In order to explain the relationship between discipline and obedience from a Montessori perspective, it would be useful define and compare the more common explanations of these terms with the interpretations of Maria Montessori. The development of the child within the Montessori setting and in particular the maturational development of discipline, obedience and the will shall then be discussed. In so doing, a very close and almost symbiotic relationship between all three will become apparent. Discipline is commonly thought of as something that is ‘done’ to a child in order to achieve obedience. It is seen as a form of control that implies a denial of freedom. According to oxforddictionaries.com, the definition of discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience” (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition /english/discipline, date accessed 25/11/2012). The definition of obedience is given as “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority” (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/obedience, date accessed 25/11/2012).
From a Montessori perspective, discipline is seen as a self-discipline, which evolves gradually. It is not something taught by instruction, controlled by rewards or punishments but is self-taught, “attained indirectly, that is by developing activity in spontaneous work” (Montessori, 2007b, p305). Similarly, Montessori describes obedience as a “normal human characteristic” (Montessori, 2007a, p234) and that this natural urge for obedience is a prerequisite for social life (Montessori, 1989). It is the child complying with his/her own will, rather than the will of somebody else (Montessori, 2004).
Both discipline and obedience therefore come from within and will evolve slowly through exercise when the child is left to follow his natural path Montessori (2007a). This is the path that nature provides to ensure the survival of man, animals and plants alike and is part of a process that Montessori (2007a) referred to as ‘normalization’ (the child reaching a an optimum stage of positive, normal development). Of great importance to Montessori was that the purpose of such discipline and obedience should be social cohesion rather than authoritarian control: “The finesse of discipline is to obtain obedience from developed wills, and this is based on society by cohesion, the first step to organized society” (Montessori, 1963 p85). Clearly discipline, obedience and the will are inextricably linked and their evolution depends much upon the environment in which the child develops.
Before discussing this environment, it is necessary to give a brief description of how the child develops between the ages of 0-6 years (to appreciate the stage he/she has reached by the time he/she enters the nursery). Primarily, he/she is born with a guiding force or “horme” (Montessori, 2007a, p76), an urge for independence and a “psychology of world conquest” (Montessori, 2007a, p77). Montessori (2007a) distinguished this period as the first ‘plane of development’ (or stage of development) during which the child creates himself through absorbing everything in his environment. She called this phenomenon “The Absorbent Mind” (Montessori, 2007a. p25). It is during this period that the qualities of discipline, the will and ultimately obedience will form and mature.
There are however two sub phases within the Absorbent Mind – the first spans from 0 -3 years where Montessori refers to the child as a “Spiritual Embryo” (Montessori, 2007a, p55). At this stage the new born/young child absorbs his/her environment directly into a subconscious memory or “Mneme” (Montessori, 2007a, p57) that will form his psyche. The hormic impulse and egocentricity are so strong at this stage that they control the actions of the child. He/she has no discipline or will as he/she has no conscience. When a child obeys at this stage it will only be...
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