To Educate the Human Potential - by Maria Montessori

my notes:

Education between 6 and 12: Nature has made this a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of environment.

Knowledge can be best given where there is an eagerness to learn.

But to give the whole of modern culture has become an impossibility and so a need arises for a special method, whereby all factors of culture may be introduced to the 6 year old; not in a syllabus to be imposed on him, or with exactitude of detail, but in the broadening of the maximum number of ‘seeds of interest’.

All other factors however sink into insignificance beside the importance of feeding the hungry intelligence and opening vast fields of knowledge to eager exploration.

The task of teaching becomes easy, since we do not need to choose what we shall teach, but should place all before him for the satisfaction of his mental appetite.

Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe.

“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are a part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.

How can we force the child to be interested when interest can only arise from within? It is only duty and fatigue which can be induced from without, never interest!

Truly it is no new idea, for it has been the natural plan wherever there has been education in the real sense of the word, for children first to be taught the creation of the world and man’s place in it.

“I wonder how the theory arose that in order to work with the hand one must have an uncultivated mind, or that a cultivated mind consorted with manual helplessness! Must a man be classified either as a worker with his head OR with his hands, instead of being allowed to function with his whole personality? Where is the logic in the view that one-sided development can be beneficial to the whole?

Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination. Everything invented by man, physical or mental, is the fruit of someone’s imagination.

I consider it a crime to present such subjects as may be noble and creative aids to the imaginative faculty in such a manner as to deny its use, and on the other hand to require the child to memorize that which he has not been able to visualize.

The secret to good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.

We do not want complacent pupils, but eager ones; we seek to sow life in the child rather than theories.

By offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more infinite and mysterious to reconstruct with his imagination, a drama no fable can reveal.

If imagination be educated merely by fairy tales, at most the pleasure it gives will be continued later in novel-reading, but we should never so limit its education.

“In social life we find too many examples of this sloth of mind, people caring only to be well-dressed, gossip with friends and go to the cinema. Their intelligence is hopelessly buried under barriers which cannot now be removed. Their interest becomes increasingly narrow, till it is centred round the petty self, excluding the wonders of the world and sympathy with suffering humanity. Theirs is a veritable death in life.”

In order to gain something from life, we must retain traces of experiences undergone, and here memory comes to our aid. But we soon realize the shortcomings of conscious memory, how blurred and indefinite are its impressions. Our subconscious remembers everything.

The human instinct is called Mneme and it is that by which a child unconsciously recognizes sounds of human speech, and retains those sounds for imitation. Only a very small part of the mneme penetrates the conscious limits, and that part is what we call Memory

An educated man may have no memory of things that he was taught at school, but he has intelligence, a power of quick apprehension on those subjects, which has been retained by the mneme. Thus it is not the experiences in themselves, but the traces of them left behind in the mneme, which make a mind powerful, such traces being known as Engrams.

The child should love everything that he learns, for his mental and emotional growths are linked. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear, striking his imagination.

What is necessary is that the individual from the earliest years should be placed in relation with humanity.

Seashells are now found imbedded in the substance of rocks forming the summits of high mountains.

Under our eyes everything is being worn down, to be rebuilt in new form.

Water is the greatest builder, creating and transforming. It hurries in love to the ocean bearing gifts, purifies itself, floats to heaven in its lightest form, to return as rain and begin work again.

But the instinct of protection for their offspring, which they as well as mammals reveal, is the true mark of evolutionary advance, rather than any gradual disappearance of teeth and growth of feathers. Nature evolved by strengthening what had been a weak point in animal behavior, bestowing the new energy called LOVE. This was to be a powerful passion as long as it dominated, able to make a small bird forget fear and care for self. Significantly it goes with warmth of blood. God’s gift of love is powerfully revealed in mammals as well as in birds, and in it we recognize the secret of survival.

“The only armored reptiles which remain today are crocodiles and tortoises, and it is still the custom of turtles to hatch eggs in the sand and abandon them for birds and animals to young birds being taught to fly, both parents in anxious attendance, entirely forgetful of self.”

Mammals, who protect their offspring by allowing them to grow within their own bodies, and nourish them after birth with their own blood transformed to milk. besides caring for their helplessness at the cost of great sacrifices, not like the reptiles who are devoid of sentiment.

Earth had now made herself ready for beings of more delicate needs.

The earth must have been truly beautiful, and monsters in their gross stupidity and ugliness were unfit for it.

Snakes were the lineal descendants of dragons, and were not poisonous before the advent of man. They have always maintained a reputation for great cunning, or even wisdom.

Sympathetic warmth and love erupted in steady flow, in many parts of the world. All kinds of metal that earth had been preparing in her laboratories were brought to the surface and deposited.

Of this largesse of mineral wealth, India received in rich measure, as the scene of earth’s greatest emotion. If she does not today rank as the richest country, it is because her sons have yet to release that wealth.

Molten rocks on cooling crystallized in the forms not only of diamonds, but also of emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones. Amber developed from trees’ resin in which insects had been caught and fossilized.

Many are earth’s hidden and revealed treasures, of powers not yet all explored, hidden by nature not far from the surface, for men to seek and unearth.

“My desire is to restore sight to the blind, that they may see for themselves, perhaps more than I am capable of seeing. Such is the love of a mother who helps her child to walk alone, though he may use his power to run from her.”

First man found is called Paleolithic.

This period is divided into Primitive ( inferior work) and Secondary ( finer work) of stone.

Primitive is also known as Chellean.

Man is relatively of little strength, with naked skin, weaponless and at a disadvantage physically to many other mammals, but he is given intelligence in rich measure, because he is destined to accomplish an essential work of creation, more than any other expression of life that has evolved. His new weapon was the mental one.

Man is God’s chief agent on earth for creation, and has not come merely to be its lord and enjoy himself, to be proud and boast as do the foolish.

The truly great are humble!

But we may legitimately be proud and rejoice that man has transformed his world in the long course of ages to one that is now beyond nature’s contriving.

About 18,000 BC the ice disappeared, and the waterfalls poured such volumes into the ocean that there was another great flood, perhaps the original of the Biblical story.

After 50,000BC a smaller and cleverer race had appeared. They had strange funeral rites, and worshipped the dead. Cromagnon man was rather like the American Indian: began to be buried with the dead, often found in a sitting position with knees drawn up to the chin.

Captive animals who were able to adapt themselves and bear young in the conditions provided by man naturally became domesticated.

Two instincts may be found in man, one being that of wandering, and the other its opposite, of attachment to a spot.

Nomads did not evolve outwardly so much as the settlers, and were usually despised as barbarians.

Their mode of life required of them great discipline, order and bravery, endurance of cold, heat, lack of food and water, and a special tribe loyalty and devotion to a leader. Such qualities gave them easy victory over the softer communities, and so the plan has inevitably been fulfilled, racial and tribal cultures mixing, all human wealth in constant circulation.

If Human Unity - which is a fact in nature - is going at last to be organized, it will be done only by an education that will give appreciation of all that has been done by human cooperation, and readiness to shed prejudices in the interests of common work for the cosmic plan, which may also be called The Will of God, actively expressed in the whole of his creation.

We hear much talk of world organization but the word that should be used is “Organism”

Religions and languages keep men apart, while arts, sciences and products of industry unite them.

It requires the influence of sacred and deep things to move the spirit, and the new children of civilized humanity must be given a profound emotion and enthusiasm for the holy cause of humanity. Religion then will not need to be taught.

We must ourselves feel - and inspire in the children - admiration for all pioneers, known and unknown, possessors of the flame which has lighted the path of humanity.

Most people are slow to interest themselves in new things; even the intellectual people make little progress in the world of thought, looking with hostility on any new idea that challenges mutual security.

History must be alive and dynamic, awakening enthusiasm, destructive of intellectual egoism and selfish sloth.

For two thousand years we have been taught “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and we are little nearer to the doing of it for mere preaching does nothing.

Children can be easily brought to thrill to the knowledge that there are millions of people like themselves, striving mentally and physically to solve the problems of life, and that all contribute to a solution though one may find it.

It is only recently that research in history has bad the aid of science, and one consequence has been that hypothetical dates for the beginnings of social organization have been pushed back, and cannot yet be fixed.

Scholars have now to admit a certain basis of truth to many traditions and myths formerly slighted.

Indian sages have consistently claimed an antiquity for their records and works of profound philosophy, which used to outrage the credulity of western scholars.

One fact clearly established is that Asiatic civilizations of advanced type far antedate European, and even Egyptian, and that both derived from a yet earlier land, a lost continent.

Worldly transformations: one such caused terrific floods to submerge an entire land under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, about 75,000 BC. The only remnant left of this continent was an island called Poseidonis, which in its turn sank in the 10th millennium BC.

In the ancient world, the place of universities was taken by religious institutions called Mysteries, to which the greatest men of intellect sought admission, and which had truly international affiliations.

The seasonal flooding of the Nile always left rich soil and sprouting vegetation in its wake, and the thought seems to have occurred to some farmer to dig channels for further conveyance of the life-giving streams. So irrigation began to be practised, and was copied by people living in similar river-basins, especially in Mesopotamia.

The most primitive men possess religious sensitivity, which makes them able to see spirits in the living and dead, in trees, sun and stars. Man cannot do without his religion, which has suited each stage of his development.

Mesopotamia was full of people from all parts of the known world.

Temples were the centers of city life, and priests were wealthy and powerful.

Hammurabi the legendary founder, left to his people wise laws, giving special protection to women and to the poor.

The Babylonians were a peaceful people, easily running away from the army of a conqueror, but soon returning to rebuild homes.

From the cosmic point of view mixtures of civilizations are brought about for results that are wanted, much as in the culinary art. Different ingredients are separately prepared, carefully manipulated and patiently left perhaps to simmer gently till a desired condition is reached, before being added to the dish where the additional flavor is required.

This in the Egyptian period events were few and took place slowly, civilization spreading peacefully and many things were developed by degrees. The Babylonian civilization was then added to it as a sort of sauce.

Athens took the lead in freedom of thought.

A wise man called Socrates, leader of an intellectual circle, took to going around among the citizens asking them thought-provoking questions, and why they believed so easily the things told them by priests, instead of thinking for themselves. Socrates was brought to trial as a corrupter of youth and was condemned to death. He was given the opportunity to escape but he stayed in respect of the law. So he spent his last day discussing philosophical questions with his friends, calmly drinking the poison when it was brought to him by the weeping guard.

There were great educators, whose methods we should follow today; they kindled a flame in a few that spread to the many.

There has been revealed to us a significant unity of method in all natural building. It is clear that nature follows a plan, which is the same for atom as for planet.

Nature is the teacher - let us follow her ways!

Cruelties and exploitations, wars and all forms of violence have had to play their part, because men have not yet realized their common humanity and its work in the fulfilment of a cosmic destiny.

“SCHOOL” must mean something else than a place of instruction, where the one teaches the many, with pain on both sides - an effort carrying with it little success.

It is an error to expect hard work and unimpeachable progress during the age of puberty.

In the advanced as in the primary stage, the first step to take in order to become a Montessori teacher is to shed omnipotence and to become a joyous observer.