"Chapter XXII." by Maria Montessori (1870-1952), translated by Anne Everett George (1882-)
IN the "Children's Houses," the old-time teacher, who wore herself out maintaining discipline of immobility, and who wasted her breath in loud and continual discourse, has disappeared.
For this teacher we have substituted the didactic material, which contains within itself the control of errors and which makes auto-education possible to each child. The teacher has thus become a director of the spontaneous work of the children. She is not a passive force, a silent presence.
The children are occupied each one in a different way, and the directress, watching them, can make psychological observations which, if collected in an orderly way and according to scientific standards, should do much toward the reconstruction of child psychology and the development of experimental psychology. I believe that I have by my method established the conditions necessary to the development of scientific pedagogy; and whoever adopts this method opens, in doing so, a laboratory of experimental pedagogy.
From such work, we must await the positive solution of all those pedagogical problems of which we talk to-day. For through such work there has already come the solution of some of these very questions: that of the liberty of the pupils; auto-education; the establishment of har- [Page 372] mony between the work and activities of home life and school tasks, making both work together for the education of the child.
The problem of religious education, the importance of which we do not fully realise, should also be solved by positive pedagogy. If religion is born with civilisation, its roots must lie deep in human nature. We have had most beautiful proof of an instinctive love of knowledge in the child, who has too often been misjudged in that he has been considered addicted to meaningless play, and games void of thought. The child who left the game in his eagerness for knowledge, has revealed himself as a true son of that humanity which has been throughout centuries the creator of scientific and civil progress. We have belittled the son of man by giving him foolish and degrading toys, a world of idleness where he is suffocated by a badly conceived discipline. Now, in his liberty, the child should show us, as well, whether man is by nature a religious creature.
To deny, a priori, the religious sentiment in man, and to deprive humanity of the education of this sentiment, is to commit a pedagogical error similar to that of denying, a priori, to the child, the love of learning for learning's sake. This ignorant assumption led us to dominate the scholar, to subject him to a species of slavery, in order to render him apparently disciplined.
The fact that we assume that religious education is only adapted to the adult, may be akin to another profound error existing in education to-day, namely, that of over-looking the education of the senses at the very period when this education is possible. The life of the adult is practically an application of the senses to the gathering of sensations from the environment. A lack of preparation [Page 373] for this, often results in inadequacy in practical life, in that lack of poise which causes so many individuals to waste their energies in purposeless effort. Not to form a parallel between the education of the senses as a guide to practical life, and religious education as a guide to the moral life, but for the sake of illustration; let me call attention to how often we find inefficiency, instability, among irreligious persons, and how much precious individual power is miserably wasted.
How many men have had this experience! And when that spiritual awakening comes late, as it sometimes does, through the softening power of sorrow, the mind is unable to establish an equilibrium, because it has grown too much accustomed to a life deprived of spirituality. We see equally piteous cases of religious fanaticism, or we look upon intimate dramatic struggles between the heart, ever seeking its own safe and quiet port, and the mind that constantly draws it back to the sea of conflicting ideas and emotions, where peace is unknown. These are all psychological phenomena of the highest importance; they present, perhaps, the gravest of all our human problems. We Europeans are still filled with prejudices and hedged about with preconceptions in regard to these matters. We are very slaves of thought. We believe that liberty of conscience and of thought consists in denying certain sentimental beliefs, while liberty never can exist where one struggles to stifle some other thing, but only where unlimited expansion is granted; where life is left free and untrammelled. He who really does not believe, does not fear that which he does not believe, and does not combat that which for him does not exist. If he believes and fights, he then becomes an enemy to liberty.
In America, the great positive scientist, William James, [Page 374] who expounds the physiological theory of emotions, is also the man who illustrates the psychological importance of religious "conscience." We cannot know the future of the progress of thought: here, for example, in the "Children's Houses" the triumph of discipline through the conquest of liberty and independence marks the foundation of the progress which the future will see in the matter of pedagogical methods. To me it offers the greatest hope for human redemption through education.
Perhaps, in the same way, through the conquest of liberty of thought and of conscience, we are making our way toward a great religious triumph. Experience will show, and the psychological observations made along this line in the "Children's Houses" will undoubtedly be of the greatest interest.
This book of methods compiled by one person alone, must be followed by many others. It is my hope that, starting from the individual study of the child educated with our method, other educators will set forth the results of their experiments. These are the pedagogical books which await us in the future.
From the practical side of the school, we have with our methods the advantage of being able to teach in one room, children of very different ages. In our "Children's Houses" we have little ones of two years and a half, who cannot as yet make use of the most simple of the sense exercises, and children of five and a half who because of their development might easily pass into the third elementary. Each one of them perfects himself through his own powers, and goes forward guided by that inner force which distinguishes him as an individual.
One great advantage of such a method is that it will make instruction in the rural schools easier, and will be [Page 375] of great advantage in the schools in the small provincial towns where there are few children, yet where all the various grades are represented. Such schools are not able to employ more than one teacher. Our experience shows that one directress may guide a group of children varying in development from little ones of three years old to the third elementary. Another great advantage lies in the extreme facility with which written language may be taught, making it possible to combat illiteracy and to cultivate the national tongue.
As to the teacher, she may remain for the whole day among children in the most varying stages of development, just as the mother remains in the house with children of all ages, without becoming tired.
The children work by themselves, and, in doing so, make a conquest of active discipline, and independence in all the acts of daily life, just as through daily conquests they progress in intellectual development. Directed by an intelligent teacher, who watches over their physical development as well as over their intellectual and moral progress, children are able with our methods to arrive at a splendid physical development, and, in addition to this, there unfolds within them, in all its perfection, the soul, which distinguishes the human being.
We have been mistaken in thinking that the natural education of children should be purely physical; the soul, too, has its nature, which it was intended to perfect in the spiritual life,–the dominating power of human existence throughout all time. Our methods take into consideration the spontaneous psychic development of the child, and help this in ways that observation and experience have shown us to be wise.
If physical care leads the child to take pleasure in [Page 376] bodily health, intellectual and moral care make possible for him the highest spiritual joy, and send him forward into a world where continual surprises and discoveries await him; not only in the external environment, but in the intimate recesses of his own soul.
It is through such pleasures as these that the ideal man grows, and only such pleasures are worthy of a place in the education of the infancy of humanity.
Our children are noticeably different from those others who have grown up within the grey walls of the common schools. Our little pupils have the serene and happy aspect and the frank and open friendliness of the person who feels himself to be master of his own actions. When they run to gather about our visitors, speaking to them with sweet frankness, extending their little hands with gentle gravity and well-bred cordiality, when they thank these visitors for the courtesy they have paid us in coming, the bright eyes and the happy voices make us feel that they are, indeed, unusual little men. When they display their work and their ability, in a confidential and simple way, it is almost as if they called for a maternal approbation from all those who watch them. Often, a little one will seat himself on the floor beside some visitor silently writing his name, and adding a gentle word of thanks. It is as if they wished to make the visitor feel the affectionate gratitude which is in their hearts.
When we see all these things and when, above all, we pass with these children from the busy activity of the schoolroom at work, into the absolute and profound silence which they have learned to enjoy so deeply, we are moved in spite of ourselves and feel that we have come in touch with the very souls of these little pupils.
The "Children's House" seems to exert a spiritual in- [Page 377] fluence upon everyone. I have seen here, men of affairs, great politicians preoccupied with problems of trade and of state, cast off like an uncomfortable garment the burden of the world, and fall into a simple forgetfulness of self. They are affected by this vision of the human soul growing in its true nature, and I believe that this is what they mean when they call our little ones, wonderful children, happy children–the infancy of humanity in a higher stage of evolution than our own. I understand how the great English poet Wordsworth, enamoured as he was of nature, demanded the secret of all her peace and beauty. It was at last revealed to him–the secret of all nature lies in the soul of a little child. He holds there the true meaning of that life which exists throughout humanity. But this beauty which "lies about us in our infancy" becomes obscured; "shades of the prison house, begin to close about the growing boy . . . at last the man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day."
Truly our social life is too often only the darkening and the death of the natural life that is in us. These methods tend to guard that spiritual fire within man, to keep his real nature unspoiled and to set it free from the oppressive and degrading yoke of society. It is a pedagogical method informed by the high concept of Immanuel Kant: "Perfect art returns to nature."
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