A Montessori Mother was written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, an American, to commend the Montessori system of education to mothers in the US and elsewhere. It was published in London in 1913 by Constable and Company Ltd.
Reproduced here is Edmond Holmes' introduction to the book, together with the frontispiece and title page.
Holmes (1911) What Is and What Might Be, in which the former Chief Inspector condemned the arid drill methods of the contemporary elementary school; and
Holmes (1914) In Defence of What Might Be, in which he responded to criticisms of his 1911 book.
The text of Holmes' Introduction to 'A Montessori Mother' was prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 10 October 2010.
Introduction to Dorothy Canfield Fisher's
A Montessori Mother (1913)
London: Constable and Co. Ltd
[frontispiece facing title page]
DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY EDMOND HOLMES
BY EDMOND HOLMES
THE Montessori system of education, the fame of which has recently travelled from Rome to this and other countries, has found in Mrs. Fisher an ardent champion and an able and thoughtful exponent. Had I never visited a Montessori school, had I never heard of Dr. Montessori, I should have known before I had read many pages of this book that there was a living idea at the heart of the Montessori system; for the book, which has drawn its inspiration from that system, is, in the fullest sense of the word, alive. My own introduction to it is perhaps worth recording. When a proof copy of it was given to me to read, I promised to return it within a week. But as it happened I was able to return it the next morning, having meanwhile read every sentence in it, for it had held me so strongly that I found it hard to lay it down. And what
interested me most in it was the witness that it bore to the stimulating and vivifying influence which a new idea, a new way of looking at things, exerts on those who are able to respond to its appeal, to the power which it possesses of illuminating their past experiences, of opening up to them new vistas of thought, and hope, and effort, of widening their whole outlook on life.
It was in the Montessori Infant School attached to the Franciscan Convent in the Via Giusti that Mrs. Fisher, as a mother and an educator, "found salvation". She has told the story of her first morning in the school in two charming chapters, which deserve to be read and re-read. I too know the school in the Via Giusti, and I too have the happiest memories of the first morning that I spent in it. Not indeed because I found salvation in it - for I had already found salvation in an English village school - but because it fully and finally confirmed me in what I now regard as the true faith. I had looked forward with keen interest to making the acquaintance of Dr. Montessori and her schools, for I knew enough about her system to feel sure that it was dominated by the master principle which had
inspired the "Egeria" whose work in a certain "School in Utopia" I had already tried to describe and interpret. And I had not been long in the Convent School before I realized that the cause of self-education had found in Rome a supporter and an exponent whose advocacy of it would sooner or later arrest the attention of the whole educational world.
As regards their antecedents, their starting-points, and their lines of approach, Dr Montessori and the "Egeria" of my book had little or nothing in common; but the less they had in common, the more significant is the fact that they converged at last on the same revolutionary conclusion. Dr. Montessori, whose great natural powers had ripened in an atmosphere of scientific study and work, may be said to have thought her way to that conclusion, alternately theorizing and experimenting as she advanced. "Egeria", who owed nothing to education, who was not a scientist, who had never studied physiology, whose knowledge of psychology was in the main intuitive and practical, may be said to have felt her way to the same goal, - felt her way from point to point with the patience, the tact, and the sympathetic insight of genius. Dr.
Montessori had done her educational work, first with "feeble-minded" children, and then with "Bambini", - children of from two to seven years of age. "Egeria" had done her best and most distinctive work with children ranging in age from eight or nine to fourteen. What the one proved with regard to "infants" the other proved with regard to "older children" (to use the technical terms of the Board of Education); and what they both proved was that self-education is the beginning and end of education, - that the business of growing, on all the planes of his being, must be done by the growing child, and cannot be done for him by his teacher or by any other person.
Why do we educate? A friend of mine, who holds informal conferences with Training College Students, is fond of asking them this question. He tells me that the usual answer to it is: "In order to help children to get on in the world." With this answer as his starting-point, he leads the students on by Socratic methods from position to position, till both he and they arrive at the conclusion that the final end of education is to enable the well-educated pupil to become the possessor of a motor-car. But what of those who cannot
afford to buy motor-cars? Have they been educated amiss, or have they merely failed to profit by an education which might have lifted them to the motor-car level? And if the whole nation were well educated, would motor-cars become as plentiful as chairs and tables? When my friend asks these further questions, his pupils begin to realize that there was a flaw in their answer to his original question, and that a fresh attempt must be made to answer it.
The true answer was given thousands of years ago by Plato. In a passage in the "Laws", which deserves to be better known than it is, he speaks of "the Chief Director of the education of boys and girls" (the President of the Board of Education, as we should call him) in words which our Prime Ministers ought to bear in mind when they are making up their respective cabinets: "Both the man appointed and those who appoint him must realize that this is far the most important among the chief offices of the State. Because, whatever the creature - be it plant or animal, tame or wild - if its earliest growth makes a good start, that is the most important step towards the consummation of the excellence of which its nature is capable."
Is Plato right in his basic assumption? Does the nature of man, in common with that of every other living being, come under the master law of growth? If it does not, there can be no such thing as a science of education; and the teacher can do nothing better, for the rest of time, than grope and blunder and stumble along in the dark. But if it does, education at once takes its place as a branch of the great science (and art) of farming or "growth-craft", - a branch which is of all branches the most important, the most complex and difficult, and (I fear, I must add) the most neglected and backward.
For what does education do to foster the growth of the child? If the child is to grow, he must do the business of growing by and for himself. He must himself digest and assimilate the food that is provided for him. He must himself exercise all his organs and faculties. And he must do these things on all the planes of his being, - the mental, moral, and spiritual planes, as well as the physical. In other words, he must be allowed to live and work in an atmosphere of freedom.
Now freedom is the last thing that education, as we know it in this and other "civilised"
countries, allows to the child. At every turn it closes in upon him with dogmatic pressure and constraint. From morning to evening, from day to day, from year to year, it does, or tries to do, for him most of the things which he ought to do for himself, - his reasoning, his thinking, his imagining, his admiring, his sympathizing, his willing, his purposing, his planning, his solving of problems, his mastering of difficulties, his controlling his passions and impulses, his bearing himself aright in his dealings with others. So complete is its distrust of the child's nature, that it will allow him to do nothing for himself which it can do, or even pretend to do, for him; and it thus develops into an elaborate system for paralysing activity, for arresting growth, for substituting the movements of machinery which, however complex they may be, are always controllable from without, for the subtle, occult, self-controlling processes of life.
That education should have taken this form, that it should have become dogmatic in the beginning of things, and remained dogmatic ever since, was inevitable. For the dogmatic regime is one which Man, in his desire to secure order, has from his earliest days imposed
on himself; and what he has imposed on himself he has, of course, taken care to impose on his offspring.
The dogmatist is one who controls, or seeks to control, the ways and works of others. This is dogmatism in its simplest and crudest form. Thoroughgoing dogmatism goes much further than this. Not content with imposing his will on others, the thoroughgoing dogmatist seeks also to impose on them his views, his opinions, his beliefs, his theories, his tastes, his preferences, his type of mind. In other words, not content with denying freedom of action to others, he seeks also to deny them freedom of thought and of life.
There are certain tendencies inherent in dogmatic pressure which, in the absence of counteracting influences, are sure to assert themselves.
In the first place, dogmatic pressure tends to externalize life. For though the dogmatist may seek to control the inner life of his victims, he cannot really do more than control their outward action. And so his demand for obedience of heart and soul resolves itself at last into a demand for literal and mechanical obedience, for the production of results which
he can weigh and measure. Hence comes a confusion in the mind both of the dogmatist and of his victim between what is outward and what is inward, - a readiness to mistake the letter for the spirit, the deed for the will, the show for the reality, the movements of a puppet for the subtle processes of life. It follows that the triumph of dogmatism, and the consequent establishment of what passes for order, is paid for by the despiritualizing, the devitalizing, the materializing of Man's life, by a radical misplacement of the centre of gravity of his being.
In the second place, dogmatism tends to arrest growth. For it forbids the higher faculties to energize; and the faculty which is never exercised ceases to grow. If the higher faculties are to energize, the man himself, as a free, self-determining agent, must be behind their action. If, for example, I believe what I am told to believe, for no other reason than that I am told to believe it, I am not really believing. If I conclude what I am told to conclude, I have not really reasoned. And so on. It follows that for the exercise of the higher faculties and the consequent growth of the higher self, an atmosphere of freedom is
essential; and as the raison d'être of dogmatism is to deny freedom to those who come under its influence, it follows further that dogmatic pressure, whenever or however it may be exerted, is inimical to the growth of the higher self, - having a constant tendency to starve, to stunt, and to distort it, even if it does not actually bring it to a standstill.
In the third place, dogmatism tends to demoralize life. For it substitutes the discipline of drill, of forced submission, of puppet-like obedience, for the discipline of self-control, and so incapacitates its victim for acquiring that mastery of self which alone can restrain the lower desires and passions from running their riotous course.
What dogmatism does, or tends to do, to the adult, it will do to the child, and it will do it to him more easily, more thoroughly, and with deadlier effect. The adult is, as a rule, sufficiently independent to be able to offer some measure of resistance to the will of another. Having been already narrowed and hardened by dogmatic pressure, he is to some extent protected by his very defects against its further encroachment on his freedom. And as the iron has entered into his soul, as his
growth has been arrested, as his life has been externalized, materialized, and deadened by his education, he has but little to lose from the dogmatic pressure to which his life will now be subjected, even if he should be unable to resist it. Indeed, the chances are that he will not try to resist it, - that on some at least of the planes of his being he will henceforth accept its evil as his good.
But the child, being helpless and dependent, cannot, if he would, offer any serious resistance to the dogmatic directions of his parents and other teachers, - directions which his naive belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of his seniors disposes him at the outset to accept and even to welcome. As his nature is still green and sappy and pliable, it readily yields to dogmatic pressure, allowing itself to be bent and twisted and headed back in this direction and that. And as youth is pre-eminently the period of growth, the pressure which tends to arrest or restrict or distort growth will have more serious and more lasting consequences in childhood and adolescence than in any other period of life.
We must not blame either the parent or the teacher for dealing dogmatically with the child.
Living as he does under a dogmatic régime, subject as he is to dogmatic pressure of various kinds, it is but natural that the adult, be he parent or teacher, should impose the same régime on, and apply the same pressure to, the rising generation, - and that this tradition should be handed down from age to age. But recognition of this fact need not blind us to the intrinsic viciousness of the system under which he works, or make us underrate it as a power for evil.
What is the prevailing type of education doing to those who come under its control? I will answer this question briefly and in general terms.
Corresponding with the tendencies which are inherent in dogmatic pressure, there are three main directions in which dogmatism tends to restrict the development of the child and to narrow the scope of his life.
In the first place, by externalizing his outlook on life - by compelling him to think more of show than of reality, more of the letter than of the spirit, more of the outward result than of the inward attitude, by accustoming him to accept inadequate and fallacious tests as conclusive, to value himself as he is
valued by those who must needs judge according to the appearance of things, to defer at every turn to ignorant and unenlightened opinion - a dogmatic education tends to imprison its victim in the false ideals and false standards of "the world".
In the second place, it tends to imprison him in his own petty, ordinary, undeveloped, or misdeveloped self. For, by forbidding him to exercise his higher faculties, it closes to him the one sure way of escape from self, - the way of growth and outgrowth. Or, if it does not actually close that way, it so obstructs it as to compel the very impulse that makes for growth to become the gaoler instead of the liberator of the child's adolescent life. For, as that impulse continues to operate with steady pressure from within even when the narrowest limits are being imposed upon it from without, the dogmatic education which thwarts the growth of the higher self must needs force its victim into premature maturity, and so build up in him a stunted, hardened, and deformed personality which he will. readily mistake for his true self.
In the third place, a dogmatic education tends to imprison the child in his own lower
or more animal self. For, on the one hand, by thwarting the outgrowth of his higher instincts, it allows his lower desires and passions to draw to themselves too much of the rising sap of his life. And, on the other hand, by imposing on him the discipline of drill instead of helping him to discipline himself, it weakens his will and so incapacitates him for keeping those desires and passions under due control.
In these ways dogmatism in education sins against what Froebel called the "true manhood" - the universal or ideal nature - of the child. And, by treating all children alike, and ignoring their respective idiosyncrasies, it sins in no less a degree against the individuality of the child, the meaning and value of the latter lying in this that it determines the particular way in which "true manhood" will best unfold itself in that particular child, - the particular way in which, in the fullness of time, his individuality itself will best be outgrown and left behind.
The pity of it is, that when the child, who has been thus maimed, stunted, atrophied, and paralyzed by education, grows to manhood, he will impose his own type of personality, by means of dogmatic pressure, on the rising
generation, who in their turn will impose the same type on the next generation, thereby continuing a process which has been going on for thousands and tens of thousands of years. So firmly indeed has this type established itself that we have long been accustomed to speak of it, without hesitation or misgiving, as "human nature". Yet all the while we have not the least notion what human nature - the ideal type; the idea [this word in Greek] of our race - really is.
I shall be told that I am unduly pessimistic. But, no - I am a whole-hearted optimist. Ideals are in my mind as I write, and these must needs disparage the actualities of our dogmatic education. But they are ideals which are neither imaginary nor beyond the compass of human achievement; and after all it is optimism, not pessimism, which makes a man pitch his standard high and yet believe that it can be reached.
I f we will study history impartially, and with an effort to enter into the spirit of times and countries which are not ours, we shall find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that for thousands of years we have been making - and that in spite of all our material progress we are still making - a poor business of life. An American
lady - not Mrs. Fisher - who had made an intensive study of the Montessori system in one or two Roman schools was asked before she left Rome what general impression her experiences had left on her mind; and she answered without hesitation that what had impressed her most strongly was the discovery - for such it was to her "orthodox" mind - that "the fundamental nature of the child is intelligent and good". To some of us this judgment may seem to savour of paradox. To me, whom experience (in "Utopia", Rome, and elsewhere) has led to the same conclusion, it has become an almost self-evident truth. But if the seed that is sown in each generation is of so healthy a strain, how comes it that the harvest is, as a rule, so poor? If the "fundamental nature of the child" - which is also the fundamental nature of man - is "intelligent and good", how comes it that there is so much folly and stupidity and moral evil in the world? From time to time great men appear on earth - saints, heroes, sages, and the like - and show us to what heights it is possible for human nature to climb. So little do we know of human nature that we are apt to regard these exalted persons as abnormal or even as super-
normal types of humanity, - as "sports" from one point of view, as "miracles of grace" from another. Yet if there is such a thing as the "true manhood" of which Froebel dreamed, it must needs be that these saints and heroes and sages are neither abnormal nor supernormal types of humanity, but exceptionally well-developed specimens of the normal type. And if this is so, how comes it that the average man falls so very far below that level, and is still, in our enlightened century, almost as far below it as he was in the earliest ages of what we call civilization?
To me it seems that there is but one possible answer to this question. Man has made a mess of his life because he has made a mess of his education, because the man trains the child badly, and because "the child is father to the man"; or, in other words, because the risen generation stamps itself, with all its defects and limitations, through the medium of education, on the rising generation, and so makes progress (other than material) impossible.
This answer opens up an immense vista to education, and an immense hope to Humanity. If education has been the source of most of
our woes and sorrows and failures, education may and must right our wrongs.
Signs are not wanting that the dogmatic régime which Man has imposed on himself for so many epochs is beginning to pass away. The widespread unrest of the present age, the tendency to break a way from custom and routine, the revolt against authority which is taking place in every branch of human activity, are proofs that Man is beginning to weary of dogmatic direction, and is trying to feel his way towards some new scheme of life. This movement has long been in progress, and what we are witnessing now is but the cumulative result of centuries and millennia of spasmodic and often misdirected, yet on the whole persistent, effort. The struggle for freedom, which bulks so large in history, which poets have glorified, and in which heroes have fought and died - a blind and chaotic struggle, in the course of which men have again and again exchanged one tyranny for another - is, in the last resort, a struggle for access to the air and sunshine, for the right to breathe, to live, and to grow. If the struggle has so far achieved but little, if selfish aims and desires have at all times played their part in it, if the liberator has
again and again become a tyrant, if the people that has won freedom for itself has too often denied freedom to its subject peoples, if dogmatism has controlled and perverted the very efforts that Man has made to free himself from its yoke, the reason is, I think, that Man has hitherto forgotten to call to his aid the one ally who could have turned defeat into victory - an ally who is strong in his very weakness - the seemingly helpless child. Clamorous in his demands for freedom for himself, Man has never thought of giving freedom to the child. Yet the child is worthier of freedom than the man, and can make a better use of it; and until freedom has been given to the child, the man - stunted and hardened, externalized and materialized by dogmatic pressure, self-centred yet wanting in self-control, imprisoned in his lower self, imprisoned in his petty self, imprisoned in the false ideals of the world - will fight for freedom in vain.
In our own age the struggle against dogmatism is being waged with a fervour and an intensity - with a blind violence, one might almost say - which has been hitherto unknown. As the one merit of dogmatism has been its maintenance of order, the fierce struggle against
it which is now being waged by a generation of egoists and sensualists may well lead to grave disaster in the hour of its triumph, - to the substitution for the deadly despotism of dogmatic direction, of the still deadlier despotism of anarchy and chaos. If this catastrophe is to be avoided, we must rear a generation of men who will prove themselves worthy of freedom; in other words, we must transfer the struggle against dogmatism to the arena of the nursery and the school.
This is what pioneers like "Egeria" and Dr. Montessori are doing; and because they are doing this, their work, though on a small scale, is of world-wide importance. I have devoted the best part of a volume to "Egeria" and her school. It was in the "main room", where she taught unaided some fifty children, spread over five "Standards", that she did her most distinctive work. And there (and in the school garden and in the fields and on the hillside) she proved to demonstration that self-education is the only education that really counts. She proved, in the first place, that self-education, fostering as it does the growth of the child's whole nature, must needs become many-sided in response to some inner necessity
of its own being; for not only, as she felt her way from point to point, did she make full provision in her scheme of education for the training of every expansive instinct, but her pupils, as if realizing that she had divined their secret needs, responded with alacrity to her every suggestion, and rose to the level of every new demand that she made upon their initiative and intelligence. She proved, in the second place, that self-education does as much for character, for morals, and for manners as for the more strictly mental powers. She proved, in the third place, that the growth of the child's whole nature, which self-education fosters, carries with it in due season the outgrowth of the social instincts and the social faculties, central among the latter being that organizing power which makes concerted action possible, and which, as it develops, reacts upon and facilitates the whole process of self-education. She proved, above all, that self-education, when resolutely and systematically practised, tends automatically to widen its own scope; for, as time went on, her school became more and mote autonomous, the burden of directing their own education, both as a whole and in its details, being gradually transferred to the
children, with the full consent of the latter, whose loyalty to and confidence in the President of their little Republic grew steadily stronger in proportion as, by devolving fresh responsibilities upon them, she gave proof of her trust in their capacity, their good feeling, and their sound sense.
When I went to Rome, I found in the best Montessori schools exactly the same characteristic features which I had already found in "Utopia". Freedom and responsibility were working in the bambini of Rome the same seeming miracles which they had already wrought in "Egeria's" older pupils. The difference between the Roman bambino of three or four years of age and the "Utopian" boy or girl of ten or twelve was a difference in age only. In all that is vital and essential the two were in the same category. But just because Dr. Montessori was doing (and is still doing) for "infants" what "Egeria" did for "older children", because she was (and is still) working nearer to the fountain-head of life, her work is, I think, of even deeper significance.
I have said that education is a branch of the great science (and art) of farming or "growth-craft." There is, however, one vital difference
between education and all other branches of the science. The farmer, the planter, the forester, the stock-raiser, in their efforts to foster growth, are all engaged in directing the current of life into certain channels which their own needs and aims have defined. When the forester, for example, plants beech-trees so close together that they can make no lateral growth, his aim is to produce, not perfect specimens of beechhood, but the maximum amount of timber per acre. The aim of the teacher is, or should be, entirely different from this. If he allows education to become or to remain utilitarian, he will never be able to reform it. His function is to produce, not prize-winners, nor scholarship-winners, nor precocious wage-earners, nor men and women who will "get on well in the world", and so do credit to their homes and schools, but rather perfect specimens of manhood. And if he is to fulfil this function, if he is to guide the current of the child's life into its legitimate channels, if he is to grow his human plants successfully, he must have some idea of what "true manhood" really is, he must know what are the instincts and faculties which he is to help the child to train, what are the powers and possibilities
which he is to help the child to realize. And this is precisely what he cannot hope to know so long as education remains dogmatic, and therefore denies freedom to the child. There is indeed such a thing as "child-study"; and it might be supposed that through it we should get to know what are the central features of that ideal nature which is present in embryo in every healthy child. But, things being as they are, child-study is carried on under conditions which preclude its success; for to study the ways and works of a child who is living and working under dogmatic direction is a proceeding as futile as that of studying the ways and works of a skylark in a cage.
No, if we are to foster the growth of the child, we must know what he is capable of becoming, so that we may understand what he and we are to aim at; and if we are to know this we must help his ideal nature - which is also his real nature - to unfold itself; in other words, we must foster his natural growth. We seem to be caught in a vicious circle; but Dr. Montessori has shown us how to escape from it. "Give the child freedom", she says to the teacher. "Cease to dogmatize; retire into the background; provide the child with the materials
which will best enable him to feed and exercise his nascent organs and faculties; be ready to give help and guidance when the demand for these is urgent, but do nothing for the child which he can possibly do for himself. Then his real nature will begin to unfold itself as surely and as inevitably as the real nature of an oak-tree will begin to unfold itself in the acorn that is planted in suitable soil and fed with air and sunshine and moisture. And as his real nature unfolds itself, and you learn what are its leading features, the guidance that you give the child will become more and more effective; but it will also become less and less obtrusive; for the more freedom you give him, the fuller will be the measure of his growth, and therefore the clearer your insight into his nature, and the greater your wisdom as a teacher and your success as a grower of men."
The Montessori gospel of self-education, with its conception of growth as the way, and ripeness or natural perfection as the end, of life, has had many heralds. The parent idea of self-realization is at the heart of the profound spiritual philosophy of Ancient India. The Buddha, who may be said to have mapped out the path of self-realization, told his disciples
that they were to "betake themselves to no external refuge", but "be lamps unto themselves". The idea that the function of education is to foster growth, and that growth is a movement towards natural perfection, was, as we have seen, formulated by Plato. Horace assigned to education the task of developing natural capacity. The great movement which we call the Renaissance was at heart a protest against dogmatic despotism and a claim for freedom of thought and life. Shakespeare set forth his philosophy of life, with its implicit philosophy of education, in three immortal words: "Ripeness is all". Rousseau proposed that "Nature" rather than the dogmatic teacher should take in hand the education of the child, Froebel worked his way to the conviction that the end of education is to help "true manhood" to evolve itself. Tolstoi saw, with the prophetic eye of genius, that the dogmatic system of education was doomed. In his own words, "Education, as deliberate moulding of people into set forms, is sterile, illegitimate, and impossible". A gospel, which has had such illustrious forerunners, in so many ages and so many lands, is, I must believe, a gospel of truth. The breaking light which those seers
beheld was no mirage, but the dawn of a new day.
The aspects of Dr. Montessori's work are innumerable, and Mrs. Fisher has done justice to many of them. There is one, however, to which she has, I think, done a little less justice; and it happens to be the one which attracts me most. Her chapter on "Moral Training" is both interesting and instructive; but I doubt if she has fully realized that growth, just because it is growth, because it involves the continuous supersession of a lower by a higher nature, is the most emancipative and therefore the most moralizing of all processes. Let growth be healthy, harmonious, and many-sided, or, if possible, all-sided; let it be growth of the whole being, and it at once begins to liberate us from thraldom to the lower self (which it places under the control of the higher), from thraldom to the petty self (which it annuls by outgrowing it, by indefinitely widening its horizon), from thraldom to "the world" (whose false ideals and false standards become discredited by its inwardness and its progressive idealism). In itself, in its very essence, growth is an escape from these and many other thraldoms, - an escape from every influence that
tends to contract and deaden life. The charm of manner, the sweetness of temper, the unselfishness, the self-forgetfulness, the readiness to give and take, the spirit of comradeship, the radiant happiness, which I found first in "Utopia", and then in Rome, were the natural and inevitable fruits of a system whose unbounded faith in human nature was reaping its due reward.
Mrs. Fisher will now tell her own story. She is an American mother, and she is addressing herself to American mothers, or rather to all mothers who speak the English tongue. In preaching the Montessori gospel to mothers rather than to teachers, she is, I think, acting wisely. It is true that in the school, where the numbers are comparatively large, the children can help to develop and discipline one another to an extent which is impossible in the home. But the teachers of America, even more than those of England, seem to be under the control of cast-iron "systems" of various kinds, which
Lie upon them with a loadwhereas the mothers of both countries are by comparison free agents. And for this, and for
other reasons which are set forth in her last chapter, Mrs. Fisher hopes that her appeal to the mothers of her country will meet with a response which the teachers, as a profession, could not make to it if they would.
That the Montessori gospel will be strenuously resisted, that it will array against itself a formidable host of vested interests, that it will long be denounced as a pestilent heresy, is practically certain. And one could not well wish it otherwise. Heresies are sometimes right. Orthodoxies - systems which have come under the patronage and control of the average man - are always wrong. When the Montessori heresy becomes an orthodoxy, the period of its decadence - as a system, not as a principle - will have begun.
That day, however, is far distant; and meanwhile we who believe in the Montessori gospel must do what we can to spread it. But we must set to work with tact and caution, making no attempt to impose it as a system on those who are unable to assimilate the living principle which is vibrating in every nerve and fibre of it, and without which its method would be so much deadening routine, and its apparatus so many meaningless toys. To regard as final
the system which Dr. Montessori has elaborated would indeed argue a radical misunderstanding of her and of it. There are whole sides of the child's nature - the musical, for example, the artistic, the dramatic - on which it is still waiting to be developed; while the tentative application of it to older children has only just begun. But even if it had been carried much further than it has yet been, Dr. Montessori, with her love of freedom and demand for initiative, would be the first to condemn us if we allowed it to limit unduly our own interpretation of the principle from which it draws its life.
For the present, then, we must content ourselves with trying to permeate the educational world with the idea which has inspired Dr. Montessori, - the idea of self-development in an atmosphere of freedom, - expounding the Montessori method and describing the Montessori schools in order to illustrate and enforce our arguments, rather than with a view to the immediate adoption of the method by our possible converts. And here Mrs. Fisher's missionary labours will be of priceless service to us. For if even a small fraction of the mothers of the United States and the United
Kingdom were able to accept, assimilate, and apply the Montessori idea, its influence would begin to diffuse itself through the whole atmosphere of our social life, and would at last make its way from the nursery to the school. And when this had come to pass, the problem of ways and means, the problem of interpreting the idea through the medium of school-routine, would begin to solve itself.
One last word of warning remains to be spoken. The Montessori system and the work done in the Montessori schools are sure to be maligned and misrepresented by persons who look at things from the conventional standpoint, and cannot, if they would, take any other point of view. When this happens, we must possess our souls in patience; for we must remember that a revolutionary movement is in its essence a protest against existing ideals and standards, a defiance of their authority, a refusal to accept their verdict. Nor need we be over-careful to answer criticism or expose misrepresentation. A too facile acceptance of the Montessori system by parents and teachers would be a veritable calamity; and therefore misrepresentation, even if it be the outcome of ignorance, prejudice, and malice, may well
prove a blessing in disguise. Above all, let us remember that patience and faith are vital elements in Dr. Montessori's own genius; and that patience and faith are lessons which we must learn from her if we would enter into the spirit of her teaching. The very mainspring of her system is "her great and calm trust in life" (to use Mrs. Fisher's impressive words); and he who trusts life to the full is proof against disillusionment and disappointment, and will never again resent opposition or chafe at delay.