The Montessori Method
By MARIA MONTESSORI
Dover Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A CRITICAL CONSIDERATION OF THE NEW PEDAGOGY IN ITS RELATION TO MODERN SCIENCE
IT is not my intention to present a treatise on Scientific Pedagogy. The modest design of these incomplete notes is to give the results of an experiment that apparently opens the way for putting into practice those new principles of science which in these last years are tending to revolutionise the work of education.
Much has been said in the past decade concerning the tendency of pedagogy, following in the footsteps of medicine, to pass beyond the purely speculative stage and base its conclusions on the positive results of experimentation. Physiological or experimental psychology which, from Weber and Fechner to Wundt, has become organised into a new science, seems destined to furnish to the new pedagogy that fundamental preparation which the old-time metaphysical psychology furnished to philosophical pedagogy. Morphological anthropology applied to the physical study of children, is also a strong element in the growth of the new pedagogy.
But in spite of all these tendencies, Scientific Pedagogy has never yet been definitely constructed nor defined. It is something vague of which we speak, but which does not, in reality, exist. We might say that it has been, up to the present time, the mere intuition or suggestion of a science which, by the aid of the positive and experimental sciences that have renewed the thought of the nineteenth century, must emerge from the mist and clouds that have surrounded it. For man, who has formed a new world through scientific progress, must himself be prepared and developed through a new pedagogy. But I will not attempt to speak of this more fully here.
Several years ago, a well-known physician established in Italy a School of Scientific Pedagogy, the object of which was to prepare teachers to follow the new movement which had begun to be felt in the pedagogical world. This school had, for two or three years, a great success, so great, indeed, that teachers from all over Italy flocked to it, and it was endowed by the City of Milan with a splendid equipment of scientific material. Indeed, its beginnings were most propitious, and liberal help was afforded it in the hope that it might be possible to establish, through the experiments carried on there, "the science of forming man."
The enthusiasm which welcomed this school was, in a large measure, due to the warm support given it by the distinguished anthropologist, Giuseppe Sergi, who for more than thirty years had earnestly laboured to spread among the teachers of Italy the principles of a new civilisation based upon education. "To-day in the social world," said Sergi, "an imperative need makes itself felt — the reconstruction of educational methods; and he who fights for this cause, fights for human regeneration." In his pedagogical writings collected in a volume under the title of "Educazione ed Istruzione" (Pensieri), he gives a resume of the lectures in which he encouraged this new movement, and says that he believes the way to this desired regeneration lies in a methodical study of the one to be educated, carried on under the guidance of pedagogical anthropology and of experimental psychology.
"For several years I have done battle for an idea concerning the instruction and education of man, which appeared the more just and useful the more deeply I thought upon it. My idea was that in order to establish natural, rational methods, it was essential that we make numerous, exact, and rational observations of man as an individual, principally during infancy, which is the age at which the foundations of education and culture must be laid.
"To measure the head, the height, etc., does not indeed mean that we are establishing a system of pedagogy, but it indicates the road which we may follow to arrive at such a system, since if we are to educate an individual, we must have a definite and direct knowledge of him."
The authority of Sergi was enough to convince many that, given such a knowledge of the individual, the art of educating him would develop naturally. This, as often happens, led to a confusion of ideas among his followers, arising now from a too literal interpretation, now from an exaggeration, of the master's ideas. The chief trouble lay in confusing the experimental study of the pupil, with his education. And since the one was the road leading to the other, which should have grown from it naturally and rationally, they straightway gave the name of Scientific Pedagogy to what was in truth pedagogical anthropology. These new converts carried as their banner, the "Biographical Chart," believing that once this ensign was firmly planted upon the battle-field of the school, the victory would be won.
The so-called School of Scientific Pedagogy, therefore, instructed the teachers in the taking of anthropometric measurements, in the use of esthesiometric instruments, in the gathering of Psychological Data — and the army of new scientific teachers was formed.
It should be said that in this movement Italy showed herself to be abreast of the times. In France, in England, and especially in America, experiments have been made in the elementary schools, based upon a study of anthropology and pyschological pedagogy, in the hope of finding in anthropometry and psychometry, the regeneration of the school. In these attempts it has rarely been the teachers who have carried on the research; the experiments have been, in most cases, in the hands of physicians who have taken more interest in their especial science than in education. They have usually sought to get from their experiments some contribution to psychology, or anthropology, rather than to attempt to organise their work and their results toward the formation of the long-sought Scientific Pedagogy. To sum up the situation briefly, anthropology and psychology have never devoted themselves to the question of educating children in the schools, nor have the scientifically trained teachers ever measured up to the standards of genuine scientists.
The truth is that the practical progress of the school demands a genuine fusion of these modern tendencies, in practice and thought; such a fusion as shall bring scientists directly into the important field of the school and at the same time raise teachers from the inferior intellectual level to which they are limited to-day. Toward this eminently practical ideal the University School of Pedagogy, founded in Italy by Credaro, is definitely working. It is the intention of this school to raise Pedagogy from the inferior position it has occupied as a secondary branch of philosophy, to the dignity of a definite science, which shall, as does Medicine, cover a broad and varied field of comparative study.
And among the branches affiliated with it will most certainly be found Pedagogical Hygiene, Pedagogical Anthropology, and Experimental Psychology.
Truly, Italy, the country of Lombroso, of De-Giovanni, and of Sergi, may claim the honour of being pre-eminent in the organisation of such a movement. In fact, these three scientists may be called the founders of the new tendency in Anthropology: the first leading the way in criminal anthropology, the second in medical anthropology, and the third in pedagogical anthropology. For the good fortune of science, all three of them have been the recognised leaders of their special lines of thought, and have been so prominent in the scientific world that they have not only made courageous and valuable disciples, but have also prepared the minds of the masses to receive the scientific regeneration which they have encouraged. (For reference, see my treatise "Pedagogical Anthropology.")
Surely all this is something of which our country may be justly proud.
To-day, however, those things which occupy us in the field of education are the interests of humanity at large, and of civilisation, and before such great forces we can recognise only one country — the entire world. And in a cause of such great importance, all those who have given any contribution, even though it be only an attempt not crowned with success, are worthy of the respect of humanity throughout the civilised world. So, in Italy, the schools of Scientific Pedagogy and the Anthropological Laboratories, which have sprung up in the various cities through the efforts of elementary teachers and scholarly inspectors, and which have been abandoned almost before they became definitely organised, have nevertheless a great value by reason of the faith which inspired them, and because of the doors they have opened to thinking people.
It is needless to say that such attempts were premature and sprang from too slight a comprehension of new sciences still in the process of development. Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements. When St. Francis of Assisi saw his Lord in a vision, and received from the Divine lips the command — "Francis, rebuild my Church!" — he believed that the Master spoke of the little church within which he knelt at that moment. And he immediately set about the task, carrying upon his shoulders the stones with which he meant to rebuild the fallen walls. It was not until later that he became aware of the fact that his mission was to renew the Catholic Church through the spirit of poverty. But the St. Francis who so ingenuously carried the stones, and the great reformer who so miraculously led the people to a triumph of the spirit, are one and the same person in different stages of development. So we, who work toward one great end, are members of one and the same body; and those who come after us will reach the goal only because there were those who believed and laboured before them. And, like St. Francis, we have believed that by carrying the hard and barren stones of the experimental laboratory to the old and crumbling walls of the school, we might rebuild it. We have looked upon the aids offered by the materialistic and mechanical sciences with the same hopefulness with which St. Francis looked upon the squares of granite, which he must carry upon his shoulders.
Thus we have been drawn into a false and narrow way, from which we must free ourselves, if we are to establish true and living methods for the training of future generations.
To prepare teachers in the method of the experimental sciences is not an easy matter. When we shall have instructed them in anthropometry and psychometry in the most minute manner possible, we shall have only created machines, whose usefulness will be most doubtful. Indeed, if it is after this fashion that we are to initiate our teachers into experiment, we shall remain forever in the field of theory. The teachers of the old school, prepared according to the principles of metaphysical philosophy, understood the ideas of certain men regarded as authorities, and moved the muscles of speech in talking of them, and the muscles of the eye in reading their theories. Our scientific teachers, instead, are familiar with certain instruments and know how to move the muscles of the hand and arm in order to use these instruments; besides this, they have an intellectual preparation which consists of a series of typical tests, which they have, in a barren and mechanical way, learned how to apply.
The difference is not substantial, for profound differences cannot exist in exterior technique alone, but lie rather within the inner man. Not with all our initiation into scientific experiment have we prepared new masters, for, after all, we have left them standing without the door of real experimental science; we have not admitted them to the noblest and most profound phase of such study, — to that experience which makes real scientists.
And, indeed, what is a scientist? Not, certainly, he who knows how to manipulate all the instruments in the physical laboratory, or who in the laboratory of the chemist handles the various reactives with deftness and security, or who in biology knows how to make ready the specimens for the microscope. Indeed, it is often the case that an assistant has a greater dexterity in experimental technique than the master scientist himself. We give the name scientist to the type of man who has felt experiment to be a means guiding him to search out the deep truth of life, to lift a veil from its fascinating secrets, and who, in this pursuit, has felt arising within him a love for the mysteries of nature, so passionate as to annihilate the thought of himself. The scientist is not the clever manipulator of instruments, he is the worshipper of nature and he bears the external symbols of his passion as does the follower of some religious order. To this body of real scientists belong those who, forgetting, like the Trappists of the Middle Ages, the world about them, live only in the laboratory, careless often in matters of food and dress because they no longer think of themselves; those who, through years of unwearied use of the microscope, become blind; those who in their scientific ardour inoculate themselves with tuberculosis germs; those who handle the excrement of cholera patients in their eagerness to learn the vehicle through which the diseases are transmitted; and those who, knowing that a certain chemical preparation may be an explosive, still persist in testing their theories at the risk of their lives. This is the spirit of the men of science, to whom nature freely reveals her secrets, crowning their labours with the glory of discovery.
There exists, then, the "spirit" of the scientist, a thing far above his mere "mechanical skill," and the scientist is at the height of his achievement when the spirit has triumphed over the mechanism. When he has reached this point, science will receive from him not only new revelations of nature, but philosophic syntheses of pure thought.
It is my belief that the thing which we should cultivate in our teachers is more the spirit than the mechanical skill of the scientist; that is, the direction of the preparation should be toward the spirit rather than toward the mechanism. For example, when we considered the scientific preparation of teachers to be simply the acquiring of the technique of science, we did not attempt to make these elementary teachers perfect anthropologists, expert experimental psychologists, or masters of infant hygiene; we wished only to direct them toward the field of experimental science, teaching them to manage the various instruments with a certain degree of skill. So now, we wish to direct the teacher, trying to awaken in him, in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.
The instruments are like the alphabet, and we must know how to manage them if we are to read nature; but as the book, which contains the revelation of the greatest thoughts of an author, uses in the alphabet the means of composing the external symbols or words, so nature, through the mechanism of the experiment, gives us an infinite series of revelations, unfolding for us her secrets.
Now one who has learned to spell mechanically all the words in his spelling-book, would be able to read in the same mechanical way the words in one of Shakespeare's plays, provided the print were sufficiently clear. He who is initiated solely into the making of the bare experiment, is like one who spells out the literal sense of the words in the spelling-book; it is on such a level that we leave the teachers if we limit their preparation to technique alone. (Continues...)
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