Yes We Did– Now What?

November 30, 2008

Childhood education is mankind’s most crucial problem.

Filed under: a life worth living,childhood,children,education,oppression,parenting — kimwilsonowen @ 6:11 am

“Those who oppress one part of humanity to the advantage of another succeed only in destroying social unity.”

How we treat children and those who nourish and tend to them is a clear indicator of our character as a society. So many of us, and I am guilty but working on it, are  materially fortunate but emotionally not truly present for our children.

And so many children right here in the US do without or are terribly abused physically and emotionally– it is so bad that our infant mortality (death before 1 year of age) rate is right down there with Latvia– 42nd best in the developed world. Great, right? Go, us! And let’s not even talk about children in places suffering war and famine. No, wait, let’s. This is a global issue.

I worry a lot and write some about various issues surrounding children and family. We force parents to put children in day care that is emotionally devastating at best and often dangerous so that they can go back to work. We see our dangerous medicalized birth practices as not just normal but necessary. I am so grateful to the person who gave me my first book on attachment parenting– I believe she saved my life as a parent and my baby’s life as a growing emotional and spiritual being.

I think a lot about nutrition, food allergies, lack of access to health care, outdated gender roles, the harm we do when we assign or model gender roles and consider them opposites. I know– and now the pro lifers are starting to figure out (I love it when I’m right– that is, when others finally see it) that if we treated parents and children with respect and dignity and insured that no parent or child would have to do without health care, food, shelter, education, meaningful work at a living wage just because they had a baby within or without marriage the abortion rate would drop dramatically.

And some of the most important things we can do for children– staying home to parent, teaching, working in day cares– are also terrible financial decisions– why do we pay those who care for our future so terribly or not at all!

But lately I’ve been reading up on Montessori.

The content of this post is just my notes — I’ll write on what it means to our society some other time.

This is a strange time to be doing this, when my little one just left Montessori preschool to start public kindergarten. That transition tore my heart out too! But perhaps it was best that I did not read these books while she was still in school — too many cooks and all that. Her teachers were wonderful. They didn’t need me nosing around.

I have Maria Montessori’s The Child in the Family, Avon paperback 1970. I made copious notes all over it and need to jot those down before I give the book to my brother who has an almost three year old. I so wish I’d read this sooner– before she was even born.

Oh well. As Maya Angelou says, something to the effect that you did what you knew to do and when you knew better you did better. What parent is perfect? Not I. And even with the very best, most loving parenting it’s the nature of childhood to see things as a child sees, and, depending upon the individual personality and the environment, to randomly sail happily past some junctures and be irreparably scarred at others.

My point isn’t to point out what we’re doing wrong. It’s to lay out what we CAN do, starting now, and why it’s important.

So here are my notes. I claim no part of the below as my own, except perhaps the choice of which passages to highlight. It is all straight from Montessori.

“We all know  that this period of development is the most important in one’s life, that moral starvation or spiritual disease can be as fatal for man as starvation as the body. Consequently, childhood education is mankind’s most crucial problem.”

Children are the most delicate members of the human race. We MUST act because they are weak beings who live among the strong. We do not understand their needs and we are crushing them from birth. Montessori says that such ignorance represents an abyss of unsuspected evil. I wholeheartedly concur.

“No one sees in the newborn child the human being who suffers. No one appreciates the sensitivity of a little body that has never before been handled, or of his reactions to innumerable physical impressions and to every familiar touch.”

Unlike racism or other forms of oppression, the oppression of children spans all societies and economic strata.

Material things (other than basic warmth, nourishment, security, hygiene, safety) are LEAST important at this time of life. Of all the necessities, the one most neglected is the one most needed– spiritual. And our constant demands, commands and punishments sap the child’s vital energy and suffocate his creativity until all that remains is the child’s desire to free himself from everyone and everything.

“…only the immediate observation of children whose freedom was respected revealed some of the laws of their inner being… these same children have sought the way to strength and have found it with the surest of instincts.”

If we pay attention and learn about the child’s emotional and learning styles/desire– not from adults but from children themselves– we can offer them an environment that develops moral and intellectual achievement that comes from within the child’s own desires and motivations rather than from emotional and physical punishment from adults.

If a child is going to grow out of it, don’t punish it! You are only doing harm. Divert. Offer better and more interesting options. Remove gently from the situation. Maintain an environment which nurtures the child’s innate respect, dignity, and drive to learn.

Forcing a child to conform to the adult world, using punishment and based on unquestioning obedience, negates his or her strengths and harms his or her growth irreparably. We must create an environment that offers emotional, spiritual and physical shelter from the adult world.

The child innately knows his developmental work. To mold is to harm.

The child creates,  not the adult. Adults do children irreparable harm.

We see a child only as a future. Nobody pays attention to the becoming in the precious present– the child is full of beauty, dignity and creativity.  We crush it out of him.

A child cannot obey if he or she does not have spiritual balance, cannot collect his thoughts, cannot master himself from within and choose to do what is best for himself and for the group for its own sake because he wants to.

“…Children must be thoroughly strong beings and must possess spiritual equilibrium in order to be able to obey… the strong spirit [will] obey and know to adapt itself to everything. It is necessary, then, to give the child the possibility of developing according to the laws of his nature, so that he can become strong…” Allow him to exercise the essential function of his spirit (concentration; the labor that is repose) in peace and freedom.

Allow the child to be with you. Make amenities so that the environment is safe, attractive, and suits his tiny size and interests.

” When the child goes to bed he must do so in the company of someone he loves. But the person he loves thinks:’This nonsense must stop. We’ll spoil him if we stay close to him before he goes to sleep…’ Who else weeps out of the intense desire to be with us…? How sadly we will say someday, ‘Nobody cries now to have me near him while he falls asleep… Only a child remembers and says every night “Don’t leave me; stay with me!’ and the adult answers, ‘I can’t, I have so much to do’ … and think that the child must be corrected…!

“Most often [parents] say ‘Don’t wake me in the morning’… But how often does it happen in life that someone, just awakened, wants to come to us, despite every difficulty, not to wake us up but simply to see us and kiss us?”

As often as you can, before you move to punish or correct, stop yourself. Inquire. Observe. Wait with faith.

What attracts the child? Use those observations to create learning and developmental experiences that are right for your unique little individual. Create a safe learning environment, and be silent and observe. Solitude and separation are needed, and intervention destroys his or her process of exploring his rich inner world.

As far as our education system, Montessori asserts that outmoded teaching methods hurt a child physically, emotionally and morally. His screams, lying, destructiveness, shyness, disobedience– these are defenses from US!

Create an environment in which a child does not need our constant surveillance and correction– where he can be safe, creative, at liberty. The right environment transforms little nuisances into happy active children. It turns a housewrecker into a good steward, a noisy and disorganized child tranquil and orderly.

Montessori methods help a child to develop qualities they truly long to practice until achieve– safe and courteous awareness of their bodies, care with fragile items, kindness, respect, order, responsibility, understanding of the natural laws that govern our world. When confronted with furniture just his size, he is overwhelmed by the desire to create order in ‘his’ little world. Encourage independence and do not belittle his or her efforts when he does it ‘wrong’. Allow the child to  make errors– the breakage of a loved and lovely item is punishment enough.

Give the child attractive and safe cleaning supplies– pretty cloths and attractive soaps. Children love to clean. [At my house they fight over the next turn with the spray bottle full of water and the dish cloth!] Independence gives a child joy and dignity. She loves to work– she loves to work for the greater good of her family.

Montessori asserts that there is a certain kind of work which renews the spirit rather than tiring it. We find rest in intellectual labor that gives spiritual strength.

What seems to us to be ‘useless’ repetitive behavior gives the child rest, repose and renewal. Begin with objects that attract the child and appeal to his or her senses– it is these which will help begin the concentration crucial to learning. Use those objects to create learning experiences.

Create a loving, safe, attractive, child-centered and -sized environment with meaningful learning experiences– and then step back. Observe. Be a loving but absolutely silent presence, there only when the child needs you. Otherwise, let him or her work.

“To be always there– that is the point.”


1 Comment »

  1. Hey, your post is excellent. I loved your opinion for I belong to the same boat. One of my favorite books is Maria Montessori’s – THE ABSORBENT MIND, which says that a child education starts the moment he is born and that the first two years are most crucial.

    I can never agree more with you. Every word you wrote is true.

    I am a working mother but I have been able to balance time well and I can never thank God enough for helping me raise my kid beautifully and close. For now, I am blessed with a happy, healhty and a confident child. Maybe I can share my experiences with you someday.

    Keep writing.

    Comment by wanderingmist — November 30, 2008 @ 7:49 am

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