Montessori’s original writings aren’t so reliable for their science, but they remain inspirational to read. In presenting these stories about the early development of life on earth, she reminds us of two critical needs in the chid.
Children need to inspire and to be inspired.
Children need to love and to be loved.
She helps us to accomplish the former by modeling stories that place the wonder of the evolution of life into a mythic frame. Whether the science still holds, we can learn from how she relays it. Good teaching, good parenting, good nurture, is not about simply presenting facts and details for the child to memorize or regurgitate. We are endowed with imaginations. Inspired learning breathes life into those details with illustrations and language that engage our imaginations. In early childhood, we need to be able to act upon new ideas, to move them around in our hands and see how they hold up against stimuli we already understand. With older learners, we need to be able to envision new ideas in our imagination, to place ourselves inside the narrative and relate these new scenes to how we understand the world that preceded them.
They want to inspire us: to engage us in their social causes, to contribute it visible ways to social change, to enlist the support and enthusiasm of their peers. They need opportunities to make their interests inspirational to others, and the attention of at least a few, focused people who will give them an audience to their platforms, who will follow them even against their windmills. They know enough to know the world needs changing, and they want to inspire you to change it with them.
But they need to feel a part of that themselves, too. When we’re trying to teach older children, then, we need to understand how to inspire them. In the second plane of development, the child is driven to noble action, to contributing to a world beyond their own experience, to social justice and community and engagement. Why would we think such minds would be satisfied with handouts or memorization? If the work is not made noble, it will not satisfy the need for inspiration in these heroes. When we present new information or entice new action, we need to support the child in understanding the ways in which their contribution matters. Children, like adults, want to know that their work has impact, that they are influential and that their efforts create change. When there are “have-tos” it is our responsibility, as teachers and adults, to inspire the child to their completion, without punishment or a reliance on power, but through inspiration.
And yet it still won’t be enough.
Montessori reminds us of a more foundational need for our spirits, even as she describes it in scientific terms. Children need to love and to be loved. When Montessori describes the evolution of the earth, she takes care to note what happens to life when it begins to prioritize love over size, when a creature’s likelihood of survival is linked to its relationship with others rather than simply its dominance.Children understand this. They know they are small. They know they are vulnerable, and they need a world in which, despite the authority that could be conveyed by strength and dominance, they are nonetheless safe because they are loved.
It’s easy enough, when we are looking for reassurance that we’re doing this work well, to look for indications that we are in control. And when so much is out of our control, it’s easier still to resort to our size, our strength, our dominance to establish order again. But we, too, want to be inspired. We, too, want to be loved. And we know, if we take a moment to breathe through the baser, more crude reliance on power and force, to connect to our own imaginations, we will not imagine a future for our children in which they do what they’re told simply because they’re told. We will not imagine a future for them of compliance through fear. We want for them what we want for ourselves: to love and to be loved.
Children, Montessori tells us, become like the things they love. When we imagine the world we want for them, it is not one mastered by dominance and fear, but led by inspiration and love. We can only help them to create that in their own futures by offering it to them now. If we want them to respond lovingly, we need to offer them love. If we want them to lead gently, we need to be gentle with them. If we want them to inspire rather than to control, we need to show them what that looks like. This may be the hardest part of our work, because it demands us to model behavior that we may not have had modeled in our own lives, to put aside our immediate need for control to act on behalf of a future we may not ourselves see. Montessori reminds us, when we are stuck in the stresses and the fear and outodcontroledness of the today, that we are on an evolutionary path toward something more, paved through a new energy called love.
*a response to "To Educate the Human Potential," Chapter 8: The Cretaceous Period, M. Montessori.