Montessori moment: perfect teachers and dunce children.

The teacher who poses as perfect and does not recognise that she makes errors, is not a good teacher.”

absorbent Mind

Dr Montessori’s deep respect for the personhood of the child is expressed in her insistence that insulting and humiliating children who have made mistakes in their work, in no way helped them to correct those errors. “Experience and exercise alone correct errors..” she says.

In her method the child is allowed to see and adjust their work to correct for errors themselves.  I think, from watching my children over the last few weeks (and remember that’s all the time we’ve been attempting this method) they seem able to better see mistakes far better when they are working with items in space, than when it is just on paper.

Montessori teachers (and parents) need to have good self awareness but also need to be rooted firmly in reality, accepting that we all make mistakes. If the teacher’s role and position is somehow based on the idea that s/he can’t get it wrong, that’s a very wobbly position to be in. In may explain why some glaring errors in homework my older children came home with were not allowed to be corrected.

Part of a child’s maturing relationship with his parents, it seems to me, is the recognition that the grown ups don’t know everything and can get it wrong. Perhaps this process is easier for parents and children as we live together, so even if a parent did want to pretend to some kind of universal infallibility, it wouldn’t hold up for long under the all seeing eye of children!

Montessori goes on to show that children need to be able to see error and to find their way to correcting them. This not only grounds them in reality, but begins to build the tools they need for mathematics and scientific principles.

How far from freedom! If I do not have the ability of controlling my error, I have to go to someone else who may know no better than I.”

Perhaps it is this vital flaw in modern education that has caused so many scientists to publish papers that not only do not control for error, but in which the scientist insists there are no errors – even when they are glaringly obvious. This self assurance and “high self esteem” does not lead to better understanding, but merely to bigger egos.

In order to see errors and correct them there needs to be a guide of “control” that the child can use to see what they are doing. With the control the child is free to work out what they need to do.

There’s something very neat about the Montessori philosophy: simple and kind.


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