Maria Montessori, the first Italian woman to qualify as a physician, is renowned worldwide for her devotion to the philosophy of education and for the educational method that bears her name. Amongst others ground-breaking innovations, Montessori had a unique approach to discipline and obedience in the education of children. In this essay I will define and explain the terms ‘discipline’ and ‘obedience’, paying particular attention to the relationship between them. I will then address the issue of self-discipline together with the notion of will and analyse how they are at the root of the development of obedience. Finally, I will describe the three levels of obedience as outlined by Maria Montessori herself.
First of all, it is necessary to explain and define the two major concepts of this essay: discipline and obedience. To use Montessori’s words (1967, p49): The discipline that we are looking for is active. We do not believe that one is disciplined only when he’s artificially made as silent as mute and as motionless as a paralytic. Such a one is not disciplined but annihilated. We claim that an individual is disciplined when he’s the master of himself and he can, as a consequence, control himself when he must follow a rule of life.’ According to Montessori, the discipline that is worth working for is the one that is fostered through freedom and independence; it is an internal discipline that is already naturally within the child, just waiting to be awakened by the practitioner. Montessori believes that discipline begins when children find an activity that has some value to them. For this reason, Montessori introduced the idea of ‘prepared environment’, an environment which allows children to have freedom, opportunities and all the tools needed to develop concentration skills and to foster inner discipline. The Montessori method suggests surrounding the child with interesting tools and materials tailored to his/her inner needs, therefore leaving the child free to engage in activities by him/herself. The activities in question must be developed to answer the child’s inner needs, urges naturally within the child that Montessori spotted from observation, such as the need for order, movement, language and first and foremost independence. Some of these activities can be completed in only one way, such as activities involving opening and closing nuts and bolts. Others have control cards that leave the child free to check his/her own work, such as the dining set. This is an example of neutral correction that leads to self-evaluation and eventually builds the child’s independence and self-discipline. The key concept here is the idea of freedom of choice, which will lead the child on the right path of self-discipline and eventually to obedience. The teacher’s role is, therefore, to allow this freedom alongside all the other freedoms the child might need: freedom to make mistakes, freedom of time, of expression and of socialization. The practitioners need not only to be a role model for the children, plan for them and observe them, but they especially have to allow all these freedoms to the child. It is vital to give children the freedom to choose the activities that are interesting for them, since they will be more likely to satisfy their inner needs. However, this freedom must be kept within boundaries. This is where the role of the teacher comes in, positively enforcing some basic ground rules that are a major part of the philosophy of Dr. Montessori. The ground rules aim to teach the child to respect the feelings and rights of others around him/her, and can be established directly with the children. These ground rules are closely linked to two of the three embryonic stages formulated by Montessori, namely the spiritual embryo, between 0 and 3 years, and the social embryo, between 3 and 6 years. The basic difference between these two stages, with reference to the ground rules, is that if during the spiritual embryonic stage...
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