Can I tell you something? One of my goals about writing and sharing Montessori ideas and philosophy is to do it in an accessible, life-giving way. Montessori is a wonderful philosophy of education, but it often gets a “better than thou” rapt because it’s a world all its own with jargon and books and particular ways (some may say obsessive compulsive) that don’t always make sense at first glance.
Reading Montessori’s books are not always easy to comprehend. She tends to jump around, goes off on pages of tangents, and there’s not a particular order to read her books, later texts seem to contradict earlier texts and she borrows much from her own work it can be confusing, perhaps even redundant.
But let’s be honest. Oftentimes the way Montessori teachers, bloggers, and aficionados talk about Montessori is no better, off putting even. We throw out words like normalization and control of error along with scope and sequence and didactic materials, the importance of the 3-period lesson, and the proper use or placement of materials. (There is purpose and reason for all these things. I’m not saying to throw them out, but how we talk about and convey them is important.)
We say we want to make Montessori accessible, but our practice puts a greater distance between our understanding of the philosophy and sharing it. We all want to get it right, but how much are we actually getting right?
I’ve been struggling a bit as I write the Montessori 101 series. I don’t know everything. There’s still so much for me to learn and much I haven’t looked at in years. Writing about sensitive periods and the absorbent mind has drummed up another set of fear in me–fear of getting it wrong, fear of not being “Montessori enough.” But with terms like spiritual embryo and psychic learning how is that helping?
There is so much depth to Montessori’s teachings, but if we only regurgitate her words then we’re not helping ourselves or others understand the concepts any better. Quotes are great, rephrasing the text is fine, but is it really comprehension? That’s where I struggle.
I think that’s why so many of us would rather focus on sequence of activities and extensions or why people ask, “Just tell me what to do next” rather than sit down and dive into the why and how of Montessori’s teachings. It’s easier to do an activity, than to understand the purpose behind it, the foundation it’s forming, what it is creating in the child, and the task it begs of the guide.
How well do we understand Montessori philosophy? Could we give an elevator pitch on the Montessori topic at hand to a 5th grader? To someone with English as their second language? To a tired mom wrangling two little kids trying to figure out how she’s going to survive the day? Sure, we may know Montessori’s terminology, but if we can’t explain it in a way that helps and aids those around us, then we don’t know it.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s something I feel convicted of. If I know of a method of education, a way of life really, that opens up the world to a child and frees them, in turn freeing the parents and building a better society, but can only explain it by quotes and references to old texts, then do I really know it? Am I really helping? Is Montessori really accessible…is it for everyone?
Montessori’s philosophy and methods is equally fascinating and overwhelming. It’s an awesome tool for opening up the world to the child and giving them the reins to not only their education, but their own becoming. I really do believe that.
I want to do it justice, but I want to share Montessori in a way that releases children, parents, teachers, and whole families to freedom, not a task list with a ruler to measure their progress and scales to weigh how true they are to Montessori.
If Montessori is of any use it will not enslave, but free.