RECONSTRUCTION IN EDUCATION

by MARIA MONTESSORI

Reprinted from "The Theosophist", February 1942

The Theosophical Publishing House,
Adyar, Chennai [Madras], 600 020 India


IT is always very difficult for me to set forth my argument, because this argument is not a simple conception like a line, but is immense, if you will, like a desert or an ocean. So it is very difficult for me to know just what I can do in order to give you what I would, for I do not myself know the extent of this greatness. This desert or ocean is not a creation of my mind, my soul, my knowledge, my evolution, but it is Education - not the education that you know, but an unknown education that is new, that is efficient, that gives help and a new orientation, a new knowledge, permit me to say, a new Wisdom to the world.

This education is something that is given to us, not something that we can construct by ourselves. So you will understand that when I speak of something so far from myself I cannot speak with words that have the sound of modesty; nor is what I have to say an exaggeration. I am sorry that I am not capable of giving you the right value of this change that has come about, this new and very real spark. We have not all known that new master who has a new world and who can give new hope, who can open a new path. If you know me sufficiently well, you will understand by this little beginning that I will speak to you about the Child. You understand that humanity cannot be constructed only by one-half of human life. All of the world today is based upon the adult, and we have a world that is terrible, that is hard, and which people say is unchangeable. But I ask you, is anything unchangeable?

This other part of humanity can help the first, particularly if the life is full of interest. It is true that each one of us has not always been a grown-up person. We have, each of us, been a child. From the child has come our personality, our humanity. In the long history of the child from birth to the adult state, he has had a work to do. The child has been the constructor of every one of us. Before we became an important adult, a respected person, a person who takes his part in society, we have been another personality, a personality very mysterious, not considered in this world, not respected, a person that has no importance, no choice. Yet he is capable of something we cannot do - he is capable of constructing an immense world in a way we cannot even imagine of doing.

Our idea about the child is that he is nothing, a little thing, an empty thing without importance. No empty thing, nothing without importance, can be the constructor of a Man. He who can do that is himself something great. Imagine the beginnings of this plant here. It was cultivated from a seed. We do not consider a seed as without importance, but we know that the seed has within it the plant and that, if cultivated, forth from it will come anew plant. But it has not been realized that in every child is the seed that will mature into an adult.

We have the idea that education can help the development of the child, and that we adult people will give this help. That is the ordinary idea of education. This idea is not a right idea, because it concludes that the adult can help this little child very much with his own wisdom and care. The idea of education is to give to the child and to young people all the best that we have.

That is so; but we cannot with our efforts, create a man. That is the task of the child himself, and it is the most important side of the whole educational question: what the child himself accomplishes of his own power and not what adult man can do for him.

What is meant by the idea of incarnation? Do you mean a soul that has come into new life? If so, how does it come into new life? In a tangible way the spiritual being becomes a physical entity with power inherent within itself to construct itself along a special design of nature in a determined time; and he does construct every single part of his body.We adults can do nothing about it. Before the man is born, the embryo grows, and grows alone, and begins to have many, many characteristics of humanity. We cannot give these to him. Later also it is the same.

This is an immensely important point to emphasize in education. It is impossible to understand how in one little physical body there is the possibility of becoming an intelligent man, who can speak a language, who has the power of movement, who has a will. Nature has given to this new person its laws, and all that takes place is not in our hands. Not that we cannot help; we can and do, but we had the idea that it was we adults who built him, that we must do everything for this little child instead of seeing how much he can give to us.

If I have mentioned these laws that guide the child in his growth, said something of this power that is within the child to construct the man, if I make the affirmation that generally this is not understood or considered, it is not because I have a special mind to see these things, but because in my life I have had the wonderful chance to know some children who have given me their revelations, and then have discovered that these revelations were not special and unique to these particular children but are common to all children. All of this I have observed more and more for forty years, and in my passion to demonstrate these things about the child I have followed the children, and they have given me many, many answers to my problems. I have seen that children can do much for the community. In the child is much knowledge, much wisdom. If we do not profit from it, it is only because of neglect on our part to become humble and to see the wonder of this soul and learn what the child can teach.

Because you know if the child can teach us something it is not really just the child, but it is the power of Love that constructs the man, and this I Love is placed there by God. The child has this power directly from God, and again and again and again I have seen it demonstrated that it is not only a physical power, but also an intellectual power, so that in the intellectual field also we can learn from the child something of the laws that govern us, that are very important to know, because we have from him the revelation of the manner in which God has created every personality, the revelation of the manner in which the incarnation of a soul takes place. We see the genesis of personality, for from the child comes a man with a certain language, a certain race, with certain sentiments, etc. From him comes the personality of the man. We see in the child also a universal personality, universal because it is the foundation of every man, universal because common to every human being. It is marvelous to know in what way the child constructs the man, because if we understand this secret we can help the man, we can know something that is very useful to know, which we do not realize now because we are confused in our mind.

We need to know more of the Law that is behind all humanity, the Source from which came all humanity, every personality, every race, every religion. That great Source has a Plan which is fulfilled not through the influence of the adult man on the child only, but also by the influence of the child upon the grown-up man. And the latter is not a love sentiment alone, though that is of very great influence, but is a real influence of knowledge and wisdom, because if we have the problem to unite all humanity by taking into consideration the child, we touch something common to all humanity. Certainly we cannot achieve it by attempting to unite all these people who are so different, but it can be achieved if we begin with the child. When the child is born he has no special language, he has no special religion, he has not any national or racial prejudice. It is men who have acquired all these things. What an opportunity is presented to humanity by this little child! The little child becomes a child of a certain race, nation, language, religion.

Why? We do not know - not because we teach these things to the newborn, not because we teach them to the child one or two years older. We do not teach him language or tell him that he must have this particular religion, or that he must be of a certain national type. But it is true that this little child becomes an Indian or an Italian or an English or a Russian child, a fascist or a democratic child, a Christian or a Hindu child. In what way is there the power of the child to absorb within himself and to incarnate all these things? For it is truly an incarnation.

Another very important thing is that this incarnation that takes place in the child is so striking, so profound, so deep, that the human personality can never throw it away. What the child absorbs and creates within himself becomes so living within him, that it becomes his personality. You all know very well that living in you really is this power, the fire which incarnates in the personality.

So what? Where? Why? We can see that step by step in the growth of the child there are these possibilities to develop a part of the spiritual functions that we have. This power of incarnation is the power of creation. It is inimitable, unconquerable. It is impossible to take what the child has not taken for us. Many, many of our possessions the child has created for us, indeed we have no other power.

It is very strange that today only the science of psychology has begun to know this great power in the child to incarnate race, caste and other characteristics so deeply. But many have the habit of saying that this is heredity. Yet this so-called fact of heredity is the construction in the child of these characteristics, through some singular unitary powers.

Another interesting point which is of practical value is the power within the child to take knowledge and culture. The child can absorb much more instruction, much more culture, at an early age than later. This also is a revelation of the child. The child comes before us and tells us: I will give you a law - the divine law of the construction of man by the child. I can take much from you of knowledge, because I have been sent to you with this purpose and I am here with this power, in order to gain the greatest possible amount of the many and varied activities that make up civilization."

It was such a revelation when we saw the little children of four begin to write words. (In my time writing was for older children.) And they not only wrote but wrote furiously, with such great enthusiasm, without stimulation from the teacher, because they have the possibility, the potentiality of taking everything that is in the man. The child has these powers to take from the environment, his mind is able to absorb, and when his mind is absorbing he is incarnating. So we have these little children who can take readily our culture.

But after this first demonstration we have seen also another very important thing, and that is the way the child takes. In order to achieve its possibilities, the child takes in a very different manner from what we usually have in mind when we think about the transmission of culture. His method is a very different one from that which is usually taught in the schools. This, too, is a teaching of the child: If I would become a good teacher I have the need to ask the child what I can do. When I ask the child, he is so kind as to answer me: Personally, please, do nothing. You can do nothing directly for me." He speaks like the philosopher of Greece who lived in a tub. The king who was a very great admirer of this philosopher went to him and asked him: "What can I do for you?" The philosopher replied: "Please stand a little more to this side, because the light of the sun cannot come with you there." And this is very like the sweet answer of the child.

But we can do something for the child. Certainly we can do much more than we do today, because today adults do too little for the child. Look what the educationist does for the child. He speaks and speaks to the child, and thinks most untrue things because he imagines the child understands nothing. If the child is not capable of being interested in the poor things the adults say, they become severe and oblige the child to repeat what they say. But the child is not only a creative personality, but a personality that can be in contact with God Himself. Yet he cannot be in this contact if he has not achieved a certain independence from adults. The child looks for his independence first, not because he does not desire to be dependent on the adult, but because he has in himself some fire, some urge, to do certain things and not other things. This is his inward law. However much you speak and speak and speak, you accomplish nothing, because the child cannot take directly but only indirectly. This is the teaching of the child.

In order that the child be given an opportunity to take indirectly, our teaching methods must change radically. We can give something in the environment of the child from which he can choose and take. This method is too long to describe, but we have before us the figure of the new master, the new teacher, who has penetrated the secret of the child and remains humbly in admiration of his work that has to do with the growth of the man. This new teacher will not disturb the child, but will serve every moment of his life, will serve like a follower of this person who is growing up. So does he become, instead of a teacher, a servant of God.

It is important to understand that the child takes not only with the mind but with his hands and his activity. This is because the child grows up with an entire, a whole personality made up of character, sentiment, mind, knowledge, activity, all bound together, and these he lifts higher and higher, but all within the limits of his nature. So we have seen many important things.

The child gives us knowledge about our methods of teaching in the school. One practical thing we have learned is that because the child absorbs so unconsciously, we must put the little child in some place where he can absorb. We have put the child, for instance, in classes that are more advanced, and the little child has taken from the older child and has learned many advanced things. That was a very impressive and strange sight for us, to see a child of three go into the class with children of four who were learning to write, and the child of three began to understand writing. And then the child of four goes into the class of six-year-old children, and begins to choose for himself knowledge from the subjects they are studying. Like a sponge these children absorb. It is marvelous, this mental power of the child. Only we cannot teach directly. It is necessary that the child teach himself, and then the success is great. But I believe that the most important thing, especially from the viewpoint of society, is this fact that the child can step by step absorb a part of any aspect of knowledge, and can also absorb some experience for himself.

So now I will skip far. Suppose we have this problem: to prepare the new man for a social life, to prepare the new man to be sympathetic with other people, to have love for humanity. Or suppose one has to solve another problem, that men must be today more cultivated in mind than in the past, because science has grown so rapidly that it is necessary that young people have great knowledge today, profound exact knowledge, incarnated knowledge. You can solve the problem by cultivating that love itself in the child when he is born; you will cultivate the love the child inspires in the adult people when he comes into this world, you will cultivate this love step by step through social experience, social experiences that grow and grow until finally the young become adult men and women.

Would you give knowledge, science? Do not wait until the youth is fifteen or eighteen years old and is going to the university. Give this preparation from the very earliest age, and science will grow and grow all throughout the life, and so will humanity be more harmonized.

Meet this problem not only in public meetings, not only in the university or after, not only in adult education, but remember that all must begin from childhood, because the child has the great power of incarnation, has a very great mind, on a much higher level than we can imagine. And if the child is capable, when he is so little, of giving us some knowledge about the law of growth and about the ways to teach, for instance, in the school; if he has this capacity and if he can take with this capacity, not directly from a master that speaks and speaks and speaks, but by himself through experience: and if he teaches us many things that we did not know, and solves simply and practically problems that we had thought unsolvable - perhaps this new humanity will solve the great problems of society which for us have been unsolvable.

Perhaps we, all the grown-up people, thinking within the limitations and hardness of our narrow understanding, have thought these problems unsolvable; but they are solvable by the child because he takes all not directly, but indirectly, raising himself to a higher level, for the child is growing and growing on the next plane. This is the way also for the solution of other problems. We cannot solve them directly, but they become solved by themselves if we have the power to go to a higher plane. And the child begins perhaps to push humanity on to this next higher plane in which many or all of our unsolvable problems can be solved.

This is the hope we have - a hope in a new humanity that will come from this new education, an education that is a collaboration of man and the universe, that is a help for evolution, for the incarnation of man.


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