Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cooperative Instinct

I have a child in a Montessori school and try to absorb as much of the method as I can to better understand the education my child is getting.  I spend time at the school, involve myself with decision making processes (short of trying to become a member on the board),  try to build relationships with other parents for the ties this helps build between our children.  I am continually coming across opinion based literature which states a belief that Montessori children exhibit these special traits that people thought impossible from such young children like cooperation and responsibility.  The fundamentalism behind these ideas that Maria Montessori somehow unearthed this capacity is astonishing to me.  Human societies have grown to their magnificent capacity and capability through cooperation and early exposure to responsibility placed on the shoulders of the young and strong.  The Montessori method is indeed a great revolutionary approach from the place we have arrived at in modern times, where we try to protect the child from any consideration outside of imagination and play, to what I believe is the detriment of their ability to care for themselves.  It is at face value easier to tell a child to go and play so that you can achieve a task than it is to involve them but in my experience it is a much happier child and environment that takes that bit of extra time to involve the child by given them a task they can do to feel they are helping and achieving.

Men can nurture, cook and clean, women can do complicated mathematical equations and children can be responsible and in fact flourish with responsibility.  This is not an exclusively Montessori domain.  I would hope that the approach of gentle and respectful parenting with delegated responsibility to the level of the child will become a wide spread parenting methodology, not needing the label of Montessori which I increasingly feel is bandied about like a social panacea.  At the school I see an environment where some children thrive and others are spoken down to by their peers as if they are at a lower level to them.  I had my son tell me that one of his school friends finally liked him because when he asked she said he was allowed to hold the class pet.  Why should one child control another child's access to anything in the classroom?  While waiting for the child led cafe to open I saw one girl ask another student to watch this one boy because she did not think he could be trusted not to eat any of the food.  What gives one child the right over another to pass prejudicial judgment of his ability to control himself?  By granting this role of student aids student it seems they have somehow lost the message of cooperation and instead fallen into the less attractive social behavior of denigration and bossiness. 

To me the Montessori method is a wonderful basis for a new approach to learning which gives the child more of a chance to embrace a love of learning, this is not always the case in practice but it does seem to aspire to this end.  Unfortunately the teachings of Maria Montessori are outdated and too readily followed like the word of an educational prophet who cannot be questioned.  She was a scientist and as such I'm sure could not object to embracing new information on the best way to educate and nurture a love of learning in children.  There is a cooperative instinct amongst children which is too easily destroyed by their experiences with other children and adults.  Once they discover a sense of ownership it is a matter of leading by example, hopefully good example.  Even in the parent toddler program on one of my first visits I had a parent tell my daughter to move along because her son was playing with that station.  It seems to be an approach that travels with them.  In the classroom children are discouraged from grouping together to accomplish tasks, rather they can work alone or in small collectives of two or three.  I can see how this would make the class manageable but not how this aids in a cooperative spirit amongst the children.

Montessori is what the community of families make it.  In this way I suppose it is like a church or religion.  If the family do not subscribe holistically to the preaching of Maria Montessori it is a more difficult experience for the child to assimilate as they are completely new to the very stringent rules they are expected to follow within the classroom.  Where there is an aspiration to change for the better there will be growth, where there is a belief that perfection has been attained development will stagnate.

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