DR. MONTESSORI'S LECTURES.
[TO THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."1 SIR,—Signora Montessori gave on November 6th a lecture at Kingsway Hall to an imposing audience mostly composed of teachers and of others keenly alive to the momentous ideals which are stirring us all in the present crisis, when everybody has realized that salvation is in the hands of education, that education is life, and that therefore the work of the teacher must be a preparation for life.
I shall not take the lecture of Signora Montessori point by point, which would be too long. What is more, it should be done in the form of a discussion after every lecture; but as this does not seem to be considered possible, I shall point out to you the fundamental errors in which I think we are falling if we take Signora Montessori's views and teaching as a guide to the fundamental aims of education.
In the wide scheme and ideals of this most important work
we have such basis of knowledge, such illuminating masters who lie beyond our power of discussion that it would be arro- gance or ignorance to disregard them. Dante and Vittorino da Feltro, whose teaching is founded on everlasting truth, tell us, over and over again, that the normal child is so much nearer than we are to divine truth and to the elements which combine to make a man and his perfect manhood. Relying on this, we have to consider the child superior to us in inner understand- ing, and we have to consider ourselves the means, the humbly striving means, to achieve a perfect work; now the means cannot be greater than the aim, although its work is of supreme importance.
Signora Montessori does not regard life as the world of the
child, but creates a fictitious Liliputian world of which the child is the master, which the child controls, rules, with almost no effort on his part, and which belongs to him. This belief is detrimental not only to his childhood but to his future. There can be no happiness in this illusion because it is false. The world does not belong to us, we do not control it, it is only through the infinite effort of our minds that we can master its ideals and to some measure have a part in its destiny.
That small world which Signora Montessori creates is also apart from the family, who live in the real world to which the child does not belong, and which he will despise because to him adults are unable to control all thathe believes himself capable of controlling so easily. The mechanical routine of moving and removing small objects made for him, where there is not even physical effort, does not consitute order; it is the work of an automaton.
On the other hand, this world needs no organized system of
toy-like things, because that function is already performed by Nature in the multitude of fascinating objects which come into the child's life daily, and which put into action his own imagination in attributing to them magic powers, which keep his mental activity in full play. In creating a mechanically organized, orderly, measured world for the child, we not only segregate him from the world in which he has to live, but we destroy for him, perhaps for ever, the mental food, the activity of his imagination, the effort to make for himself a world of fancies and of beauty. We thus destroy for him the power of thinking, the power of making things serve him, and he becomes the servant of a toy.
Signora Montessori goes so far in her restrictions of the
child's world that she would even restrict the limits of the area in which he thinks; she would create for him a music under which sway he can work, a silence in which lie can rest. I do not deny the power of music nor of silence, but it must not again be an artificially created thing. The child must learn to find the infinite harmony which lies in gymnastics, in the silence of the fields, in the softest breath of the heavens above; he must find the silence within, he must find the leisure and the rest within. But if all this is created for him, he will never find it, because his mental activity has been destroyed by brutal mechanical force, which exercised its influence and
zreated the object before the need stimulated his capacity for creating it himself.
On the other hand, I understand the sway which Signora Montessori's teaching exercises in creating this mechanical, inactive, irresponsible teaching. It is easy to be a teacher, and possibly a perfect one, under these conditions. The teacher has no part, she must exercise no control, no will-power, needs no knowledge, unless her power be occult, which would be the more harmful. Instead of the teacher using all her activities in friendly and humble co-operation with her pupil, instead of creating through books that mental daily exercise of attaining knowledge, and through knowledge truth, instead of being the instrument through which and by which the child understands how strenuous, how painful, and yet how beautiful and exhila- rating the path of knowledge is, and can be, she is, as I said before, through acting on the lines suggested by Signora Montessori, the embodiment of non-doing, non-willing, non- knowing; and a better world is thus again destroyed for the child, the world of books, the world of learning.
It is in no spirit of criticism that I write these lines, but in love for England, and for English children specially, as a humble teacher.—I am, Sir, &c., P. LuNATI.