Friday, June 13, 2014

Maria Montessori's Concept of The Spiritual Embryo

Consider the human newborn. The colt or lamb at birth have all the characteristics of the adult of the species: movement, sound, appearance. However, we do not see these characteristics at birth in the human. One postulation is that the human is born premature, due to the upright walking of the mother and the narrowed hips for walking. Another perspective is that each creature is born with the tools that it needs for its environment, as well as all associated instincts for its appropriate environment. Each animal, being bound to its habitat, must be in the appropriate environment to develop appropriately; but what about the environment of the human being? Our habitat is unpredictable, unstable, and in a constant state of flux along with human society. It is essential that the child be born open in its ability to live, open to construct its own development appropriate to the setting, in tune with the settings of the environment at the prevailing time.

The child can only construct the environment in close contact to the society at that time, in the correct language, with the capacities for the correct movements needed for that society at that time. He must be in close contact with that environment, not in the womb. This is another theory for why the human is born 'premature', compared to other species. The space in the womb no longer satisfies the needs of the fetus. The change of environment is necessary for the psycho-physio development of the fetus outside the womb. Montessori likens the journey out of the womb to the movement of the blastocyst down the fallopian tube into the uterus, for the ideal environment for self-creation. Likewise, never again is the exogestating infant more open to creative development than in the period of birth to two-and-a-half years old. The very survival of the being depends on completing this task by his own efforts, to gain the capacity to think, chose, and move according to his own society. As the fetus once created their own organs, now Montessori speaks of the child creating his own mental organs and characteristic behavior patterns in consonance with the times of the child's birth.

All of this development occurs as an individual, each with the characteristic stamp of individuality, because the work of growth and creation occur on an individual level, only by the child's own hand. The task of the spiritual embryo has tremendous significance for human civilization, because there is no genetic basis for inheriting the elements of civilization-- all of these are transmitted through the environment and the self-creation of the child attaining knowledge in this space. When the child makes these elements a part of herself, she perpetuates her own participation in society's art, music, philosophy. Maria Montessori calls this the child becoming an agent of spiritual heredity. If the child did not take our point of arrival in time as their own psychological starting point, the spiritual embryo could not further advance human culture. The other effect is that the child is creating the adult of the species, in addition to advancing human civilization. She ensures, through her childlike mental work, that humans can achieve their task in the cosmic whole.

We take it so for granted that the child will achieve these stamps of individuality and participation in the cosmic whole. 

Recommended reading, The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. 


Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a Montessori educator and parent in Dallas, Texas.

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