“The absorbent mind forms the basis of the miraculous society created by men and appears to us in the guise of the small and delicate child who solves the mysterious difficulties of human destiny by the virtues of love.”

May 27, 2020

 

“The mysterious difficulties of human destiny.” Montessori doesn’t detail for us what they are, but we could likely build a list longer than the history of childhood if we wanted to. These days, it seems like the “mysterious difficulties of human destiny”are more violent, more destructive, more erosive, more divisive than we’ve known before. Our politics are tearing open. The earth is tearing open. Long-inflicted wounds of racism and injustice are tearing open. We simultaneously have more wealth, more abundance, more possibility among us and more fear, more loneliness, more despair. The mysterious difficulties of human destiny pervade our lives and our societies. 

 

And then there is the child. 

 

Turn on the news. There is suffering, caught on cell phones from our backyards or beamed from the other side of the world. Graphic images of man’s inhumanity, fear of each other so deeply entrenched that we no longer trust the ones who are charged with our protection, that we become vigilante or victim. 

 

And then there is the child. 

 

Log online. Social media feeds scroll page after page after page of incendiary images, headlines that separate Us from Them, links designed to entice your click at the expense of your spirit, sucking us in hour after hour into digital separation from each other. Even when we want to be together, we are distanced by the screens in our hands and the laptops in front of us. 

 

And then there is the child. 

 

Montessori describes all the ways in which the study of childhood brings us together, how it casts away the trappings of our formal education or the values of our bank accounts, how suddenly people who have nothing in common outside of the classroom can find a shared wonder and curiosity and calling to learn from the child. And she reminds us, not from a place of romanticizing, but in very practical detail, how children accept and embrace, are patient with and rejoice in whatever environment they receive. This is a consolation and a warning to us: it is through the child that we find our common humanity, through the child that we hear the calling of love, and yet it is to the child that we are most responsible, because the child will accept whatever we give, will receive it and love it and replicate it in their own lives. 

 

If we offer the child suffering, the child will come to believe that suffering is the norm. If we offer them inhumanity and fear, vigilantes and victims, they will grow to be fearful and inhumane. If we offer the child the loneliness and distance of lives led behind screens, they, too, will stop making eye contact. They, too, will become at home alone. 

 

Our spirits are most present when we find ourselves drawn to the service of the child. When we feel in ourselves the enchantment of observing children, the joy that accompanies asking questions together, being curious together, being welcoming together, that’s the shadow of the love we embodied in our own childhoods, reaching out again. We are drawn universally to the study of childhood because we long, in the inarticulated whispers of our intellectual corners, to feel that again. We remember, even if we can’t remember, the wonder of being a child. Like the ability of an infant to learn language or the indefatigable persistence of a toddler on walk, our society can teach us out of that wonder, but our spirits remember it, see it in the child, and seek to renew it in ourselves. 

 

And yet. We offer the child suffering, inhumanity and fear. We offer the child loneliness and distance. 

 

Montessori reminds us that, in order to serve the child’s spirit, we must begin anew. We can’t layer Montessori practices on top of systems that negate them. We can’t look to Montessori as the next-big-reform-movement or the way to make sure all children read by five years old. It may be that. It may do that. But that’s a side-effect, not a horizon. The horizon is the new society, the one merit that, placed before all the others, increases their value a thousandfold:  the service to the goodness of the child, embodied in the absorbent mind and enacted through spontaneous activity. 

 

Our lives are marked by suffering. Offer the child solace. Our lives are marked by inhumanity. Offer the child goodness. Our lives are marked by loneliness. Offer the child companionship. Our lives are marked by fear. Offer the child your faith. Faith in the pace they set for themselves. Faith in the choices they make for themselves. Faith in the society they create for themselves. Faith in the small and delicate child who will solve those mysterious difficulties of human destiny, not by our agendas, but by the virtues of love. 

 

* A response to Chapter 28 The Fountain Source of Love: The Child, The Absorbent Mind M. Montessori

 

 

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