Monday, 22 August 2011

The blank page - The children in the family, chapter one

This is by far the smallest book I have read by M. Montessori.  I have said many times before that while she is an amazing educator, her writing skills are not as perfected.  But I must admit that this is the most synthesize text I have ever seen her write.  She sure didn't get lost in comparisons and endless example in this chapter.

To those of you reading along, how did you like this chapter?

This first chapter is basically a recap of the the benefit of her method in the evolution of children, and the dangers (litterally) of not adapting family life to the children.
I am amazed at the intensity of the words she uses to describe the life of young children that are not fortunate to live according to the Montessori pedagogy:

the children who lives in an environment created by adults lives in a world that is ill-adapted to his own needs...
the child is repressed by by a more powerful adult who undercuts his will and constrains him to adapt to a hostile environment...
Almost all so-called educational activity is pervaded by the notion of direct and therefore violent-adaptation by the child to the adult world. 

I certainly have never child rearing as it is today as violence to the child.  And maybe we are so used that violence is physical and destructive on the outside, that we forget that not letting the child be free and develop at his own pace is a type of psychological violence.  Or are we that brainwashed on the topic of childrearing that we don't see this as being violence anymore?  I sure know that my view of childhood and childrearing have turn 180 degrees since having children.  I don't know how I would have taken that after having my first born, and taking care of him according to what is being done in our times.  But after 6 years, a lot of reading, and seeing, I am now more incline of understanding this, and believing it.  I have seen my oldest son being normalized after he entered a Montessori school, and I have to admit that this transformation has been very convincing, even to the ones that did not believe at first.  Maybe our child was indeed repressed.  And the sad part, was that we did that to him, and did not know better.  As parent, we are, IMO, ill-advised.

She is also clearly against all schooling that is different then hers.  ON page 3, she talks about the accord between the family and the school which becomes an alliance between the strong against the weak " whose timid and uncertain voice never seems to find an audience".  Rejection, I agree, is a wound that really hurts, and she even sees it as being more dangerous then just submission.

I try to remember frequently how bad it feel to be rejected, and not be listened to.  I think many children live this pain every day.  And trying to put myself in there shoes reminds me that I can't and don't want things to go my way just because, as there is a price to pay.  I don't pay it, but my children does.  This pain often direct my thoughts and my way of acting with my children.

I love how she talks about school should be an environment to protect childhood, from the dangers of the adult world.  Even today, I doubt that this is the agenda of compulsory schooling.  They rather conform then anything else.

And she finishes this chapters by talking about the social aspect of childhood.  How children have never existed socially.  They are the possession of their parents, and should adapt to the world of adults.  But it has never occurred to anybody, she says, that children have a personality that differs from the one of their parents?  He is seen as a little human without rights and considerations.
I have to admit that 100 years or so later, this is still true.  Children are still expected to adapt, and the mere thought of them having their own personality is just crazy. Children should be taught and told who to do and what to do, otherwise, how are they to know?  Parents are not being mean, they are just not informed.  We just don't know, and we have grown being treated this way, how can we know differently?
I see people saying how we are a child friendly society.  And I now have to respectfully disagree.  Just go to public restrooms.  How many are child friendly?  Look at all the childrearing material you can find on the shelves of many stores.  They were not designed with the child in mind, but for the sake of the parent.  Children, still today, as not seen as an entity, and until they finally can reach their status, the common assumptions about children (how they manipulate, they whine, ... ... ...)will remain true

I do believe that society as it is, will be changed by it's children, but the effort won't come from them, it will come from the well intentioned parent that will work really hard to make a change for their children and for their future.

How did you like this first chapter?  Was there anything that struck you, anything you learned, anything that shocked you?  I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts about it.


  1. Oh, I want to comment. I need to do the school run. Back as soon as I can!

  2. She does use VERY strong language, huh?!

    Sadly, I have to agree with you, Neptune, that much of what she claims still holds true in our modern society:

    'Evidently, our students' natural spontaneity, which derives mysteriously from the child's inner life, had long been suppressed by the energetic and inopportune intervention of adults, who believe they can do everything better than children, substituting their own activities for those of the children and forcing them to submit their will and initiative to adult control.'

    Look around in any public place and you will see this happening: parents feeding children who clearly are capable of feeding themselves; children old enough to walk being carried or pushed in strollers; infants with pacifiers in their mouths and mittens on their hands; everywhere, children forced to go along with their parent's schedules etc etc.... It is as if children were lumps of clay to be manipulated by the adults around them.

    On the surface, these things seem so innocent. Even Montessori herself acknowledged that, 'This adult attitude is so deeply rooted in the family that it is applied even to the child who is greatly loved'. As parents, we ALL do the very best we know how to. Sadly, the true needs of children are still being ignored by society and as such we have created terrible parenting role-models.

    She also acknowledges that, 'this dissension in exacerbated by the complexity of social custom.' And isn't this more true today than ever? If our friends/movie stars/authors of parenting books/maternal health 'experts' advise us to treat our children this way, then surely it must be ok, right?

    Isn't it amazing that these words, written all those years ago can still hold true in today's society that claims to be 'child-friendly'?

    What strikes me is her warning that this '...[oppression] is all the more dangerous in that it it unconscious'. Though it may not seem like a big deal to do everything for your child (after all, it's easier and faster to do so), we must remember that every time we substitute ourselves for our child we do them (and humanity) a huge disservice.

    What a powerful woman she was! And so insightful... I can't wait to get stuck into the rest of the book!

    Thanks for giving me a reason to put everything else aside and stick my nose back into Montessori's writings, Neptune :)

  3. I would have loved to hear her speak. I did like the first chapter however I do feel her words to be a little off putting. I don't think she means it but it comes across a little elitist or superior. As you said Neptune she really was against any schooling other than her own. Today I think this creates a divide.

    And as a society are we really that bad? Perhaps there are many, many areas where we could do better but as a whole I don't feel our children are oppressed. I feel today more than ever we are empowering our children, listening to them speak and they are their own entity. Perhaps I feel this way because our family and those around us have been influenced by her words and now this is a natural way of living. Perhaps I just don't see the oppression.

    Then this 'The implementation of any educational system ought to begin with the creation of an environment that protects the child from the difficult and dangerous obstacles that threaten him in the adult world. The shelter in the storm, the oasis in the desert...'. What? I just don't believe that adults today have created a world that is so dangerous. And for my children school is where they are most exposed to this adult world and it's definitely no shelter or oasis.

    Sorry if I sound the cynic.

    Yes, powerful words, powerful woman!

  4. Sorry ladies for not having come sooner! I have been sick int the last couple of days, and I just was not able to come and post.

    I have to agree with what you both said.

    Kylie, I see what you mean, and as I said in my post, I am not sure how I would have taken the reading of this chapters 5 years ago. I think I would have been put off really. But when I look around me, in public places of all place, Ido see children who are treated in a way that is completely different form the way we, or the people around me do. And while I do still think she uses strong words, I see some kind of oppression. Kids being held while they would rather walk, kids in carts to make sure they don't touch anything in the store, and worst, being punished because they did touch something.

    I think that what you say is true, in the families where parents are mindful of their children. But that is not universally true, (at least, not here!!!)

    Cathy, thanks for reading along with me, I always promised myself that as long as I would Montessori, I would, at times go back to her words. But I really enjoy being able to do it with other moms. :)

    I do agree with you that one of the fact that really impresses me most about her and what she said, is that it still holds true 100 years later. She truly understood.