An excerpt from an excellent and interesting article by Jonathan Wolff and Marc Seldin about what a secondary Montessori education could look like. Enjoy!
“There is no reason to doubt that, had Dr. Montessori lived, she would not only have further detailed Secondary education, she would have doubtless contributed much more guidance to university aged early adults. If so, she would have begun by asking “What are the human needs of such people?” and “What are the needs of the culture they are participating in and contributing to?”
In the third plane of development, it is thought that questions of identity are paramount. “Who am I?” They ask. “How do I fit into this world? What group am I part of?” One begins to look for areas where they can contribute, to begin to be both independent and to find meaningful ways to take part in the world. They begin to take an interest in economic activity, so it is common for Montessori programs to offer service-learning entrepreneurial opportunities. Emotionally, this is a time of great insecurity, although we see at Montessori high schools that a supportive environment can greatly ameliorate the risks and excesses of this stage.
In contrast, we know that at the fourth plane these early adults are much more confident. They have more than an inkling of who they are, and many begin university with some idea of how they intend to contribute to the world. We would say that, at this age, the questions they are asking are “What is my cosmic task?” and “How may I begin this great work?”
The merging of the early adult into their culture is the primary activity of the university years, and so actual integration into that culture must be part of that task. It is not enough for the student to, as Dr. Montessori put it, reside within the “four walls” for their university years. They should be actively involved in the larger world in some manner that is meaningful for their personal pursuits. In traditional universities this is accomplished through optional internships. We believe Dr. Montessori would find this insufficient to the needs of the early adult.
As Dr. Montessori insisted that discussion and collaboration are essential to this plane of development, we would suggest that an ideal university would need to develop a curriculum that integrates seminar style discussions and group projects. As always, she felt grades to be a distraction to real education, so in this university they would be downplayed, or indeed might be absent altogether. At the stage, the ability to self-assess – one’s worth and one’s work – are vital to achieving a successful transition into the world-at-large.
Independence is also a trait that she felt must be nurtured, but not in a sense of isolated empowerment. Her notion of independence might be closer to what we sometimes call “interdependence”, in that she felt an independent individual was not a lone wolf but an active and productive member of society-at-large. We believe this implies that opportunities for such participation should be principal components of higher education; if not available in the community, then such opportunities must be offered within the university environment. Her passages about leadership suggest that cultivating world changing leaders is an important role of the university.
These points may seem similar to the many experimental colleges established along the lines of John Dewey’s vision of progessive education. Both authors of this paper each attended one such college, and applaud its ideals.
However, Dr. Montessori’s emphasis on fostering connections with the real culture-at-large sets her vision quite far from the academic ivory towers of many progressive schools. It is apparent that most universities train early adults in the fields to which they hope to eventually join, but neither prepare them for the actual work, nor do they give them much (if any) practical and applied experience in these professions. In contrast, Dr. Montessori’s vision would have these students begin in this period the actual practice of their cosmic task in the context of real life experience.
Following but separate from this is Dr. Montessori’s requirement for these schools to incubate their students’ economic independence. Where Secondary programs often hold class businesses, the needs of the fourth plane require early adults to begin actual participation in economic activity. We have an opportunity to combine this requirement for economic participation with her
- emphasis on leadership,
- emphasis that these students be prepared to become life-long learners,
- emphasis on teaching scientific or what we might call critical analysis
When we integrate all these factors, we come to a startling conclusion. A Montessori inspired university would need to teach entrepreneurial thinking. This is not to say that every early adult at such a university would, or should, become an entrepreneur. But it does seem today that even students of the arts need to know how to understand the needs of their consumers and colleagues and how to clearly communicate their services to them. Political leaders and activists need to understand how to organize and inspire, as well as to raise funds. Learning to recognize a need and lead change is an essential skill of entrepreneurial thinking that can be applied to practically all fields.