Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Catholic Insights into Montessori Education

A few months have passed since I last added anything to the blog. November and December are always whirlwind months, and January proved to be no different. I do hope the last few months have been good to you! I also hope to get "back on track" with (at the minimum) weekly entries to the KIC Weblog.

Of late, I have received a few emails inquiring about either the Maria Montessori or Charlotte Mason "methods" of education. All of the questions center around one theme; that is, they ask me what's really wrong with one or the other?

It seems the word is out regarding Red Flags and Methods in the Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guide Volume I. (It seems more Catholic homeschoolers are sharing the info that the same book examines the problems with both Mason and Montessori, ala "the Catholic Red Flag Lady, Marianna Bartold") ;)

For the sake of the truly polite inquiries, I will do my best to provide, on this weblog, a very modest glimpse into the question of Montessori. (I do promise, however, that there are more quotes in my book regarding both Mason and Montessori.)

But what about Charlotte Mason? Well, I already have much to share (about 10 pages's worth) about Mason in my book, so it would be impossible for me to repeat it here. As for Montessori, my book provides quite a few quotes from Montessori herself, regarding her philosophies, too.

Still, there are Catholics who claim that, since Montessori was Catholic, what she taught regarding the rearing and education of children must be acceptable to Catholics. That would be true if we lived in a perfect world, but we don't. We all know that we live in a fallen world and that our own natures are wounded, that we are disinclined to abandon our own thoughts and ideas, and that - for the most part - we human beings do not easily bend our wills to God. (If we dare to say otherwise, we really are guilty of pride.) The truth of the matter is that we can easily make up all kinds of excuses to continue doing what we want to do, and we easily defend ourselves because we do not want to admit we were misled...it is so much easier to do those two things instead of obeying the Church's teachings.

Regardless of the nay-sayers, please realize that no, despite her book, The Mass Explained, Montessori's educational philosophy did not coincide with Catholic Church teaching. Most of the time she sounded like a rationalist/evolutionist (I'll explain why later.)

Montessori had some very strange ideas about child-raising and child education. And no, we are not talking about "hands-on" learning. Contrary to popular belief, "hands-on" is not what Montessori was about.

For example, Montessori did not allow fairy tales or folklore, although she did promote her own "mythological" story about the world's creation - certainly a contradiction! So fairy stories and folklore were forbidden, but her own "fantasies" were to be promoted to children everywhere. Yet how many Catholics are aware of even that one Red Flag?

Incidentally (and as I point out in my book, Keeping It Catholic Home Education Guide, Volume I), there are similarities in Charlotte Mason's original educational philosophy, many of the latter which coincide with those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the "father" of the "Enlightenment." The Enlightenment was that "rationalist" era of thought which led to the French Revolution, the invasion of liberalism throughout Europe and into the Church, and which has culminated today in the heresy of modernism.

While I understand that many Catholic homeschoolers might not appreciate hearing such things, I ask them to remember Church teaching on Catholic education and Catholic philosophy.

I strongly recommend that interested homeschooling parents read Montessori's own works for themselves - not just another author on Montessori - and judge according to Church teaching (not just personal opinion). Just to pique your curiosity, I will provide a few examples from Montessori's book, To Educate the Human Potential. Brief background: Maria Montessori told her "creation" story to children, and she wanted it to be told by others who employed her methods. But why? It was because Montessori desired that children should mull upon the evolutionary processes.

Montessori's creation story begins with the oceans (not God, not the Word), and of the "Tribolites" which were "three-lobed creatures, with many legs and numerous other appendices for swimming...other proud ocean dwellers were Cephalopods- literally meaning with legs on their heads - of which Nautilus is most famous."

A little later, Montessori wrote: "We can imagine a committee of Angels or Devas, according to the religion we profess, older sons of God who direct earth's natural forces, sending forth a call for volunteers, and interviewing those creatures who responded with an offer of service..."

My questions: Are we to accept Montessori's word that angels interviewed the tribolites? How does this absurdity correspond with the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures? Why did Montessori acknowledge another name for angels - i.e., devas? Why did she write "according to the religion we profess"? As a Catholic educator, it was her duty to promote the Catholic faith, not religious indifferentism (which the Church teaches is a sin). When and if necessary to acknowledge other "beliefs" (as opposed to truths), the opportunity to charitably clarify those truths should have been included.

Montessori told children that beautiful plants evolved from algae, moss, etc: "The evolution of plants of earth is estimated to have taken about 300,000,000 years, from algae, mosses and lichens, through ferns to ever more complex forms of strength and beauty." And children were, and are, to believe this nonsense just because Montessori said so?

Monetessori told children that birds evolved from monsters: "If evolution just meant growth, how could sweet birds have come from ferocious monsters, joint-heirs of their kingdom? Nature evolved by strengthening what had been a weak point in animal behavior, bestowing the new energy called Love. This was to be a powerful passion as long as it dominated, able to make a small bird forget fear and care for self. Significantly it goes with warmth of blood."

Montessori told children that the earth was beautiful - so beautiful that the monsters had to go: "The earth must have been truly beautiful, and monsters in their gross stupidity and ugliness were unfit for it. Some tried 'slimming,' shortened their legs and managed to survive, especially those who had the intelligence to turn themselves into snakes. Those who were too lazy to make the effort to adapt themselves had just to perish. Snakes were the lineal descendants of dragons and were not poisonous before the advent of man."

Are you also recognizing those waving Red Flags, dear Reader?

Now for Montessori's story about the appearance of mankind: "The earth was trembling with expectancy and glad foreboding. Her heart moved in sympathy with creation's joy; tremors ran through her frame and emotional tears coursed through her in new streams...she was moved throughout her whole being to feel the near approach of man, her destined lord, and gifts were brought forth in new abundance for his use...all kinds of metal that the earth had been preparing in her laboratories were brought to the surface and deposited...of this largesse of mineral wealth, India received in rich measure, as the scene of earth's greatest emotion...Earth greeted her son with joy, but offered him toil, no enfeebling ease!" (My observation: In other words, mankind is the child of Mother Earth!)

Montessori told children her version of the purpose of man's existence, yet she made no mention of the Catholic Church's clear teachings that we were created "to know, love and serve God so that we might be happy with Him in heaven." Instead, Montessori wrote:

"Man, too, like all beings, has the two purposes, conscious and unconscious. He is conscious of his own intellectual and physical needs, and of the claims on him of society and civilisation. He believes in fighting for himself, his family and nation, but has yet to become conscious of his far deeper responsibilities to a cosmic task, his collaboration with others in work for his environment...Victory in self-fulfillment can only come to the All, and to secure it some are content to sacrifice their own progress towards perfection of form, remaining inferior and humble workers, like the corals, or static usefulness. Other species, having unconsciously reached their limit of usefulness and being unable to adapt themselves to conditions making new demands on them, disappear from the ranks of life in which only the obedient and disciplined will continue to march, to the joyful music of the Song of Life."

Cosmic task? The "All"? The Song of Life? What do these terms mean? They certainly are not Catholic terms. In light of their context, they are NOT intended to be Catholic.

There is more, and there are other Montessori books, but I trust the few excerpts above will inspire the prudent to further study Montessori - in her own words.~ MCB

(First posted Jan. 31, 2004 to the original blog, Keeping It Catholic - with Marianna Bartold)

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