A discovery greater than Marconi’s
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2019 - 12:00am

People with discernment recognized in Maria Montessori’s experiment an event of great significance. Queen Margarita de Savoia, Italy said, “I prophesy that a new philosophy of life will arise from what we are learning from these children,” referring to the first Casa dei Bambini, which helped very poor three- to five-year-old children learn to enjoy household chores and comprehend Geometry, History, Geography, Botany and Zoology at the same time.

The head of a religious order said, “This is a discovery greater than Marconi: the humility and patience, respect shown by the teacher for the child, the value of deed over words, the child striving for perfection, the minute care in preventing error.”

Everyone who wishes to understand the discovery of the Montessori method should not fail to read how Dr. Montessori describe herself in the Secret of Childhood (Chapter II): “I set to work like a peasant woman who, having set aside a good store of seed corn, has found a fertile field in which she may freely sow it. But I was wrong. I had hardly turned over the clods of my field, when I found gold instead of wheat… I was the foolish Aladdin, who without knowing it had in his hand a key that would open hidden treasures.”

Discovering the ‘Hidden Treasures’ of childhood

What were these hidden treasures? Dr. Montessori stated that they are the normal characteristics of childhood concealed under a mask of “deviations.” She discovered that children possess different and higher qualities than those we usually attribute to them.

Amazing mental concentration. One day, Dr. Montessori was observing a child of three working on four knobbed wooden cylinder blocks filled with insets that gradate from largest to smallest, tallest to shortest, and stoutest to thinnest. She was amazed to see this tiny girl showing profound concentration. Montessori asked the teacher to make the other children sing aloud and promenade around her. The girl went on, mysteriously repeating the same exercise. Then, Montessori gently picked up the armchair on which the child was sitting and placed her on the table. The girl clung on to her precious cylinders and continued her task. With her scientific habit of measuring phenomena, Montessori counted the number of times the child repeated the exercise – 42. 

Love for order. Love for order is not usually associated with small children. This characteristic was revealed by chance. The materials were kept in a locked large cupboard and the teacher kept the key, contrary to what happens now in a Montessori class where the apparata are displayed on low open shelves. The teacher used to distribute the materials at the beginning and put them away in the cupboard at the end of the lesson. The teacher noticed that these little children, however often she told them to remain in their places, followed her when she went to the cupboard to put the materials away. This seemed to her nothing less than deliberate disobedience. Montessori realized that what they wanted was to put things back in their places themselves. So she let them free to do it.

Free choice of activity and cycle of work. One day, the teacher forgot to lock the cupboard the evening before. Upon her arrival, she found that the children have already opened the cupboard doors. Some were trying to decide which to take. Others were helping themselves, which several were already busy at work. The teacher was angry and wished to punish them for “stealing.” Again Montessori saw deeper into their motives. They had no intention of “stealing” since they regarded the putting back of materials to its right place as an essential part of the cycle of activity involved. Notice that it was her discovery that came first, and the method followed later.

No need for reward and punishments. The teacher, who was not a trained teacher, devised a system of reward and punishment for the children. One day, Montessori found a child sitting in a corner and on his breast he wore a “pompous decoration,” the teacher’s reward for good behavior. As it turned out, this particular child was actually being punished. Earlier a boy, decorated for his good behavior had taken his medal off and pinned it on him, regarding his decoration as a thing of little worth. The culprit, on the other hand, looked around him without feeling disgraced by his punishment. Montessori realized that children do not need these awards and punishments because of the inner satisfaction for getting their work done.

Cruelty to children is caused by teachers’ pride and anger

Generally, we adults are too preoccupied with scolding our children. We keep looking for their defective tendencies whether they are preschoolers, grade schoolers, or teenagers. Removing the beam from our own eyes or recognizing one’s errors, consists of the spiritual training of the teacher, says Dr. Montessori.  It does not mean that we must all develop into saints overnight. Rather, it means inner preparation to control adult PRIDE and ANGER. There is a great difference between an angry man amidst his adult companions, and angry man among children. The former will arouse opposing anger in others. As a proud person, he establishes an unpleasant reputation. He is kept in check by this “social control.” On the other hand, an adult who lives continually in the presence of small children is without this “social control.” The inexperienced child takes everything the adult says and does for granted. He claims this undisputed authority AS HIS RIGHT, and will regard any offense against it – ipso facto – as a crime.

Gandhi and Montessori:

A speech in London

 On October 28, 1931, Mahatma Gandhi spoke at the Montessori Training College, London. Maria Montessori was in attendance. “Madame (addressing Montessori), you have overwhelmed me with your words. It is perfectly true, I must admit it in all humility that however indifferently it may be, I endeavor to represent love in every fiber of my being.”

“The greatest lessons in life, if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children. You have truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children, and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

(For feedback email to precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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