Review – The Secret Of Childhood (#education, #childhood, #Montessori, #philosophy)

The Secret of Childhood

by Maria Montessori, published 1936, 1982

If you’re looking for a “how-to” on the Montessori Method, this isn’t it. What this book is is an exploration of the philosophical foundations of Maria Montessori’s view of the child in society, based upon some of her historical experiences and study of related social research.

Although this book was published long ago, Montessori’s revelation appears to be, by and large, still a secret. Sadly, it is not just a cultural secret. Even in the West, and particularly the United States, where her ideas seem to have the strongest following, the parenting and educational mainstreams seem to have done little to absorb Montessori’s insights into both theory and practice. If Montessori was correct in her discovery, then it says something both appalling and demoralizing about the failure of society to integrate such important truths. So, what is this “secret”?

The secret of childhood is that it is a period of time during which the child works, not to assimilate himself into society, but to assimilate himself into himself. We hear echoes of Max Stirner (1806-1856, Germany) in Maria Montessori (1870-1952, Italy), for example, compare Stirner,

school is to be life and there, as outside of it, the self-revelation of the individual is to be the task… only freedom is equality… we need from now on a personal education (not the impressing of convictions)… knowledge must die and rise again as will and create itself anew each day as a free person.

to Montessori,

Adults look upon a child as something empty that is to be filled through their own efforts, as something inert and helpless for which they must do everything, as something lacking an inner guide and in constant need of direction… the adult makes himself the touchstone of what is good and evil in the child. He is infallible, the model upon which the child must be molded… An adult who acts this way… unconsciously suppresses the development of the child’s own personality.

or to Montessori’s son, Mario, from the preface,

Man has discovered flight, he has discovered atomic energy, but he has failed to discover himself.

or to Margaret Stephenson, a Montessori instructor, from the foreword,

How can one learn through group play what it means to be a mother, father, space pilot, dog, when one does not yet know what it mean’s to be one’s self?

This psychic development of the child, a “universal” as Montessori puts it, into an individuated person, the man, unfolds along a predetermined path dictated by nature.

Childhood constitutes the most important element in an adult’s life, for it is in his early years that a man is made.

That is not to say that man’s childhood development is deterministic, but that there is a logic and a succession of predictable stages and events to it, much like a caterpillar becomes a cocoon and then a butterfly.

The place an animal will have in the universe can be seen at birth. We know that one animal will be peaceful since it is a lamb, that another will be fierce because it is a lion cub, that one insect will toil without ceasing since it is an ant, and that another will do nothing but sing in solitude since it is a locust. And just as the lower animals, so the newly born child has latent psychic drives characteristic of its species… A child develops not simply as a member of the human species, but as a person.

And the implication of this fact is that the child, in his childhood, has special needs during this period of development which will allow this process of psychic development to occur without obstruction or injury, ranging from the suitability of his environment, to the tools and instruments he has at his use, to the way he is interacted with and communicated with by adults, who he sees as omnipotent, almost magical, beings of power and authority. (Isn’t it funny to stop for a moment and consider how sure of ourselves and the nature and limits of the adults around us we are, and how truly mysterious any of this was when we first made our way into the world as small children? Just ponder that for a moment if you’re having trouble grasping the significance of Montessori’s “secret”.)

What are some of these differences and needs between children and adults? The first is understanding the significance of work to each. For adults, work is a means to obtain a fixed and known goal, and the general idea is to work efficiently, that is, to get the highest yield in terms of outcome for the smallest amount of resources and energy expended. But for children, the purpose of work is to learn about the self– work is not performed to obtain an income, or to be fed, or to avoid a threat, but rather work is performed to experience the psychic benefit of knowing how to perform the work.

An adult walks to reach some external goal and he consequently heads straight for it… An infant, one the other hand, walks to perfect his own proper functions, and consequently his goal is something creative within himself.

In working, a child applies their intellect to the world, they come to understand their power and ability as a person to influence and change the world more to their liking, a fact that mature adults take for granted.

His hands under the guidance of his intellect transform this environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission in the world.

Because of this, a child may be seen to work “aimlessly”, or “inefficiently”, or “incompetently”, but this observation is made from the point of view of an adult which is not applicable to the child and their psychic purpose in working. Montessori relates how adults who are finished working are typically tired and in need of rest or recreational stimulation, whereas children who are finished working are exhilarated and self-satisfied at accomplishing whatever it was inside of their psyche that compelled them to perform their work.

Another need is the need for separate property. Children exist in a world created by adults, for the benefit of adults and adults can be capricious with their property and arrangements in ways that are befuddling and intimidating to children. Everything in the child’s world (for example, in the home) belongs to the adults– the furniture, which is sized for the adults; the dishware and glassware and silverware, which is sized for the adults; the books, the clothes, the walls, the art, even the pets!

[An adult is tempted to overvalue his material possessions when they’re being handled by a child, such as with a glass of water being carried by his child.] The adult who does this may even be very wealthy and intent upon increasing his fortunes many times over in order to make his son still more wealthy than himself. But for the moment he esteems a glass as something of greater value than the child’s activity and seeks to prevent its being broken [and so interferes needlessly with the child’s development in stopping him from his activity with the glass].

Montessori describes the adults as “kings”, who may of occasion grant the child a right to temporary use of the king’s property, but never the right to possess the property themselves.

An adult, however high or low he may be, is always a powerful being in comparison with a child.

The child can feel as if it lives only at the mercy and privilege of the king. The child is constantly being instructed and informed how to use something, what to touch and what not to touch, to keep away from this or to go be near that. The child needs some of its own things, in sizes and qualities specific to its uses, so that it may explore and understand and “work” in the world around itself without constantly being in conflict with the adults.

An adult is constantly interrupting the child and breaking into his environment. This powerful being directs the child’s life without ever consulting the child himself. And this lack of consideration makes the child think that his own activities are of no value.

A final need is for adults to appreciate the differences in perceptive faculties of children, who, as Montessori describes, pay attention to details not just different in magnitude, but in kind.

A child’s psychic personality is far different from our own, and it is different in kind and not simply degree.

Adults are accustomed to looking at the world and paying attention to details in a particular way based upon their individual goals, ambitions, professional outlook, educational level, etc. etc. But children often pay attention to details quite differently, and in ways that conflict with adult perceptions or treat them as non-sensical or unimportant.

Children an adults are in possession of two different mental outlooks… Adults frequently attempt to point out ordinary objects to three- or four-year-old children as if they had never seen anything before. But this must have the same effect on a child as one shouting at another whom he thinks to be deaf [who is not so].

An adult may wish to draw a child’s attention to the beach and the ocean, but the child is fascinated by a tiny bug crawling across the sand. Adults are often quick to pass judgment on the child in these moments, as if they are “wrong” for not being interested in what the adult wants them to be interested in, or even questioning their intelligence or development when they seem incapable of taking such an interest. But as with work, observation serves a different purpose for the child than for the adult– it is not to satisfy his desire for recreation, or to attend to a productive goal, but to stimulate his psyche according to these innate, natural needs of his development.

Here are some other interesting quotes I collected:

  • The child is a universal… There is, in reality, only the child of all times, of all races, heir to tradition, hander-on of history, crucible of culture, pathway to peace.
  • The absorption of culture, of customs, of ideas, ideals, of sentiments, feelings, emotions, religion, take place during the period of the absorbent mind, in the child from zero to six.
  • We should try to understand that there is an intelligible reason behind a child’s activities. He does nothing without some reason, some motive… A child does not simply run, jump and handle things without purpose and thus create havoc about the house… Knowledge always precedes movement. When a child wishes to do something, he knows beforehand what it is. [A very Misesian idea!]
  • An adult’s avarice, which makes him jealously defend whatever he owns, is concealed under “the duty of properly educating one’s child.” [What Stirner would refer to as a “spook”, or a mental hobgoblin an adult uses to frighten his own psyche and thus prevent himself for taking ownership over his actions.]
  • When a child moves slowly, an adult feels compelled to intervene by substituting his own activity for that of the child. But in acting thus an adult, instead of assisting a child in his psychic needs, substitutes himself in all the actions which the child would like to carry out by himself.
  • What an adult tells a child remains engraved on his mind as if it had been cut in marble.
  • When a child is disobedient or has a tantrum an adult should always call to mind the conflict and try to interpret it as a defense of some unknown vital activity necessary for the child’s development.
  • Toys furnish a child with an environment that has no particular goal and, as a consequence, they cannot provide it with any real mental concentration but only illusions.
  • Before anyone can assume a responsibility, he must be convinced that he is the master of his own actions and have confidence in himself.

I enjoyed reading this book, it stimulated MY psyche and made an impression upon me in terms of how much more there is to think and know about this subject than what I possess currently. I also enjoyed the archaicness of it, Montessori writes like a civilized person of years gone by, speaking articulately and frankly about the world around her without apology and with much conviction and passion for her subject, something which doesn’t seem to exist anymore in our world of sterile, clinical academics reluctant to take a position on anything of import. But it was not always an easy read and it was fairly repetitious. I will likely come back to the book at some point to re-read certain passages that I found hard to appreciate without an experience of raising a child myself. Yet, I wouldn’t recommend this as an “essential” title for someone looking to up their parenting game unless I already knew they were more philosophical in their approach.

3/5

 

On Stirner: The False Principle Of Our Education (#egoism, #education, #humanism, #realism)

Max Stirner (1806-1856) was a proponent of philosophical egoism, which states that there is no “right and wrong” in a moral sense but only “right and wrong” in the sense of a given means being appropriate to a stated end. In this way, he sought to create a value-free philosophy, just as Ludwig von Mises claimed that economics was a value-free social science in that economics did not say whether a given economic end was “good or bad”, only whether the economic means chosen for obtaining it was appropriate or not.

Stirner was also a contemporary of the Young Hegelians, and a student and fierce critic of Hegel himself. Whereas he could foresee that the intellectual project of the Hegelian “moderns” was nothing but a new religion and a reformation of the thinking of the “ancients” of Greece and Rome which would ultimately end in a total state and an orgiastic ruination of the individual, Stirner instead tried to create something entirely different by reclaiming the idea of individual as owner of his own life. This he set out to accomplish in The Ego and His Own.

A few years before he published his primary work on the subject, however, Stirner wrote a pamphlet on the nature of the modern European debate over educational systems, entitled “The False Principle of Our Education“, in which he declared “The school-question is a life-question.”

Why is the school-question a life-question? Because, Stirner says, we are in school in “the time of our plasticity.” The various factions in society fight over the schools because they understand this is the moment when individuals are most malleable, moldable, shapeable– control the fate of an individual in his schooling of youth and you can potentially control him for his entire life.

Historically,

Until the Enlightenment… higher education lay without protest in the hands of the humanists… based almost solely on the understanding of the old classics… they selected the best education of the world of antiquity… the people were supposed to remain in the laity opposite of the learned gentlemen, were only supposed to gaze in astonishment at the strange splendor and venerate it

This is so because people have a tendency to respect and admire the past just as they respect and admire their parents and ancestors. By setting the educational model in the past, a period which is so far from recent human experience that its iniquities can be forgotten while its triumphs can be lauded and envied, the humanists created an educational system that played to people’s traditionalist bias, making it ripe for automatic respect and veneration. Then, by restricting such education to the elite of society, they managed to transfer this veneration to the elites who held such educations. They came to represent the old, respectable past and so were respected and granted authority themselves.

This was the educational system of the humanists of the European Middle Ages. The system of the “moderns” post-Enlightenment, the realists, would not replace but reform it:

To eliminate the priesthood of the scholars and the laity of the people is the endeavor of realism and therefore it must surpass humanism… the essential advantage of scholars, universal education, should be beneficial to everyone… “to be able to talk about everything”… therefore familiarity with the things and situations of the present… because it satisfied the common need of everyone to find themselves in their world and time

But the aims of the humanists and the realists were short-sighted:

to grasp the past as humanism teaches and to seize the present, which is the aim of realism, leads both only to power over the transitory

Humanists offered a materialist education– to know of things. Realists offered a formal education– to know of categories, classes, and shapes, but not the value of them to anybody. Stirner himself offers an entirely different alternative, which he calls personalism— to know the self. In this failing, Stirner sees that,

knowledge is not brought to completion and perspicuity, that it remains a material and formal, a positive thing, without rising to the absolute, that it loads us down like a burden

The false principle of education, to Stirner, is that education has never been given to others or taken philosophically to its total end, the enabling of the creation of the self, or ego. It was stopped short by both the humanists and the realists in order to serve other needs, other egos. Instead, a foundation on true principle would imply,

the final goal of education… is: the personal or free man. Truth itself consists in nothing other than man’s revelation of himself… such thoroughly true men are not supplied by school; if they are nevertheless there, they are there in spite of school… No knowledge, however thorough and extensive, no brilliance and perspicuity, no dialectic sophistication, will preserve us from the commonness of thought and will

The true purpose of education should not be to fill people’s minds with stuff (facts, figures, events, people, places) or with implications (what to think of the stuff); the purpose of education should be to enable individuals to find themselves. Everything short of this does not serve the individual, but someone else:

Only a formal and material training is being aimed at and only scholars come out of the menageries of the humanists, only “useful citizens” out of those of the realists, both of whom are indeed nothing but subservient people… If one awakens in men the idea of freedom then the free men will incessantly go on to free themselves; if, on the contrary, one only educates them, then they will at all times accommodate themselves to circumstances in the most highly educated and elegant manner and degenerate into subservient cringing souls

Educational philosophy, then, can be boiled down into three primary alternatives: to educate and create masters, to educate and create slaves, or to educate and create individuals (who are neither slave nor master).

The present state of education, based off humanist and realist principles, is one of disarray and pathetic. College students,

trained in the most excellent manner, they go on training; drilled, they continue drilling… it is not knowledge that should be taught, rather, the individual should come to self-development… we do not hinder man’s quest for knowledge; why should we intimidate his free will?

Why, but only to control him.

Stirner crushes mercilessly the lie that we educate within the current paradigm so as to civilize people, and thereby make them safe co-habitants of our society, that without education these “free egos” would turn to chaos and “anarchy” and tear society apart in violent blunder:

I oppose him with the strength of my own freedom; thus the spite of the child will break up by itself. Whoever is a complete person does not need to be an authority.

“Free egos” are only threats to those who seek control over others (for they pose a form of opposition to their own ego) or those who are in a position of subservience, control and dependence upon an authority and are thereby not free to resist the aggressions of another themselves.

Instead,

school is to be life and there, as outside of it, the self-revelation of the individual is to be the task… only freedom is equality… we need from now on a personal education (not the impressing of convictions)… knowledge must die and rise again as will and create itself anew each day as a free person.

Beware those who would argue otherwise; aware of it or not, they’re attempting to set up a trap by which to control you.

The True Principle Of Modern Education Exposed: To Make Us A Means To Others’ Ends (#education, #government, #preschool, #egoism)

What is the true purpose of public education?

According to a new research study reported in the WSJ, it appears to be all about career-prep:

Can finger-painting, cup-stacking and learning to share set you up for a stellar career?

Research says yes, according to Dr. Celia Ayala, chief executive officer of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, a nonprofit that funds 325 schools in Los Angeles County, Calif., using money from tobacco taxes.

“When they enter kindergarten ready to thrive with all the social, emotional and cognitive skills, they perform at grade level or above,” she said. “When they don’t, that’s where that achievement gap starts.”

Note: don’t ask why money from tobacco taxes is being used to fund preschool research nonprofits.

There’s a lot at stake here– not only does pre-school appear to grant an advantage, but NOT doing appears to confer disadvantages such as increasing the likelihood of becoming a “special needs” student:

Kids without that early boost have been shown to be more likely to get special-needs services, be held back a grade or two, get in trouble with the law and become teen parents. Preschool alumni have a better chance, she said.

Today, a child’s life ends before it even begins:

“Those who go to preschool will go on to university, will have a graduate education, and their income level will radically improve,” she said.

Implication: don’t go to preschool, don’t go to university, don’t get a graduate education, watch your income level stagnate or decline, eventually you’ll probably kill yourself through obesity or suicide in a depressed state of lifetime unaccomplishment.

The article goes on the explain that preschool could hold “the key to job success in adult life” and warns of the sorrows of children who don’t receive an education in preschool because they’re spending time with “parents or caregivers.” Yes, there is nothing being learned there, apparently. Nothing valuable, at least.

But valuable to whom? And for what?

Why, valuable to society, for the purpose of making the child a good little worker! The definition of success is one who works productively for others. The purpose of education is not to develop a society of individuals, but a society of workers.

Or, as one French director of an “ecole maternelle” put it, the object is to give them social skills “to be students and citizens,” a “citizen” being one who obediently does what others ask of him.

Meanwhile, policymakers in the US are big on preschool:

Policymakers in the U.S. are most concerned about eliminating the gap between kids who do well in school, going on to college and successful careers, and those who fall behind. Preschool, say policymakers, offers educators the best shot for getting children of varying backgrounds on equal footing.

There’s a codeword in there– “equal”. Equal means same. Same means, “not different.” But wait, individuals ARE different. They have different likes and dislikes, different skills and aptitudes. How can beings who are inherently different, ever be equal? And why would policymakers care? How does being “equal” help one succeed at living ONE’S OWN life?

Answer– it doesn’t. It isn’t about living one’s life. Sameness, equality, is being sought to create an army of interchangeable cogs to go on society’s wheel. Then, the elites spin the wheel. And round go all the equal people, never asking why.

Don’t worry, though. Policymakers at Department of Education won’t let anyone fail to be equal. They’re “equal” to the task:

“We’re really focusing on the cradle-to-career continuum,” said Steven Hicks, special assistant for early learning at the federal Department of Education, where there has been a recent shift as officials realize “we need to start earlier.”

Once people are in the work force, the Social Security Administration is responsible for the “career-to-grave continuum”. Which means no matter what point in the continuum you’re at during your life, the State is there to help you out, with kid gloves, of course.

Although most education funding happens at the state level, the federal government has been trying to fuel a preschool wave with a half-billion dollars in challenge grants funded in January. The next five states in line will share $133 million in preschool money this year. Call it a pre-job-training program.

Are you starting to get the picture here? You’re being trained from the moment you develop the mental, emotional and conceptual faculties to see yourself as a differentiated “other” in the world, to prepare to work for someone else. This is scary stuff. And it’s all coming in the innocuous guise of “equality” for all.

Most teachers and parents would agree that early-childhood education matters to a child’s trajectory in life. But with budgets stretched around the country, a lack of money is forcing some states to make choices about scarce education dollars. Too bad, the DoE thinks.

“Secretary Duncan says there are smart investments and some things you can do that are not so smart, and one of those is cutting early childhood education,” Hicks said.

To calculating socialists running short on Other People’s Money, future worker bees are like hot dogs from the corner stand– “Get ’em while they’re young!”

This article, intentionally or not, is coincidentally the most timely and blatantly obvious confirmation of Stirner’s false principle of education. Nobody in this article is aiming at an educational system which produces “self-developed” individuals. The name of the game is forming human clay into pre-determined molds appropriate to other people’s ends.

It is distinctly anti-individual. It’s a quiet and brutal form of slavery-as-virtue.