The Absorbent Mind, p. 239.
In Chapter 23, Dr. Montessori explains that the fundamental difference between her method and conventional methods is based on the social cohesion found within the environment. This cohesion, she tells us, springs spontaneously when we allow the child to develop based on their needs. These needs are inherent in all children and are set forth by nature. “It is the society of little children who are guided by the magical powers of nature. We must value it and treasure it, because neither the character nor the social sentiment can be given by teachers. They are the products of life.” (p. 234)
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 23: Cohesion in the Social Unit
Montessori found that social cohesion is an unconscious power whereby children work together for the greater good. They work without needing rewards and without competition.
Through activity, they unconsciously prepare themselves for society.
“Preparation for human society is based on the activities of children who act, urged on by the needs of their nature, in a limited world corresponding to the frame.” (p. 236) By participating in these activities, the child “constructs his own personality.” (p. 238)
Given this, Montessori states that conventional methods of education do not address children’s needs. She insists that the enemy is not illiteracy but rather the conventional methods of educating children:
…teachers do not believe that children are active learners. They drive and encourage, or give punishments and rewards, to stimulate work. They use competition to arouse effort. One may say that all are forced into a hunt for evil for the sake combating it, and a typical attitude of the adult is to always be looking for vice in order to suppress it. But the correction of errors is often humiliating and discouraging and, since education rests on this basis, there follows a lowering in the general quality of social life. In the schools of today, no one may copy another’s work, and to help someone else is regarded as a crime. To accept help is as guilty as to give it, so the union we spoke of fails to be formed. Normal standards are debased by a rule arbitrarily imposed. At every turn one hears: “Don’t play about,” “Don’t make a noise,” “Don’t help others with their work,” “Don’t speak unless you are spoken to.” Always the injunction is negative.
According to Montessori, conventional education believes that children are “incapable and must be taught.” (p. 241) Teachers feel that children are not able to concentrate for long periods of time, so they interrupt the children’s flow of work time by encouraging breaks. Montessori says this is detrimental and that “they say to the child, ‘Don’t apply yourself for too long at any one thing. It may tire you.’” (p. 241) We know from Montessori’s 3-hour work cycle that this is clearly not the case.
Most importantly, and perhaps most surprisingly, Montessori maintains that “we adults cannot teach children for three to six years of age.” (p. 242) Instead, we must support their natural development through intense observation of their natural needs. The child grows only through activity not through philosophical or intellectual lectures.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, December 3, 2014.