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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

Montessori Discipline

page 18

Montessori Discipline.

Much misconception appears to exist with regard to the Montessori idea of discipline. Many people appear to think that the children in Montessori schools are never co be checked or corrected, no matter how rough, injurious, or unbecoming their acts may be. I have already stated that I saw nothing but order, harmony, industry, and happiness in any Montessori school. How this result is obtained may probably be made clearer by the following quotation from Dr. Montessori herself, and from Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the authoress of A Montessori Mother. Dr. Montessori says in her chapter on "Discipline," pages 86 and 87 of her book:—

The pedagogical method of observation has for its base the liberty of the child: and liberty is activity.

Discipline must come through liberty. Here is a great principle which is difficult for followers of common-school methods to understand. How shall one obtain discipline in a class of free children? Certainly, in our system we have a concept of discipline very different from that commonly accepted. If discipline is founded upon liberty, the discipline itself must necessarily be active. We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.

We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself, and can, therefore, regulate his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life. Such a concept of active discipline is not easy either to comprehend or to apply; but certainly it contains a great educational principle, very different from the old-time absolute and undiscussed coercion to immobility.

A special technique is necessary to the teacher who is to lead the child along such a path of discipline, if she is to make it possible for him to continue in this way all his life, advancing indefinitely towards perfect self-mastery. Since the child now learns to move rather than to sit still, he prepares himself not for the school, but for life; for he becomes able, through habit and through practice, to perform easily and correctly the simple acts of social or community life. The discipline to which the child habituates himself here is, in its character, not limited to the school environment, but extends to society.

The liberty of the child should have as its limit the collective interest; as its form, what we universally consider good breeding. We must, therefore, check in the child whatever offends or annoys others, or whatever tends toward rough or ill-bred acts. But all the rest—every page 19 manifestation having a useful scope—whatever it be, and under whatever form it expresses itself, must not only be permitted, but must be observed by the teacher.'

Again, on page 95, she says:—

"When the teachers were weary of my observations, they began to allow the children to do whatever they pleased. I saw children with their feet on the tables, or with their fingers in their noses, and no intervention was made to correct them. I saw others push their companions, and I saw dawn in the faces of these an expression of violence; and not the slightest attention on the part of the teacher. Then I had to intervene to show with what absolute rigour it is necessary to hinder, and little by little suppress, all those things which we must not do, so that the child may come to discern clearly between good and evil.

"If discipline is to be lasting, its foundations must be laid in this way, and these first days are the most difficult for the directress. The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility, and evil with activity, as often happens in the case of the old-time discipline. And all this because our aim is to discipline for activity, for work, for good; not for immobility, not for passivity, not for obedience.

"A room in which all the children move about usefully, intelligently, and voluntarily, without committing any rough or rude act, would seem to me a classroom very well disciplined indeed.

Mrs. Fisher, speaking on this same matter of discipline, remarks:—

"This constant turning to that trust in the safety of freedom, which is perhaps the only lasting spiritual conquest of our time, is the keynote of her system. This is the real answer to the question, "What is there in the Montessori method which is so different from all other educational methods?" This is the vital principle often overlooked in the fertility of invention and scientific ingenuity with which she has applied it.

"This reverence for the child's personality, this supreme faith that liberty of action is not only safe to give children, but is the prerequisite of their growth, is the rock on which the edifice of her system is being raised. It is also the rock on which the barques of many investigators are wrecked. When they realise that she really puts her theory into execution, they cry out aghast, "What! a school without a rule for silence, for immobility; a school without fixed seats, where children may sit on the floor if they like, or walk about as they please, without stationary desks; a school where children may play all day if they choose; may select their own occupations, where the teacher is always silent and in the background—why, that is no school at all, it is anarchy!"

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The Use of Didastic Monteassori Material.

The Use of Didastic Monteassori Material.

page 21
Children educating themselves by means of Didactic Material.

Children educating themselves by means of Didactic Material.

"One seems to hear faint echoes from another generation crying out, 'What! a society without hereditary aristocracy, without a caste system, where a rail-splitter may become supreme governor, where people may decide for themselves what to believe without respect for authority, and may choose how they wish to earn their living .... this is no society at all! It is anarchy.'

Dr. Montessori has two answers to make to such doubters. One is that the rule in her schools, like the rule in civilised society, is that no act is allowed which transgresses against the common welfare, or is in itself uncomely or offensive. That the children are free does not mean that they may throw books at each other's heads, nor light a bonfire on the floor, any more than free citizens of a republic may obstruct traffic, or run a drain into the water supply of a town. It means simply that they are subject to no unnecessary restraint, and above all to no meddling with their instinctive private preferences. The second answer, even more convincing to hard-headed people than the first, is the work done in the Casa dei Bambini, where every detail of the Montessori theory has been more than proved, with an abundance of confirmatory detail which astonishes even Dr. Montessori herself. The bugbear of discipline simply does not exist for these schools. By taking advantage of their natural instincts and tendencies, the children are made to perform feats of self-abnegation, self-control, and collective discipline, impossible to obtain under the most rigid application of the old rules, and, as for the amount of information acquired unconsciously and painlessly by those babies, it is one of the fairy stories of modern times.

It is, I think, unnecessary to elaborate further Dr. Montessori's method of discipline. These passages seem to me to make it amply clean that liberty in the Montessori meaning of the term does not mean license.