Terms like social justice, child’s agency and solidarity have been prominently linked with Montessori education in recent years, however they have been present in Montessori’s writing from the very beginning. The chapter dedicated to Social Cohesion in The Absorbent Mind identifies the gradual emergence of community spirit within the group which Montessori ( 1988:212) describes as follows:
“They come to feel part of a group ……. Not only do they begin to take interest in this, they work on it profoundly, as one may say in their hearts. Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit”.Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Montessori continues “This unity born among the children, which is produced by a spontaneous need, directed by an unconscious power, and vitalized by a social spirit, is a phenomenon needing a name, and I call it ‘cohesion in the social unit.’” In the same chapter Montessori ( 1988:213) explains the incident when the children in the first Children’s House opened the nursery and welcomed the Argentinian ambassador and demonstrated for him how the nursery work as “an example of action for the group. Each did his part without hope of reward. They co-operated for the honour of their community.” She sees “This sense of solidarity” as a “gift of nature”.
I understand this process of growing awareness of becoming a member of a community as an intrinsic part of the social embryonic stage of the absorbent mind. We see the potential of human solidarity emerge from the early demonstrations of empathy in a group situation, such as when several babies are together – one begins to cry – the others gradually join in. Whilst these are spontaneous natural behaviours, Montessori ( 1988:222) also reminds us that “they can only be evolved in the right surroundings of freedom and order”. And I would also add that we, as adults, have a significant role to play in modelling kindness, generosity, acceptance, respect and trust.
When thinking about the importance of freedom, as an essential tool for the child’s unfolding sense of belonging, we are reminded of the innate drive for independence that is so very strong during the second and third year of children’s lives. This need ‘to do for or by oneself’ supports the child’s emerging sense of competence, agency and gradually evolving autonomy of not only action, but also autonomy of thought. To develop these characteristics, children need opportunities to explore, get involved, be given time to repeat activities and actions to their satisfaction – without judgment, interruption or interference. They need to feel that their needs are met and that they are valued for who they are and they are loved unconditionally by their prime carers. I understand these to be the foundations of the universal human values which children, as they mature, will be able to share with their community and wider society. Gradually their independence, supported by perseverance and resilience, will enable them to understand the importance of interdependence, social responsibility and social justice as they grow into global citizens, each contributing to the world by fulfilling their “cosmic task”.
To fulfil our cosmic task, we need to honour the values universally identified as Truth, Love, Right Conduct, Non-Violence and Peace: all of these are reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many are also mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. They are also the values which we will need to foster as we come to live with the consequences of the Pandemic and therefore it is important for us, Montessori educators, to reflect on how we promote them in our daily work with children, young people and their families as well as our colleagues. It is our task as educators to “channel the powerful creative energies of the child toward an ultimate spiritual independence, utilising to its utmost his miraculous capacity for adaptation, according to an ideal of altruism and love. On this foundation it is possible to attain mankind’s most cherished aspiration – universal peace. In the new-born we see the apostle of peace” (Montessori,  2019:108-109).
Barbara Isaacs, August 2020
Montessori M. (1988 ) The Absorbent Mind. Oxford: Clio Press
Montessori M. (2019) The San Remo Lectures 1949 in Citizen of the World, Key Montessori Readings. Amsterdam: Montessori Pierson Publishing Company