When did education get so controversial? Whether on the state, national, or international level, in schools, on the news, over a coffee with friends or at home while crocheting (or ummm… I mean working out), it is quite clear that public interest and social commentary on education has grown immensely. It is a familiar subject of debate and it is not uncommon for the supporters of various schools of thought (pun) to wear their views on their sleeves in an almost religious fervour. Even within the different groups there are tinier niches proclaiming certain variations from the larger group (i.e. Montesteiner etc.). Fortunately, although ironically it is still common for adults to preach knowledge of the meaning of life, in regards to the life of the child children are humbling to be around and the process of childhood is riddled with mystery and secrecy to which even the most hard headed intellects often stand back scratching their heads. But why all the hype?
From my point of view, humans love to focus on problems. We are problem solvers by nature (and problem creators by default). We live our lives moving from one problem to another, solving it and fashioning a new problem in the process. Like a spider that spins its home in one night only to abandon it the next morning, we create fresh conditions that require our whole intelligence to solve daily. And once solved, we change our focus to a new problem. The only catch is… oftentimes we, ourselves, actually become the prey, getting stuck in the web that we (the hunters) spin.
Naturally when children come along our problem solving propensities shift gears and often end up focused on “how to raise my child”. A friend recently said to me that she didn’t have any particulars regarding how she parents, no philosophy or set of ideas that she parents by. Simply, she just parents day by day. I said that is fair and well and sounds like a good philosophy to have. Behind her statement though, I think she is making a valid social point: adults spend so much time planning and thinking (agonising) about parenting and educating our children that we often forget to just do it, we’ve learnt so much (from books, online, etc.) and yet we forget to be present and let the learning happen organically.
Ah organic! That brings me to home-schooling. Whenever the conversation of home-schooling comes up and it starts getting a little bit: home-schooling vs school (WWF style) I love to point out that I was in fact home-schooled. “Oh really, I didn’t know you were home-schooled?” “Oh didn’t you know, I did 12 years of school and 12 years of home-schooling simultaneously, you could call it something like a double graduate.”
Really speaking, everyone is home-schooled and in fact Maria Montessori’s vision for education reaches deep into the family/ home environment. If you are ever in one of those discussion/ quarrels about education, Montessori has many bases covered- including home-education. In point of fact, Montessori was a radical who was seeking to tear up the old guard’s ways of looking and talking about education altogether. What Maria was advocating for was for the adult to take a step back and have a look at themselves first: the anger, impatience, and the general ignorance regarding the child, and enquire for once into what the real needs of children are without first trying to mould them according to our own preconceptions and intellectual biases. The Montessori Philosophy is essentially based on scientific (as in unbiased) observation. The method and materials are simply the outer trappings of the real education that takes place inside the child.
As such, Maria was questioning the times and dared to point the finger at the adult (for once) as a possible contributor to the aforementioned “problem” of raising children. One of Maria’s contemporaries Krishnamurti once stated: “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” It is clear that Maria wasn’t adjusted to her times. She had to fight to become the first woman to enter medical school in Italy, in 1931 Mussolini closed all the Montessori schools in Italy because the teachers would not pledge loyalty to Fascism. She was kicked out of Italy and exiled in Spain, she fled Spain during the Spanish civil war for England, then onto Holland, then India for over 7 years where her son was imprisoned during WWII.
Despite being maladjusted to her times, Maria was advocating for a holistic vision of education and childhood (well ahead of her times). Education at its best should be all encompassing and should awaken (not teach) the whole child. Home and school are in partnership and the true gauge for success is a measure of a child’s peace and happiness with Life. Parents everywhere are starting to look for this magic school that holds the key to this wonderful process. They are questioning and comparing the very foundations of education just like Montessori did 100 years ago. But this magic school is elusive if parents assume school has all the answers. Despite all of the searching and uncertainty it is clear where this school begins: at home. Where it leads is yet to be determined. Our responsibility: “this is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth…mothers, fathers, politicians: all must help in this delicate work of formation.”