Man’s Place in the Cosmos

During this term we have followed the many diverse chapters in The Child, Society and the World.  A book edited and published in Germany by Verlag Herder in 1979 and published in the UK by Clio Press some ten years later is now available through Montessori Pierson Publishing Company in Amsterdam, both in paper format and also electronically through Amazon. Several of the articles and lectures which feature in this book have reappeared since in other publications. It is interesting how the record of a life span of a book also demonstrates and reflects the evolution of our communities and society as a whole.

The book club sessions initially developed from a desk conversation between Hannah Baynham and myself, and started with discussions of chapters from Education and Peace around the library tables at Marlborough House.  For more than one reason, the book club relocated to Zoom last summer, and opened the opportunity for participation to so many more Montessorians. I have also noted, that, true to its reputation, Zoom has prompted more open participation and sharing of meanings and thoughts which were not always present around the library tables.

I still find that I am often the person who takes the liberty with Montessori’s own writing, and questions what she has really meant by her statements.  This questioning is particularly important because Montessori’s own writing reflects a specific time in European history as well as her own journey through life. More than once she has invited us, her followers, students, admirers and researchers, to challenge and engage in a conversation – I wonder what she would make of our present-day reflections? I am very aware that the questions of today are themselves located in the current academic conversations and coloured by the very specific hues of current anti-bias discourse.  And whilst often very aspirational in her statements about education and peace, Montessori remains true to the Child who bears in their very existence the possibility of significant change in the world.

The possibility of changing the world by guiding and nurturing the next generation has been what inspired me to become a Montessori teacher more than thirty years ago.  I have learned that to be an authentic Montessori educator today represents a personal journey of self examination, continued learning, intense observation of children and our practices, and ongoing dialogue with colleague and parents. Throughout this journey, I have retained my joyful approach to life and curiosity. It is has become a way of life.  The provocations offered by Montessori in her writing need to be viewed in the context of what we know about children, families and communities in which they are growing up; we need to continue to serve the spirit of the child.

I apologise for this rather long introduction to the last chapter in the book. In a way, it represents its many facets as it explores ‘Man’s Place in the Cosmos’.  The title of the chapter is also the title of a lecture delivered by Montessori in a convent in London in 1935.  As she contemplates the secrets of creation she urges us to consider “… if we think of the child as being guided and constructed (by the inner urge and manifestations of the human tendencies  – my interpretation ), we are spectators of the work of the building of man” (Montessori, 1935, in 2008:96). She also asks us as educators “… to recognise and observe the divine in man, that is to know love and serve the divine in man.  To help and co-operate from the position of the creature not of the Creator“ (Montessori, 1935, in 2008:99). And whilst we may not all believe in the divine human powers, if we believe in the child’s agency, we need to help and co-operate in the child’s many faceted development, irrespective of our own agendas and overcoming our own biases.  As Montessori puts it “…we must set ourselves to see the marvels hidden in the child and help him to unfold them”.

The chapter also includes Montessori’s notes on Communism and Peace from late 1930’s where she explores the need to develop all aspects of a human being physical as well as psychic. She does not see Communism and its economic formula capable of bringing world peace.  She sees human nature inextricably linked with the laws of the Universe.

“Education and Democracy” was first delivered in a public lecture in Paris in 1949, and as such, represents a lifelong reflection on what education should be and should bring to humanity. She sees education as a science, important from both a moral and intellectual point of view, to be delivered by specially qualified teachers who have received training in both these aspects.  She advocates for rights of the child which will foster the human potential – material and spiritual. She also mentions the rights of the educators and urges us to consider “scrupulous moral training for teachers”.  And she focuses on children’s “… experience of social life through living, through experience, before they enter it with all the many forms of mechanisms that control it” (Montessori, 1949, in 2008:105).

The final section of this chapter is dedicated to “Cosmic Education” and fittingly delivered in India in 1946.  There is no doubt that the six years of enforced stay in India in Mario’s company influenced Montessori’s own perspective of what Cosmic Education should contribute to the development of our planet and indeed the universe. It also identifies the key tenets of the curriculum for the second plane of development. Based on the child’s first hand experiences of nature, Montessori highlights our interdependence and our contribution to the whole by fulfilling our cosmic task.  I would encourage you to engage with the many facets of this speech and share them with your colleagues and communities as I invite you to share in Montessori’s (1946, in 2008:113) powerful social message:

“From this education must arise the persuasion that mutual help among men is the most direct form of universal defence.  The need or the inferiority of a people are a real danger for the whole of humanity and it is in the interest of all to find the means to satisfy those needs and to uplift men from their state of inferiority.  …. Human society must reach a level of average welfare where the necessities of life can be satisfied for all people.” 

Join us as we reflect on this last chapter before our Christmas break on Tuesday evening at 7 pm (UTC). Register here.

Barbara Isaacs, 7 November 2020

Reference

Montessori, M. (2008) The Child, Society and the World, Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

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