Maria Montessori’s insight into the process of child’s development is indeed quite amazing. (So are other approaches like Waldorf). Her perception and articulation of what children are, what their needs at different stages of their lives are, how they can be met, etc. are indeed insightful. Montessori ‘environments’, ‘materials’ and ‘presentations’ have all been very thoughtfully developed in keeping with these. The teachers are carefully trained to help a child develop into a self-respecting, caring, curious, independent young adult, by stepping back and assisting only when required. Maria Montessori’s answer may be right (to some extent), if the question is ‘What is a good education that we can give our children? How can we provide an education that retains and nurtures children’s innate creativity, curiosity, courage, beauty and innocence?’ But of late, I've been finding this question to be quite shallow and insincere. Let me explain why.
Parents who claim to want ‘alternative education’ for their children explain the reasons for it in this way. “We want a fear-free learning environment for our child. We don’t believe in rewards and punishments. We believe in a learning environment that is built on cooperation not competition. We want our children to laugh, play, create with their hands, sing, dance. Academics is only one of the things we want for them.” Fair enough! But most of their own lives are so deeply entrenched in systems – economic, religious – that breed fear and competition; that rewards those who “succeed” and penalizes those who “fail”. In the initial years, we want to let our children wander around freely in their alternative school campuses. But as they grow up, we want to tighten their leashes and make sure they fit into the society, cranking up a system that thrives on fear, competition and exploitation. We want our children to learn to wash their own plates in their ‘alternative schools’, but tell each other and our guests in our homes “Don’t bother. My maid will take care of it tomorrow.” We talk about fearlessness, and yet want to stock up wealth for future security. We insist that our kids share their toys, but are possessive about our stuff.
Unless we adults are willing to start asking ourselves uncomfortable questions about our living contexts and pursuits, we are only fooling ourselves by claiming to want ‘alternative education’ for our children.
So, the questions I am interested in these days are these. “How do we adults create spaces where we can unlearn and undo ourselves? How can we reorganize our lives, our economies, our societies to be more harmonious, equitable and non-violent? How can we unlearn fragmented ways of looking at life (which is what modern science does) and uncover a wholistic perspective? How do we learn to come together and truly share without fear? How can we redefine knowledge and intelligence (as things that spring out of our ‘being’ rather than out of our insecure ‘ego’)? How can we create a society where a million individuals are pursuing a million different things, making it a fascinating place where children feel compelled to explore their interests and calling on their own; a society where sweeping the street and writing softwares are valued equally?
If we can create a society like this - at least strive in this direction – we would then be talking about ‘true alternative education’, in my opinion. That’s the kind I am interested in!
A related post is here. Call for Urgent Action