1.8.2 Critical Pedagogies 1: Montessori
Maria Montessori's (1870-1952) education started from a doctor's concern to find treatment which could assist children with disabilities of various kinds. Montessori designed various activities and materials which would encourage children to play in active and creative ways. This broad foundation in both medical and educational literature proved to be an important foundation for her life's work, as she built up a cohesive new philosophy and method, as well as creative learning materials. One key insight informs the whole of Montessori's theory: the idea that all children have innate qualities that enable them to relate to each other and to the world around them, and that these qualities were being restricted rather than enhanced by the prevailing educational methods of the time. She wanted to nurture and draw out these inner qualities of the child, rather than impose learning upon them in a forceful way. This is a quite radically different approach to education than the traditional methods which involved learning by rote under the watchful eye of a stern teacher. Another important dimension of the Montessori theory is the idea that children learn in stages, and must progress to the end of one stage, before moving on to the next. The stages were defined in terms of sensitive periods in which particular types of learning will most easily take place. This staged learning is viewed as an individual process, because it is obvious that children will move at different rates through the stages. Montessori believed in a latent capacity that exists within every human being, and did not approve of artificial prizes and punishments that are designed to modify human behaviour. The activity of learning should be its own reward, and this implies that children need attractive and appropriate learning materials and a pleasant learning environment, so that they are encouraged to experiment with new things. This means that the design of the teaching and learning materials is fundamental to the Montessori method. Underpinning these methods there is a core belief in justice and the rights of the child. In her later work, Montessori focused on the earliest phase of development (from 0 to three years) and presented her famous idea of "the absorbent mind" (Montessori, 1967) which likens the young child to a sponge, soaking up information from all the stimuli around him, and developing into his own personality. There is therefore a very useful emphasis in Montessori's work on the individuality and learning potential of every child, including children who have physical, mental or emotional challenges to overcome. One limitation of the Montessori method in its original form is that it incorporates some views which were commonly held by most European educators in the early twentieth century, but which are no longer regarded as ethically acceptable in modern schooling. This means that care must be taken when reading Montessori's own writings, especially in passages which expound her somewhat reactionary views on matters such as intelligence, racial qualities, and some aspects of gender, race and class.
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Montessori, M. (1912) The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as applied to child education in 'The Children's Houses' with additions and revisions by the author. Trans. by A. E. George. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. Available at: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method.html [Accessed 12 December 2016].
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