Monday, October 26, 2015

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 25: The Three Levels of Discipline

NAMC Montessori Studying Absorbent mind chapter 25 Three levels of discipline. Three children smiling.
Conscious will is a power which develops with use and activity.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 254.

When my son was young, I always knew by his behavior when he was getting sick. Normally a sweet and gentle boy, he would turn into a mean-spirited, hard-to-please child that was unrecognizable. Bedtime was a welcome reprieve for all, only to be followed the next morning by a fever and malady of some sort. Extreme ‘naughty’ behavior soon came to be followed by the adults in his life giving each other a knowing look and saying, “He must be getting sick.” He was not acting out willfully; it occurred because of a disturbance of his physical person.

Montessori says that “the will does not lead to disorder and violence. These are signs of emotional disturbance and suffering.” (p. 253) When the environment and conditions are right, the will leads the child to activities to help him develop.

The Three Levels of Discipline — Studying the Works of Montessori: The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 25

“…Confusion springs from the belief that children’s natural actions are bound to be disorderly and even violent. Usually this belief is based on the fact that people, seeing a child act in a disorderly way, always assume that these actions proceed from his will.” (p. 253) How often do we hear adults laughing off undesirable behavior with expressions like “boys will be boys”? Montessori argues that nothing could be further from the truth, even though “education is … largely directed toward the suppression or bending of the child’s will, and the substitution for it of the teacher’s will, which demands from the child unquestionable obedience.” (p. 252)

Montessori states that one of the major prejudices in education is the idea that children are receptive rather than active beings.

Adults tell children the truths of the world, but though children give the impression of understanding, they do not have the ability to properly and constructively imagine such truths without actively experiencing them. When we use this method for shaping the child’s will; we obstruct his development and he rebels, thus creating an endless cycle of admonishment and rebellion.

It is wrong to think that a child’s will must be broken. We must allow the child to develop his will, which in turn matures and manifests itself as obedience. We must prepare the child’s environment to nurture this natural development.

The Three Levels of Obedience

In the first level of obedience, the child is able obey at times but not always. Before the age of three, Montessori tells us that the child cannot obey unless what is requested is the same as what he wishes. He may be able to obey one time but not another. Adults are easily frustrated by this and call the child willful. Clashes over will and obedience bring fits of temper as the child struggles to control natural urges. How can a child who cannot obey his own will be expected to obey the will of others?
Arriving at the second level of obedience, the child begins to exert some self-control over her urges. The child understands the wishes of others and can translate them to her own behavior. This, says Montessori, is where most education stops: “The ordinary teacher asks only that she be obeyed.” (p. 260)
There is, however, a third level of obedience: that which Montessori called joyful obedience. It is only in this third level that the child understands the thrill of being obedient. It is the desire to obey those for whom we feel a certain amount of intimacy.

The Silence Game

We often think of Montessori’s Silence Game as being only about getting children to focus. However, its very roots are founded in introducing collective obedience. “Perfect silence can only be obtained if all of those present are willing. A single person can break it. Success therefore depends on conscious and united action.” (p. 261) The Silence Game is more about the inhibition of impulse than it is about concentration.

Obedience is the last portion of the will to develop. Nurture it and it grows strong. Abuse or exploit it, and it is destroyed.

Works Cited
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, October 26, 2015.


Post a Comment

Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!