The Child

Re-watching the panel discussion focusing on ‘The Child’ from the Montessori Everywhere day of celebrations,  I was  inspired by the global perspectives and the challenging questions posed by KimAnh Nguyen Anderson to the panellists:  Trisha Moquino (New Mexico),  Dr Laura Flores Shaw (USA) and Gabriel Salomao (Brazil). The well informed, thoughtful and respectful responses provoked much reflection, stimulated further interest in re-reading passage of Montessori, provoked sadness at the loss of culture in many indigenous communities around the world and rejoiced at the gifts children bring to us – adults.

I often hear it said that the child of today is the same Montessori wrote about and that it is society that has changed. This was the opening statement of the discussion with responses which considered both the biological development of children as well as the cultural and environmental influences.  Montessori herself acknowledged at the opening of the 1946 London Lectures that the 20th century is the century of the child – a period in the history of western world when we have learned so much about children’s development, psychology, the importance of language and cognition, the value of physical skills and their contribution to the child’s agency.  Between 1900 and the present day we have come to see children through a new lens which has certainly refocused our view of parenting. During this period, and in a nutshell, parenting programmes started by advocating non-violent parenting (in many countries corporal punishment became outlawed during the last century) and today the advice given is very much on setting consistent boundaries for children because they offer predictability and a sense of security. What a journey we are all making in our understanding of “following the child”!

Trisha reminded us that any child is a precious gift from nature and also a contributor to society. This vision of the child, so well shared with us by Montessori in all of her writings, is not a new one – it has been held by many indigenous communities around the world, including Trisha’s own, for many centuries.  The child is a gift not only to the family but to the community and to the clan.  Children embody both the physical and spiritual aspects of what it means to be a human and are born with a cosmic task to participate, contribute and be responsible for their actions not only to their family but to the community.  She reminded us of the importance of cultivating the language of the community and its contribution to the culture of that community.  She challenged the often-used phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” as a colonial misappropriation because of the individualised approaches to education and parenting being advocated by governments of today – where the child’s competitiveness is encouraged at the expense of collaboration, partnership and community. In this context Tricia also explored what obedience means in her community where the child’s achievements as well as transgressions are celebrated and challenged not only by the parents but also the extended family and the community.  She sees an important role grandparents and other members of the family can play in education of children today.  Their contributions foster a sense of belonging, connect us with history and traditions, and demonstrate our inter-relatedness and interdependence as well as care and respect for out planet.  Her passionate plea (to be seen between 33 and 39 minutes of the video) urges us to listen and consider the children with whom we work from the perspective of their culture, their community and traditions, which are so strongly undermined by the current global punitive systems of education.

Gabriel explored our understanding of obedience in context of the child’s construction of the will and from the perspective of Montessori’s three levels of obedience – where the toddler needs to experience his/ her own will before they are able to follow the will of others, as described by the second level of obedience; however just because the child is capable of following the will of others it does not mean they always want to do it. I personally have been anxious about Montessori’s description of the third level of obedience which I have always seen as an opportunity to manipulate the child’s eagerness to obey for the benefit of the adult.  Gabriel explained this willingness to obey as being rooted in the child’s deep admiration for the adult.  Suddenly I was able to see the third level in a different way; we, as adults, need to be worthy of the child’s admiration – so the third level is a challenge for us adults in our relationships with children. 

Laura connected us with another important aspect of the Montessori pedagogy – our focus on movement. Like other creatures in the animal kingdom we are born to move –initially we need to acquire physical skills which become our second nature (automatic), and in a simplistic explanation, this creates space in our brains to engage with problem-solving, critical thinking and emotional regulation.  She gave a really easy example to help us to understand this process – we need to learn the mechanics of writing, in Laura’s words “we need to develop a large repertoire of movements” before we can engage in creative writing.  For her, movement facilitates adaptability.  There is a strong connection between adaptability, our desire to work and joyful capacity and happiness in concentration.  Gabriel used a very powerful expression to help us understand the child’s own work of self- construction.  For him, the one key component of this process is the child’s joy – joy to work –  doing things for themselves, as opposed by the forced labour imposed by the adult, be it a teacher or a parent.  These are powerful words but they resonate with me because they explain why children get so alienated from the work chosen for them by teachers – often focusing on numeracy and literacy before they are ready for it.  Gabriel concluded by urging us to make joy available in our classrooms, joy which leads to serenity and shared happiness.

The panel discussion offers us a powerful invitation to reflect on the key questions

  • Is the child of today different to the child in Montessori’s day?
  • What are the key parenting messages we should share with our parents?
  • What does it mean to ‘follow the child’ and ‘offer the child a voice’ which acknowledges the child’s uniqueness and sees the child through the lens of the family, community and language/ culture?
  • Why is movement one of the key principles of the Montessori approach and how does it relate to the child’s work of self-construction?

I invite you to engage in discussion with your colleagues considering some of these questions. Why not join us in the Montessori Europe Webinar on Tuesday 27 October at 7pm CET? The webinar will be introduced by Andy Lulka, of Integrating Montessori, the mastermind behind the Montessori Everywhere Discussion Panels, with the opportunity to explore these questions in break-out groups.  Register here.

Barbara Isaacs, October 2020

References

Montessori M. (1988 [1949]) The Absorbent Mind Oxford: Clio Press

Montessori M. (2012) The 1946 London Lectures Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Ltd

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