define the differences in principle between the Montessori programme and other programmes, and to carry out careful tests of the results obtainable from the various systems and their feasible combinations. [Page xxi]
One such combination this Introduction will suggest, and it will discuss also the possible uses of the Montessori apparatus in the home; but it may be helpful first to present the outstanding characteristics of the Montessori system as compared with the modern kindergarten in its two main forms.
Certain similarities in principle are soon apparent. Dr. Montessori's views of childhood are in some respects identical with those of Froebel, although in general decidedly more radical. Both defend the child's right to be active, to explore his environment and develop his own inner resources through every form of investigation and creative effort. Education is to guide activity, not repress it. Environment cannot create human power, but only give it scope and material, direct it, or at most but call it forth; and the teacher's task is first to nourish and assist, to watch, encourage, guide, induce, rather than to interfere, prescribe, or restrict. To most American teachers and to all kindergartners this principle has long been familiar; they will but welcome now a new and eloquent statement of it from a modern viewpoint. In the practical interpretation of the principle, however, there is decided divergence between the Montessori school and the kindergarten. The Montessori "directress" does not teach children in groups, with the practical requirement, no matter how well "mediated," that each member of the group shall join in the exercise. The Montessori pupil does about as he pleases, so long as he does not do any harm.
Montessori and Froebel stand in agreement also on the need for training of the senses; but Montessori's scheme for this training is at once more elaborate and more direct than Froebel's. She has devised out of Séguin's apparatus a comprehensive and scientific scheme for formal gymnastic [Page xxii] of the senses; Froebel originated a series of objects designed for a much broader and more creative use by the children, but by no means so closely adapted to the training of sensory discrimination. The Montessori material carries out the fundamental principle of Pestalozzi, which he tried in vain to embody in a successful system of his own: it "develops piece by piece the pupil's mental capacities" by training separately, through repeated exercises, his several senses and his ability to distinguish, compare, and handle typical objects. In the kindergarten system, and particularly in the "liberal" modifications of it, sense training is incidental to constructive and imaginative activity in which the children are pursuing larger ends than the mere arrangement of forms or colours. Even in the most formal work in kindergarten design the children are "making a picture," and are encouraged to tell what it looks like–"a star," "a kite," "a flower."
As to physical education, the two systems agree in much the same way: both affirm the need for free bodily activity, for rhythmic exercises, and for the development of muscular control; but whereas the kindergarten seeks much of all this through group games with an imaginative or social content, the Montessori scheme places the emphasis on special exercises designed to give formal training in separate physical functions.
In another general aspect, however, the agreement between the two systems, strong in principle, leaves the Montessori system less formal rather than more formal in practice. The principle in this case consists of the affirmation of the child's need for social training. In the conservative kindergarten this training is sought once more, largely in group games. These are usually imaginative, and sometimes decidedly symbolic: that is, the children [Page xxiii] play at being farmers, millers, shoemakers, mothers and fathers, birds, animals, knights, or soldiers; they sing songs, go through certain semi-dramatic activities–such as "opening the pigeon house," "mowing the grass," "showing the good child to the knights," and the like; and each takes his part in the representation of some typical social situation. The social training involved in these games is formal only in the sense that the children are not engaged, as the Montessori children often are, in a real social enterprise, such as that of serving dinner, cleaning the room, caring for animals, building a toy house, or making a garden. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that even the most conservative kindergarten does not, on principle, exclude "real" enterprises of this latter sort; but in a three-hour session it does rather little with them. Liberal kindergartners do more, particularly in Europe, where the session is often longer. Nor does the Montessori system wholly exclude imaginative group games. But Dr. Montessori, despite an evidently profound interest not only in social training, but also in aesthetic, idealistic, and even religious development, speaks of "games and foolish stories" in a casual and derogatory way, which shows that she is as yet unfamiliar with the American kindergartner's remarkable skill and power in the use of these resources. (Of course the American kindergartner does not use "foolish" stories; but stories she does use, and to good effect.) The Montessori programme involves much direct social experience, both in the general life of the school and in the manual work done by the pupils; the kindergarten extends the range of the child's social consciousness through the imagination. The groupings of the Montessori children are largely free and unregulated; the groupings of kindergarten children are more often formal and prescribed. [Page xxiv]
On one point the Montessori system agrees with the conservative kindergarten, but not with the liberal: it prepares directly for the mastery of the school arts. There can be no doubt that Dr. Montessori has devised a peculiarly successful scheme for teaching children to write, an effective method for the introduction of reading, and good material for early number work. Both types of kindergarten increase, to be sure, the child's general capacity for expression: kindergarten activity adds to his stock of ideas, awakens and guides his imagination, increases his vocabulary, and trains him in the effective use of it. Children in a good kindergarten hear stories and tell them, recount their own experiences, sing songs, and recite verses, all in a company of friendly but fairly critical listeners, which does even more to stimulate and guide expression than does the circle at home. But even the conservative kindergarten does not teach children to write and to read. It does teach them a good deal about number; and it may fairly be questioned whether it does not do more fundamental work in this field than the Montessori system itself. The Froebelian gifts offer exceptional opportunity for concrete illustration of the conceptions of whole and part, through the creation of wholes from parts, and the breaking up of wholes into parts. This aspect of number is at least as important as the series aspect, which children get in counting and for which the Montessori "Long Stair" provides such good material. The Froebelian material may be used very readily for counting, however, and the Montessori material gives some slight opportunity for uniting and dividing. So far as preparation for arithmetic is concerned, a combination of the two bodies of material is both feasible and desirable. The liberal kindergarten, meanwhile, abandoning the use of the [Page xxv] gifts and occupations for mathematical purposes, makes no attempt to prepare its pupils directly for the school arts.
Compared with the kindergarten, then, the Montessori system presents these main points of interest: it carries out far more radically the principle of unrestricted liberty; its materials are intended for the direct and formal training of the senses; it includes apparatus designed to aid in the purely physical development of the children; its social training is carried out mainly by means of present and actual social activities; and it affords direct preparation for the school arts. The kindergarten, on the other hand, involves a certain amount of group-teaching, in which children are held–not necessarily by the enforcement of authority, yet by authority, confessedly, when other means fail–to definite activities; its materials are intended primarily for creative use by the children and offer opportunity for mathematical analysis and the teaching of design; and its procedure is rich in resources for the imagination. One thing should be made entirely clear and emphatic: in none of these characteristics are the two systems rigidly antagonistic. Much kindergarten activity is free, and the principle of prescription is not wholly given over by the "Houses of Childhood"–witness their Rules and Regulations; the kindergarten involves direct sense training, and the Montessori system admits some of the Froebel blocks for building and design; there are many purely muscular activities in the kindergarten, and some of the usual kindergarten games are used by Montessori; the kindergarten conducts some gardening, care of animals, construction-work, and domestic business, and the Montessori system admits a few imaginative social plays; both systems (but not the liberal form of the kindergarten) [Page xxvi] work directly toward the school arts. Since the difference between the two programmes is one of arrangement, emphasis, and degree, there is no fundamental reason why a combination especially adapted to English and American schools cannot be worked out.
The broad contrast between a Montessori school and a kindergarten appears on actual observation to be this: whereas the Montessori children spend almost all their time handling things, largely according to their individual inclination and under individual guidance, kindergarten children are generally engaged in group work and games with an imaginative background and appeal. A possible principle of adjustment between the two systems might be stated thus: work with objects designed for formal sensory, motor, and intellectual training should be done individually or in purely voluntary groups; imaginative and social activity should be carried on in regulated groups. This principle is suggested only as a possible basis for education during the kindergarten age; for as children grow older they must be taught in classes, and they naturally learn how to carry out imaginative and social enterprises in free groups, and the former often alone. Nor should it be supposed that the principle is suggested as a rule to which there can be no exception. It is suggested simply as a general working hypothesis, the value of which must be tested in experience. Although it has long been observed by kindergartners themselves that group-work with the Froebelian materials, especially such work as involves geometrical analysis and formal design, soon tires the children, it has been held that the kindergartner could safeguard her pupils from loss of interest or real fatigue by watching carefully for the first signs of weariness and stopping the work promptly on their appearance. For [Page xxvii] small groups of the older children, who can do work of this sort with ease and enjoyment, no doubt the inevitable restraint of group teaching is a negligible factor, the fatiguing effects of which any good kindergartner can forestall. But for younger children a régime of complete freedom would seem to promise better results–at least so far as work with objects is concerned. In games, on the other hand, group teaching means very little restraint and the whole process is less tiring any way. To differentiate in method between these two kinds of activity may be the best way to keep them both in an effective educational programme.
To speak of an effective educational programme leads at once, however, to an important aspect of the Montessori system, quite aside from its relation to the kindergarten, with which this Introduction must now deal. This is the social aspect, which finds its explanation in Dr. Montessori's own story of her first school. In any discussion of the availability of the Montessori system in English and American schools–particularly in American public schools and English "Board" schools–two general conditions under which Dr. Montessori did her early work in Rome should be borne in mind. She had her pupils almost all day long, practically controlling their lives in their waking hours; and her pupils came for the most part from families of the laboring class. We cannot expect to achieve the results Dr. Montessori has achieved if we have our pupils under our guidance only two or three hours in the morning, nor can we expect exactly similar results from children whose heredity and experience make them at once more sensitive, more active, and less amenable to suggestion than hers. If we are to make practical application of the Montessori scheme we must not neglect to consider the [Page xxviii] modifications of it which differing social conditions may render necessary.
The conditions under which Dr. Montessori started her original school in Rome do not, indeed, lack counterpart in large cities the world over. When one reads her eloquent "Inaugural Address" it is impossible not to wish that a "School within the Home" might stand as a centre of hopeful child life in the midst of every close-built city block. Better, of course, if there were no hive-like city tenements at all, and if every family could give to its own children on its own premises enough of "happy play in grassy places." Better if every mother and father were in certain ways an expert in child psychology and hygiene. But while so many unfortunate thousands still live in the hateful cliff-dwellings of our modern cities, we must welcome Dr. Montessori's large conception of the social function of her "Houses of Childhood" as a new gospel for the schools which serve the city poor. No matter what didactic apparatus such schools may use, they should learn of Dr. Montessori the need of longer hours, completer care of the children, closer co-operation with the home, and larger aims. In such schools, too, it is probable that the two fundamental features of Dr. Montessori's work–her principle of liberty and her scheme for sense training–will find their completest and most fruitful application.
It is just these fundamental features, however, which will be most bitterly attacked whenever the social status of the original Casa dei Bambini is forgotten. Anthropometric measurements, baths, training in personal self-care, the serving of meals, gardening, and the care of animals we may hear sweepingly recommended for all schools, even for those with a three-hour session and a socially favored class of pupils; but the need for individual [Page xxix] liberty and for the training of the senses will be denied even in the work of schools where the conditions correspond closely to those at San Lorenzo. Of course no practical educator will actually propose bathtubs for all schools, and no doubt there will be plenty of wise conversation about transferring to a given school any function now well discharged by the homes that support it. The problems raised by the proposal to apply in all schools the Montessori conception of discipline and the Montessori sense-training are really more difficult to solve. Is individual liberty a universal educational principle, or a principle which must be modified in the case of a school with no such social status as that of the original "House of Childhood"? Do all children need sense training, or only those of unfavorable inheritance and home environment? No serious discussion of the Montessori system can avoid these questions. What is said in answer to them here is written in the hope that subsequent discussion may be somewhat influenced to keep in view the really deciding factor in each case–the actual situation in the school.
There is occasion enough in these questions, to be sure, for philosophical and scientific argument. The first question involves an ethical issue, the second a psychological issue, and both may be followed through to purely metaphysical issues. Dr. Montessori believes in liberty for the pupil because she thinks of life "as a superb goddess, ever advancing to new conquests." Submission, loyalty, self-sacrifice seem to her, apparently, only incidental necessities of life, not essential elements of its eternal form. There is obvious opportunity here for profound difference of philosophic theory and belief. She seems to hold, too, that sense perception forms the sole basis for the mental and hence for the moral life; that "sense training will pre- [Page xxx] pare the ordered foundation upon which the child may build up a clear and strong mentality," including, apparently, his moral ideas; and that the cultivation of purpose and of the imaginative and creative capacities of children is far less important than the development of the power to learn from the environment by means of the senses. These views seem to agree rather closely with those of Herbart and to some extent with those of Locke. Certainly they offer material for both psychological and ethical debate. Possibly, however, Dr. Montessori would not accept the views here ascribed to her on the evidence of this book; and in any case these are matters for the philosopher and the psychologist. A pedagogical issue is never wholly an issue of high principle.
Can it reasonably be maintained, then, that an actual situation like that in the first "House of Childhood" at Rome is the only situation in which the Montessori principle of liberty can justifiably find full application? Evidently the Roman school is a true Republic of Childhood, in which nothing need take precedence of the child's claim to pursue an active purpose of his own. Social restraints are here reduced to a minimum; the children must, to be sure, subordinate individual caprice to the demands of the common good, they are not allowed to quarrel or to interfere with each other, and they have duties to perform at stated times; but each child is a citizen in a community governed wholly in the interests of the equally privileged members thereof, his liberty is rarely interfered with, he is free to carry out his own purposes, and he has as much influence in the affairs of the commonwealth as the average member of an adult democracy. This situation is never duplicated in the home, for a child is not only a member of the family, whose interests are to be considered with [Page xxxi] the rest, but literally a subordinate member, whose interests must often be frankly set aside for those of an adult member or for those of the household itself. Children must come to dinner at dinner time, even if continued digging in the sand would be more to their liking or better for their general development of muscle, mind, or will. It is possible, of course, to refine on the theory of the child's membership in the family community and of the right of elders to command, but practically it remains true that the common conditions of family life prohibit any such freedom as is exercised in a Montessori school. In the same way a school of large enrollment that elects to cover in a given time so much work that individual initiative cannot be trusted to compass it, is forced to teach certain things at nine o'clock and others at ten, and to teach in groups; and the individual whose life is thus cabined and confined must get what he can. For a given school the obvious question is, Considering the work to be done in the time allowed, can we give up the safeguards of a fixed programme and group teaching? The deeper question lies here: Is the work to be done in itself so important that it is worth while to have the children go through it under compulsion or on interest induced by the teacher? Or to put it another way: May not the work be so much less important than the child's freedom that we had better trust to native curiosity and cleverly devised materials anyway and run the risk of his losing part of the work, or even the whole of it?
For schools beyond the primary grade there will be no doubt as to the answer to this question. There are many ways in which school work may safely be kept from being the deadening and depressing process it so often is, but the giving up of all fixed and limited schedules and the [Page xxxii] prescriptions of class teaching is not one of them. Even if complete liberty of individual action were possible in schools of higher grade, it is not certain that it would be desirable: for we must learn to take up many of our purposes in life under social imperative. But with young children the question becomes more difficult. What work do we wish to make sure that each child does? If our schools can keep but half a day, is there time enough for every child to cover this work without group teaching at stated times? Is the prescription and restraint involved in such group teaching really enough to do the children any harm or to make our teaching less effective? Can we not give up prescription altogether for parts of the work and minimise it for others? The general question of individual liberty is thus reduced to a series of practical problems of adjustment. It is no longer a question of total liberty or no liberty at all, but a question of the practical mediation of these extremes. When we consider, furthermore, that the teacher's skill and the attractiveness of her personality, the alluring power of the didactic apparatus and the ease with which it enables children to learn, to say nothing of a cheerful and pleasant room and the absence of set desks and seat, may all work together to prevent scheduled teaching in groups from becoming in the least an occasion for restraint, it is plain that in any given school there may be ample justification for abating the rigour of Dr. Montessori's principle of freedom. Every school must work out its own solution of the problem in the face of its particular conditions.
The adoption of sense-training would seem to be much less a matter for variable decision. Some children may need less than others, but for all children between the ages of three and five the Montessori material will prove fas- [Page xxxiii] cinating as well as profitable. A good deal of modern educational theory has been based on the belief that children are interested only in what has social value, social content, or "real use"; yet a day with any normal child will give ample evidence of the delight that children take in purely formal exercises. The sheer fascination of tucking cards under the edge of a rug will keep a baby happy until any ordinary supply of cards is exhausted; and the wholly sensory appeal of throwing stones into the water gives satisfaction enough to absorb for a long time the attention of older children–to say nothing of grown-ups. The Montessori apparatus satisfies sense hunger when it is keen for new material, and it has besides a puzzle-interest which children eagerly respond to. Dr. Montessori subordinates the value of the concrete mental content her material supplies to its value in rendering the senses more acute; yet it is by no means certain that this content–purely formal as it is–does not also give the material much of its importance. Indeed, the refinement of sensory discrimination may not in itself be particularly valuable. What Professor G.M. Whipple says on this point in his Manual of Mental and Physical Tests (p. 130) has much weight:
The use of sensory tests in correlation work is particularly interesting. In general, some writers are convinced that keen discrimination is a prerequisite to keen intelligence, while others are equally convinced that intelligence is essentially conditioned by "higher" processes, and only remotely by sensory capacity–barring, of course, such diminution of capacity as to interfere seriously with the experiencing of sensations, as in partial deafness or partial loss of vision. While it is scarcely the place here to discuss the evolutionary significance of discriminative sensitivity, it may be pointed out that the normal capacity is many times in excess of the actual demands of life, and that it is consequently difficult to understand why nature has been so prolific and generous; to [Page xxxiv] understand, in other words, what is the sanction for the seemingly hypertrophied discriminative capacity of the human sense organs. The usual "theological explanations" of our sensory life fail to account for this discrepancy. Again, the very fact of the existence of this surplus capacity seems to negative at the outset the notion that sensory capacity can be a conditioning factor in intelligence–with the qualification already noted.
It is quite possible that the real pedagogical value of the Montessori apparatus is due to the fact that it keeps children happily engaged in the exercise of their senses and their fingers when they crave such exercise most and to the further fact that it teaches them without the least strain a good deal about forms and materials. These values are not likely to be much affected by differing school conditions.
In the use of the material for sense-training, English and American teachers may find profit in two general warnings. First, it should not be supposed that sense training alone will accomplish all that Dr. Montessori accomplishes through the whole range of her school activities. To fill up most of a morning with sense-training is to give it (except perhaps in the case of the youngest pupils) undue importance. It is not even certain that the general use of the senses will be much affected by it, to say nothing of the loss of opportunity for larger physical and social activity. Second, the isolation of the senses should be used with some care. To shut off sight is to take one step toward sleep, and the requirement that a child concentrate his attention, in this situation, on the sense perceptions he gets by other means than vision must not be maintained too long. No small strain is involved in mental action without the usual means of information and control.
The proposal, mentioned above, of a feasible combina- [Page xxxv] tion of the Montessori system and the kindergarten may now be set forth. If it is put very briefly and without defense or prophecy, it is because it is made without dogmatism, simply in the hope that it will prove suggestive to some open-minded teacher who is willing to try out any scheme that promises well for her pupils. The conditions supposed are those of the ordinary American public-school kindergarten, with a two-year programme beginning with children three and a half or four years old, a kindergarten with not too many pupils, with a competent kindergartner and assistant kindergartner, and with some help from training-school students.
The first proposal is for the use of the Montessori material during the better part of the first year instead of the regular Froebelian material. To the use of the Montessori devices–including the gymnastic apparatus–some of the time now devoted to pictures and stories should also be applied. It is not suggested that no Froebelian material should be used, but that the two systems be woven into each other, with a gradual transition from the free, individual use of the Montessori objects to the same sort of use of the large sizes of the Froebelian gifts, especially the second, third and fourth. When the children seem to be ready for it, a certain amount of the more formal work with the gifts should be begun. In the second year the Froebelian gift work should predominate, without absolute exclusion of the Montessori exercises. In the latter part of the second year the Montessori exercises preparatory to writing should be introduced. Throughout the second year the full time for stories and picture work should be given to them, and in both years the morning circle and the games should be carried on as usual. The luncheon period should of course remain the same. One part of Dr. Mon- [Page xxxvi] tessori's programme the kindergartner and her assistant should use every effort to incorporate in their work–the valuable training in self-help and independent action afforded in the care of the materials and equipment by the children themselves. This need not be confined to the Montessori apparatus. Children who have been trained to take out, use, and put away the Montessori objects until they are ready for the far richer variety of material in the Froebelian system, should be able to care for it also. Of course if there are children who can return in the afternoon, it would be very interesting to attempt the gardening, which both Froebel and Montessori recommend, and the Montessori vase-work.
For the possible scorn of those to whom all compromise is distasteful, the author of this Introduction seeks but one compensation–that any kindergartner who may happen to adopt this suggestion will let him study the results.
As to the use of the Montessori system in the home, one or two remarks must suffice. In the first place, parents should not expect that the mere presence of the material in the nursery will be enough to work an educational miracle. A Montessori directress does no common "teaching", but she is called upon for very skillful and very tiring effort. She must watch, assist, inspire, suggest, guide, explain, correct, inhibit. She is supposed, in addition, to contribute by her work to the upbuilding of a new science of pedagogy; but her educational efforts–and education is not an investigative and experimental effort, but a practical and constructive one–are enough to exhaust all her time, strength and ingenuity. It will do no harm–except perhaps to the material itself–to have the Montessori material at hand in the home, but it must be used [Page xxxvii] under proper guidance if it is to be educationally effective. And besides, it must not be forgotten that the material is by no means the most important feature of the Montessori programme. The best use of the Montessori system in the home will come through the reading of this book. If parents shall learn from Dr. Montessori something of the value of child life, of its need for activity, of its characteristic modes of expression, and of its possibilities, and shall apply this knowledge wisely, the work of the great Italian educator will be successful enough.
This Introduction cannot close without some discussion, however limited, of the important problems suggested by the Montessori method of teaching children to write and to read. We have in American schools admirable methods for the teaching of reading; by the Aldine method, for instance, children of fair ability read without difficulty ten or more readers in the first school year, and advance rapidly toward independent power. Our instruction in writing, however, has never been particularly noteworthy. We have been trying recently to teach children to write a flowing hand by the "arm movement", without much formation of separate letters by the fingers, and our results seem to prove that the effort with children before the age of ten is not worth while. Sensible school officers are content to let children in the first four grades write largely by drawing the letters, and there has been a fairly general conviction that writing is not in any case especially important before the age of eight or nine. In view of Dr. Montessori's success in teaching children of four and five to write with ease and skill, must we not revise our estimate of the value of writing and our procedure in teaching it? What changes may we profitably introduce in our teaching of reading? [Page xxxviii]
Here again our theory and our practice have suffered from the headstrong advocacy of general principles. Because by clumsy methods children used to be kept at the task of learning the school arts to the undoubted detriment of their minds and bodies, certain writers have advocated the total exclusion of reading and writing from the early grades. Many parents refuse to send their children to school until they are eight, preferring to let them "run wild". This attitude is well justified by school conditions in some places; but where the schools are good, it ignores not only the obvious advantages of school life quite aside from instruction in written language, but also the almost complete absence from strain afforded by modern methods. Now that the Montessori system adds a new and promising method to our resources, it is the more unreasonable: for as a fact normal children are eager to read and write at six, and have plenty of use for these accomplishments.
This does not mean, however, that reading and writing are so important for young children that they should be unduly emphasised. If we can teach them without strain, let us do so, and the more effectively the better; but let us remember, as Dr. Montessori does, that reading and writing should form but a subordinate part of the experience of a child and should minister in general to his other needs. With the best of methods the value of reading and writing before six is questionable. Our conscious life is bookish enough as it is, and it would seem on general grounds a safer policy to defer written language until the age of normal interest in it, and even then not to devote to it more time than an easy and gradual mastery demands.
Of the technical advantages of the Montessori scheme [Page xxxix] for writing there can be little doubt. The child gains ready control over his pencil through exercises which have their own simple but absorbing interest; and if he does not learn to write with an "arm movement", we may be quite content with his ability to draw a legible and handsome script. Then he learns the letters–their forms, their names, and how to make them–through exercises which have the very important technical characteristic of involving a thorough sensory analysis of the material to be mastered. Meumann has taught us of late the great value in all memory work of complete impression through prolonged and intensive analytical study. In the teaching of spelling, for instance, it is comparatively useless to devise schemes for remembering unless the original impressions are made strong and elaborate; and it is only by careful, varied, and detailed sense impression that such material as the alphabet can be thus impressed. So effective is the Montessori scheme for impressing the letters–especially because of its novel use of the sense of touch–that the children learn how to make the whole alphabet before the abstract and formal character of the material leads to any diminution of interest or enthusiasm. Their initial curiosity over the characters they see their elders use is enough to carry them through.
In Italian the next step is easy. The letters once learned, it is a simple matter to combine them into words, for Italian spelling is so nearly phonetic that it presents very little difficulty to any one who knows how to pronounce. It is at just this point that the teaching of English reading by the Montessori method will find its greatest obstacle. Indeed, it is the unphonetic character of English spelling that has largely influenced us to give up the alphabet method of teaching children to read. Other reasons, [Page xl] to be sure, have also induced us to teach by the word and the sentence method; but this one has been and will continue to be the deciding factor. We have found it more effective to teach children whole words, sentences, or rhymes by sight, adding to sense impressions the interest aroused by a wide range of associations, and then analysing the words thus acquired into their phonetic elements to give the children independent power in the acquisition of new words. Our marked success with this method makes it by no means certain that it is "in the characteristic process of natural development" for children to build up written words from their elements–sounds and syllables. It would seem, on the contrary, as James concluded, that the mind works quite as naturally in the opposite direction–grasping wholes first, especially such as have a practical interest, and then working down to their formal elements. In the teaching of spelling, of course, the wholes (words) are already known at sight–that is, the pupil recognises them easily in reading–and the process aims at impressing upon the child's mind the exact order of their constituent elements. It is because reading and spelling are in English such completely separate processes that we can teach a child to read admirably without making him a "good speller" and are forced to bring him to the latter glorious state by new endeavours. We gain by this separation both in reading and in spelling, as experience and comparative tests–popular superstition to the contrary notwithstanding–have conclusively proved. The mastery of the alphabet by the Montessori method will be of great assistance in teaching our children to write, but of only incidental assistance in teaching them to read and to spell.
Once more, then, this Introduction attempts to suggest [Page xli] a compromise. In the school arts the programme used to such good effect in the Italian schools and the programme which has been so well worked out in English and American schools may be profitably combined. We can learn much about writing and reading from Dr. Montessori–especially from the freedom her children have in the process of learning to write and in the use of their newly acquired power, as well as from her device for teaching them to read connected prose. We can use her materials for sense training and lead as she does to easy mastery of the alphabetic symbols. Our own schemes for teaching reading we can retain, and doubtless the phonetic analysis they involve we shall find easier and more effective because of our adoption of the Montessori scheme for teaching the letters. The exact adjustment of the two methods is of course a task for teachers in practice and for educational leaders.
To all educators this book should prove most interesting. Not many of them will expect that the Montessori method will regenerate humanity. Not many will wish to see it–or any method–produce a generation of prodigies such as those who have been heralded recently in America. Not many will approve the very early acquisition by children of the arts of reading and writing. But all who are fair-minded will admit the genius that shines from the pages which follow, and the remarkable suggestiveness of Dr. Montessori's labors. It is the task of the professional student of education to-day to submit all systems to careful comparative study, and since Dr. Montessori's inventive power has sought its tests in practical experience rather than in comparative investigation, this duller task remains to be done. But however he may scrutinise the results of her work, the educator who reads of it here will honour [Page xlii] in the Dottoressa Maria Montessori the enthusiasm, the patience, and the constructive insight of the scientist and the friend of humanity.
HENRY W. HOLMES
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