Scholars and Children
Language matters. The ways we refer to ourselves and the ways we refer to children, the special language we use to describe our work, it matters. Is it a classroom or an environment? A teacher or a guide? Third-years or Kindergarteners? Each label we use limits what happens next. It defines. It becomes the shared understanding between people about who we are and what we expect here.
There's a trend to use the language of academia in describing communities of schools, as though the most important objective of school is what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as, " a protracted process of university entrance." When we use the language of academia, of this one setting selected from all the possibilities that could come next for children, we limit the possible future for children. Our goal is not to prepare Kindergarteners to be First Graders or to prepare Sixth Graders to be Seventh Graders or to prepare children to be "scholars." The goal, Montessori reminds us, is to "stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself."
The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.
- Maria Montessori
For life. For a beautiful, profound, heartbreaking, joy filled life, one that we cannot possibly predict and one which, as Montessorians, we believe it is the child's right to define. When we use the language of academia, calling children "scholars," when we emphasize, "what students do," we teach children that we value some parts of them more than others. We teach them that there is only one possible future that concerns us: college. When we call children, "scholars," we oversimplify the world of academia. We underestimate the nature of childhood.
It's not intended that way, of course. We think that, by using this kind of language, we are helping children to see their own potential, elevating the value of their education to them and helping them to see themselves as capable, college-bound contributors. But when we label children by a single generalization, we are imposing our goals on them, and, in doing so, we are interrupting the future they have the potential to create. Our time with children should help them to be prepared for their lives outside of school, not just as students but as citizens, as friend, as artists, as humans. They may sometimes be engaged in scholarship, sometimes engaged in play, sometimes engaged in service, but nonetheless complicated and multifaceted and unique. Our time with children should prepare them for possibilities beyond our own ability to imagine.
There are endless qualities outside of our control that will limit and restrict what may come next for the children we serve. There's no need for us to add to that list. Give them an environment with the resources for scholarship. Give them an environment with the resources for artistry. Give them an environment with the resources for leadership. For service. For science. For poetry. For athleticism. For community. Give them an environment with as many paths to the horizon as you know, and the tools to create the new ones they need. And then get out of their way. Children don't need us to define them or to limit them, even in well-intended ways. They need us to trust them, to respect them, each one of them, as the inherently good, essentially peaceful and intrinsically motivated to learn
This is the new shining hope for humanity. It is not so much a reconstruction, as an aid to the construction carried out by the human soul as it is meant to be, developed in all the immense potentialities with which the new-born child is endowed.
- Maria Montessori