Maria Montessori’s great gift to humanity is, for me, Cosmic Education. Her big vision of interdependence, how the natural world fits together in service to all, is both a mindset worth developing and a commitment to bringing disparate groups and ideologies together in peace. I believe it can also guide us Montessorians in managing our work, our approach to learning and guiding, and to finding joy in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.
Montessori guides, both fresh out of training and those with years of experience, often find the curriculum contained in our massive albums too daunting to tackle. How many times have I responded to questions about how to get all the lessons covered or how to spend our precious dollars when choosing materials? Too many to count!
In short, I don’t believe you have to follow a specific curriculum OR have shelves full of every material that’s ever been created by the many brilliant Montessori devotees who’ve shared their work through entrepreneurial means…including myself.
What you do need to do is adopt a mindset that makes the huge amount of potential curriculum responsive to the children who arrive in your classroom or homeschool each year. Remember that famous quote about the scientist and the saint? It just about sums it up for me:
It helps me to think about and remember that Cosmic
Education and the concept of interdependence really became public in Maria
Montessori’s writings during the years she was exiled in India. Education
for a New World (1946), From Childhood to Adolescence (1948) and To
Educate the Human Potential (1948) all emphasize her perspective on the
importance of introducing children to the interdependence and
interconnectedness of the natural world.
During the years with Mario in India (1939-1949), the elementary curriculum began to come together. Mario describes those years in an interview with David Kahn (Kahn, 1979, Fall). It’s worth a read.
Mario described their days, building terrariums to study the animals and plants, discussing the challenges with his mother in the evening, and the discoveries they made, often by chance, like what happened after days of desperately trying to keep lizards alive by feeding them dead insects. The children discovered their lizards would only eat live and moving bugs! The cosmic dance in action!
In this passage, Mario describes how this discovery led to the vision of Cosmic Education:
Sharing ideas, experimenting along with the children, making observations (like that scientist, remember?) and wondering, always wondering, while trying new things and making discoveries: THIS is the essence of Cosmic Education.
Where do we humans fit into this scheme? Dr. Montessori’s thoughts about how humans take their place in the natural order of the planet are illustrated in the Chart of Interdependency. Each of us, drawn to our own unique calling, gets to follow that voice and make our contribution.
For the Montessori guide, our version of cosmic task is creating our classrooms to be places where our students can wonder, experiment, and make discoveries. She may not have been speaking specifically about humans, but there’s advice in these words for us, too:
As you strive to embrace this mindset, two questions arise: Must I Follow a Set Curriculum and Have Shelves of Materials in order to provide an authentic Cosmic Education?
I’ll tackle those questions in Part 2, next week. In the meantime, get hold of that interview with Mario as well as the Chapter I interview with Ms. Lena Wikramaratne. You’ll find them both online through ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) EJ1078110 and EJ1078126 as reprinted from The NAMTA Quarterly 5,1 (1979, Fall): 44-54 and 56-59