BLOG

Maria Montessori and The Common Vision

There are so many striking similarities between the common vision of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan and the teachings of Maria Montessori that I can only conclude that all four of these teachers were drawing on the same apprehension of reality and truth. Indeed Montessori even publicized her vision at the very same time as her three “colleagues.” Her first training course for teachers in Italy began in 1909, to be followed by publication of her various books and articles during the next decade. Her first international training course began in 1913. Yet by the late 1920s Montessori was no longer engaged in the research of new perspectives and methods. Rather she devoted her efforts to the preservation of the existing Montessori movement. So, as with her “colleagues,” Montessori’s period of discovery came to a close before the end of the 1920s.

      Some of the most important ways in which Montessori’s vision is identical with or similar to Steiner’s, Aurobindo’s, and Inayat Khan’s common vision follow:

 

  • Montessori described the newborn child as a “spiritual embryo” and understood the child’s nature as a whole system, including the sub-systems of vital energy (what she called horme),  physical body, and mind. She described these sub-systems as interrelated and interpenetrated.

 

  • Montessori taught that each child contains vital energy or horme that directs her growth by motivating her to meet her growth needs during each period of development. This vital energy serves as an inner guide for the child. Parents and teachers must give the child freedom to follow her inner guide. When the child can do so, she develops both her will and her concentration.

 

  Montessori defined three periods of development in the life of the child and youth: from birth through age 6; from 6 to 12 years; and from 12 to 18 years. (She also defined a fourth period at the end of adolescence, from 18 to 24 years.) Each period contains sensitive periods: times at which the child is developmentally ready for a particular kind of growth and must accomplish this growth if she is to develop to her potential.

 

  • Montessori maintained that the will of the child must be nurtured, and never broken.

 

  • Montessori described the child’s primary means of learning during the first period of growth as her “absorbent mind.” Absorption and imitation are two ways to describe the same process of learning.

 

  • Montessori taught that the function of education is to give the child opportunities to express her inner guide within an appropriately prepared and safe learning environment. An education based on this principle will help the child to develop independence, self-discipline, concentration, motivation, and sensitivity.

 

  • Finally, Montessori taught that the role of the teacher is not to control or direct the child but rather to prepare the learning environment and then nurture and support the child. For this work, the teacher must focus on the development of her own spirit, character, and imagination. She must understand that her work is to be of service to the child’s spirit and that the child will reveal who she is becoming over time.

 

      All of these significant understandings of Maria Montessori are identical with or similar to those of the common vision of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan. And, of course, I would be the first to agree that there is much more in common between Montessori and her three “colleagues” than between Montessori and more traditional educational models. Why then have I not included her as an author of what I call the common vision? I have made this judgment for the following reasons:

 

  • Although she calls the child a “spiritual embryo” and employs some of the language of the spirit, Montessori’s vision does not describe or detail the spiritual elements of human beings. Thus, it omits significant aspects both of the description of human beings as whole systems that include spiritual energies and of the spiritual context in which we live.
  • Although Montessori’s vision does deal with some issues of the emotions, it does not provide a systemic exploration of the sub-system of the vital being. Thus, her vision does not deal in a comprehensive way with the whole realm of the emotions, desires, and feelings, an important set of elements in describing human unfoldment and in articulating principles and practices for child raising and education.

 

  • Montessori’s vision does explore the relationship between the physical body and the mind as the child grows. However, it does not contain the richness of description of the interrelationships among the physical, vital, mental, and spiritual sub-systems of the child and youth that is offered in the common vision of Inayat Khan, Steiner, and Aurobindo.

 

  • Finally, Montessori urges that the child be encouraged to develop her cognition during the second half of the first era of unfoldment. She argues that these years are a sensitive period for the development of writing skills and for the learning of vocabulary, grammar, and numbers. While, of course, she would not teach any of this directly, she prepares the learning environment in such a way that the materials there encourage the child to embark on this kind of learning. Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan strongly disagree with this approach. While they note that the child can learn all of this effectively during these years, they maintain that it is profoundly undesirable for such topics and skills to become the focus of learning. Rather, these years should be a time of imaginative, self-directed, noncompetitive play. Such play helps the child to develop her spiritual nature in its fullness and to prepare for her transition from the first era into the second.

            Maria Montessori’s teachings are clearly a visionary work of genius. So I mean no disrespect for Montessori by omitting her from authorship of what I call the common vision. Obviously she articulates significant sections of this common vision in her work. Yet I have chosen not to include her (1) because she does not provide  significant sections of this vision, none of which are left out by Steiner, Aurobindo, or Inayat Khan, and (2) because she characterizes the needs of the second part of the first era of childhood in a profoundly divergent way from her colleagues.

      So far Montessori’s work has had a much greater impact on the world of schools than that of all three of her colleagues together.  Perhaps her teachings will help to bring parents and educators to those of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan, so they can learn from the visionary teachings of all four of these teachers.

Steiner’s Vision of Human Nature

In Rudolf Steiner’s vision of human nature, we are energetic as well as physical beings, and our most profound identity rests in our spiritual elements. Each person is “the expression of a divine spiritual being that descends from purely spirit-soul existence and evolves here in physical-bodily existence between birth and death.” Each is a unique and inherently worthy being. We are necessarily neither good nor evil but have the capacity for both. We are partially divine beings who are struggling toward purer divinity.

From Murshida Vera Corda

“We followed the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan about en­ergy. We balanced activity with rest and relaxation. And that went on all day.

      “When there was play, it was chiefly free play, except there were always two teachers on that playground or yard, wherever we were. One watched one direction, and one the other. The chil­dren had freedom within a controlled environment. That, of course, is the crux of the whole Sufi education system: to control the environment. Set up an environment that is controlled, and allow total freedom  of the child within that environment.

      “That’s how it differs from Montessori schools. Montessori had learning tasks that were given to the child one after the other, in order. We do not do that, because our Seed Centers are made up of open learning centers. They were open space, like warehouse space or an auditorium that you started with and then built your centers around that. So there was an open circle where children would all come together, regardless of their developmental or age level. They’d all come to that circle of attunement in the morning. But beyond that, they went into their groups, into their own cen­ters.

The child is a person to be respected

What do parents who choose to act consciously from these insights say about their experiences of parenting?

There was very much of a sense that the child was a person to be respected as their own person and by no means a blank slate. And that our role as parents was to help with the coming out, the sort of nurturing forth of the potential that was there.

Joshua Williams

At 13, Joshua Williamscreated and led a South Florida organization, Joshua’s Heart, that had over 1200 youth volunteers. 

Joshua explains, “Our main program is called the Distribution Program where we distribute food to those who are in need. We’ve given over 650,000 pounds of food through that project over nine years.” He eventually realized that not everyone who received his food knew how to prepare it, so he decided to educate them. “The next project was one we started about two or three years ago…We have a chef come out and teach the people we are helping with the food that they are receiving how to cook a healthy meal.” Williams thinks the high cost of nutritious food is one reason why many people don’t know how to cook. “It’s crazy that it’s cheaper to buy McDonalds than a salad. In fact, that’s why a lot of people do not buy healthy food.”

No More “Adolescents” or “Teens”

Stanley Hall coined the term “adolescent” with his 1904 book, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relation to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. Hall was a psychologist,  the first president of the American Psychological Associationand the first president of Clark Universityin Worcester, Massachusetts. What came to define “adolescence” by the mid-20th century was legally mandated school attendance and the exclusion of humans ages 13-19 from most of adult life throughout the industrial societies.

While Hall was correct in his insight that child and youth development recapitulates human evolution, he misunderstood the capacities of youths in the ages 13-19 years, focusing more on their negative potentials than their positive ones. From this starting point, our cultural misunderstanding of adolescence has only grown over the past century.

Adolescence comes from the Latin adolescere, meaning “to grow up.” Youths in these years are growing up in many ways, but the fact of this ongoing growth does not limit the capacities to which youths already have access, for example, critique of the limitations and failures they perceive in the adult society, creative imagination, a call to purpose and meaning in their lives now, and a willingness to work hard to see their own aspirations come into being. 

 

It is time for the term “adolescence” to be discarded.

 

We know now that the brain does not reach its full maturation until the mid-20s in most humans. But this does not mean that the youth’s brain is insufficient for making a positive contribution to the world.

“Teens” and “teenagers” are labels that only came into usage in the 1950s, by which time the vast majority of people ages 13-19 had been conscripted into legally mandated schooling, the teen ghetto, in the United States and other industrial nations. These terms are often used to disparage people in this age group. They should also be discarded.

Youth is defined as “the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit, and so on characteristic of one who is young.” Those humans who are between the ages of 13 and 19 are young, and these characteristics are accurate for the vast majority of humans in this age group.

Youth is also a time of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of feeling the world with a new heart, and responding to the world with the potential for creative imagination.

 

Youth is by far the better term.

 

 

The demise of SelfDesign

As a result of a ridiculous legal opinion about the nature of trademarks, the Canadian SelfDesign Learning Foundation is eradicating SelfDesign from the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil. SelfDesign will only continue to exist in British Columbia.

Of course, this is the opposite of what Brent Cameron intended when we worked together in 2011 to create the SelfDesign Graduate Institute. Sadly Brent is dead, and so is his aspiration of offering SelfDesign to children, youth, and fanilies all across the planet.