© MariaMontessori.com

Students direct their education at Manhattan Free School

That is what people FEAR Montessori education to be: comic-book making instead of calculus.

It is not.

E.M. Standing collaborated with Dr. Montessori on the book Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. The chapter about elementary education includes this section:

Freedom of Choice Must Still Be Based on Knowledge…Some of the new educationists—says Montessori– in a reaction against the old system of forcing children to learn by rote a tangled skein of uninteresting facts, go to the opposite extreme, and advocate giving the child “freedom to learn what he likes but without any previous preparation of interest….This is a plan for building without a basis, akin to the political methods that today offer freedom of speech and a vote, without education—granting the right to express thought where there are no thoughts to express, and no power of thinking! What is required for the child, as for society, is help towards the building up of mental faculties, interest being of necessity the first to be enlisted, so that there may be natural growth in freedom.”

Here, as always, the child’s liberty consists in being free to choose from a basis of real knowledge, and not out of mere curiosity. He is free to take up which of the “radial lines of research” appeals to him, but not to choose “anything he likes” in vacuo. It must be based on a real center of interest, and therefore motivated by what Montessori calls “intellectual love.”

Montessori was a revolutionary thinker. And she pointed to the middle path: FREEDOM…within limits.

John Long is the Head of School at the Post Oak School, an AMI school in Bellaire, Texas.