Monday, June 22, 2015

Montessori Normalization: The Healthy Psyche and a Love of Purposeful Activity

When we describe a child as Normalized, we see the child working with a love for purposeful activity. The child has gained an ability to choose an activity and work with absorbing interest. She follows the sequence of the activity to completion. She concentrates and repeats the activity with precision in each movement. She works with exactness in activity, as if isolated from her surroundings. She attends with internal discipline and an ability to sustain a concentrated, extended work cycle. In the realm of sociability, she maintains respect for the work of others, holds them in a demeanor of non-competitive help and sympathy, all within a harmonious relationship of community. 

When Dr. Montessori first observed these behaviors developing in The Casa dei Bambini, it was a departure from the expected behaviors of children. It led her to question what we know about children. We understand, through this Method, that the child is a self-constructor. By that, we mean that the pattern of self-construction is that there is an innate energy that leads to development. The developmental energy is not dictated from the outside. We call that the horme which fuels this development, following the natural, universal path. We also know that these natural energies can flow along their natural path when the environment supports it. Furthermore, we also know that the environment that adults typically create is not a life-giving developmental path for the child, and the child then finds obstacles to natural development in their environment. The horme energy does not end when it meets the obstacle, but it at the point when children do not find the outlet for natural energies that we find the deviation from the normal path of development.  

Defining Deviations and Normalization
“At the origin of life, in the small child, errors are constantly being made, deforming the natural psychological type of man, and leading to an infinity of deviations…
“The singular fact that we not in the child conversions is a psychological recovery, a return to normal conditions, and that which was called conversions when it implied only the emergence of a surprising fact must, after the finding of wide experience, be reckoned a normalizations.”
(The Secret of Childhood, p.160)

We look at children, and we tend to label children good if they always listen to adults or call them hyperactive if they are always moving, but many of these behaviors are protective mechanisms of the child, as a result of the repression of the normal flow of developmental energy. If we look at Normalization as a process by which normal energy development is fostered, the life energy is channeled into creative constructive growth that follows the innate laws of development. Deviations, therefore, are behaviors developed as protective mechanisms that the child created when normal development is not supported by the environment.

In the context of historic medicine, the term deviation is defined as a turning away from the normal course:

“The human being is a united whole, but this unity has to be built up and formed by active experiences in the real world, to which it is led by the laws of nature…. If outer conditions prevent this integration from occurring, then the same energies go on inuring each of the partial formations to continue their activities apart from the others… the hand moves aimlessly; the mind wanders about far from reality; language takes pleasure in itself; the body moves clumsily. And these separate energies, finding nothing to satisfy them, give rise to numberless combinations of defective and deviated growth, which become the sources of conflict and despair… such deviations cannot be attributed to the personality itself. They come from a failure to organize the personality.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind.)

In the Casa dei Bambini, the integration of normalized personality is connected to the Exercises of Practical Life, where the child achieves an integrated between the will and motions to moving harmoniously. “The transition from one state to the other always follows a piece of work done by the hands with real things; work accompanies by mental concentration,” she writes, in The Absorbent Mind.

The writing style Dr. Montessori uses to describe this psychology may be viewed as outdated, based on the vocabulary, but considering that the human nature is not different, and the words on the subject of Normalization in The Secret of Childhood remain valid today.

Deviations take many forms
Dr. Montessori writes that the child may experience what she called fugues, where the psychic energy and movement develop separately; the individual escapes into a fictional world and purposeless movement. The child has experienced a disconnect. The child may also experience barriers, which, as a result of repression, “ a kind of a curtain comes over the child’s mind”: the individual escapes by withdrawing into a shell. The child can develop dependence, a result of thwarting the child’s desire for free choice and activity. There is a constant need for adult support.

One may observe possessiveness, a result of thwarting the natural love for interacting purposefully with the environment: the attachment is to objects. The child may experience power craving, a result of thwarting the natural desire to master the environment, expressing itself in a manipulation of the adult. The child can develop an inferiority complex, a sense of incapacity that is a result of the lack of respect for the child’s capacities and efforts. The child may develop fear, fostered by adults who use vague threats to obtain obedience, lying, a “clothing that hides the soul”, and finally, repercussions on physical life, manifesting in bad food habits and inactivity and hyperactivity. A child can even develop a reflexive action to lie as a protective measure against their reality.

Dr. Montessori further classified psychic deviations into categories of Deviations of the Strong and Deviations of the Weak:
Deviations of the strong
Deviations of the weak
·         Capriciousness and tendencies to violence
·         Rage
·         Insubordination and aggression
·         Disobedience
·         Destructiveness
·         Possessiveness leading to selfishness and envy
·         Instability of purpose
·         Inability to focus attention or concentrate
·         Difficulty in coordinating movements of the hand
·         Mental confusion, extravagant imaginings
·         Shouting, screaming, noisiness
·         Disturbing others, unkindness to others
·         Greediness

·         Indolence, idleness
crying for what they want
·         Trying to get others to wait on them
·         Wishing to be entertained
·         Easily bored
·         Frightened, clinging to grownups
·         Often untruthful (passive form of defense)
·         May steal things (form of psychological compensation)
·         May refuse to eat or senselessly overeat
·         Nightmares, fear of the dark, disturbed sleep
·         Do physical harm to themselves
·         Nervous psychological states—perhaps twitching

The Cause of Deviations
“If normalization come about through a determined single fact, the concentration on some activity of movement, which brings the child into relation with the external reality, we must suppose that a single fact lies at the source of all deviation, that the child has been prevented from fulfilling the original pattern of his development, through some action affecting his environment at the formative age, when his potential energies should evolve through a process of incarnation… this single, imperceptible cause may lead to distortion of the whole being.” (Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, Pg. 163).

According to Montessori, society has no sense for what should be normal or typical for the child. Knowing how to take care of the child, what we assume is normal—such as hyperactivity—is related to what we are accustomed to as deviations within our culture. What we can do is support the process of normalization early, when children come into the Casa. We can bring the child back to the normal, natural path of development. Our nature, after all, is to return to normalcy and the natural path of development. We cannot cure everything, but there will be ways to provide more direct support for the child’s function, as an independent person in the community.

The Tendency to return to normality and the path to normalization
“If we observe children in the light of this understanding, we should very often be able to recognize the spontaneous emergences of normality even where the conditions of environment are difficult. And though driven under unrecognized and unassisted, they return, as vital energies that make a place for themselves in the midst of obstacles, seeking to prevail… It is, therefore, not a transitory episode of infant life that engulfs the characteristics of normality, but a struggle due to continuous progression… There is only one line of development, which is normality. If it is disturbed in its path it becomes deviated; but each individual, however deviated, has the tendency to return to the normal… So all we have to do is to get this energy free… When we speak of free children we are thinking of this energy which must be free in order to construct these children well.” (The Secret of Childhood, Pg. 161)

The Recipe
When a child is working in a normalized mode, the child gets a sense that this work is contributing to the larger sense of work of the community, guided by the intelligence and chosen by free-will, manifested by the hands as a concentrated activity. This purposeful kind work will result in a transition from a deviated state to a normalized state. Real purposeful work is at the essence. Often, what we consider work is not work at all; it must be so purposeful that it engages the whole being, to be an integrating and unifying task: “The essential thing is for the task to arouse such interest that it engages the child’s whole personality,” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind).

Normalizing Work at Various Stages
At the beginning of the activity, physically, the child shows spontaneous interest prompting the child to choose an activity, setting up the materials for the work and organizing the work area .On a psychological plane, the child makes a commitment to the chose and gathers his mental energies, and there is a withdrawal from the other stimuli in the classroom. Emotionally, there is excitement, anticipation, interest, and maybe an element of anxiety.

In the middle of the activity, the child physically involves the use of the hand. The movement is limited to the essential. We see repetition and organized exploration as part of the activity. Psychologically, there is a level of challenge that engages the child in the activity. We see focused attention and concentration, as evidence of the learning happening, a sense of timelessness in the child. Emotionally, we observe a combination on excitement, curiosity, satisfaction, pleasure, and determination in some measure.

At the end of the activity, we see the child return of the material to the shelf. Psychologically, we see the child disconnect from the activity. Often, there is a dark room time where the child is not engaged in another activity but cruises the room quietly and contemplatively. Emotionally, we can observe satisfaction, pleasure, joy, a sense of accomplishment, inner calmness, increased self-esteem, and an element of sociability in the child.

The Role of the Adult
The adult prepares the environment by removing obstacles in the environment and in ourselves, so that the developmental energies can return to the normal path. We provide motives for activity that is essential to normal development. We link the child to the environment and present motives or activity and protect concentration in activity. We observe, reflect, and respond. We see the child before normalization—we tirelessly stop deviated work cycles. And after normalization, we provide necessary and sufficient help following the Principle of Subsidiarity-- to offer help in the least overt way.

What can we do before normalization? Dr. Montessori recommends collective work, such as carrying a soup bowl of water, to give a conscious control of the body, to prepare the child to control her actions and get satisfaction. We do much spoken language and a lot of practical life, to connect the child actively to the environment. In this way we connect to interaction with the environment. Based on observations, Dr. Montessori charted the path toward normalization in work, visually, along these developments and cycles.[i]

The Advanced Worker and the highest order of development
Thus, the human is capable of realizing higher and higher levels of work. We support a higher and higher capacity for work. In a cosmic sense, we can make more developed scales of engagement as our community evolves to a higher level of work as a whole. The global view takes into account this macro-goal for society, a normalized, actualized society achieving harmony and peace.

The Point of Departure
“When this new child appears, education is possible. You could not educate the child as he was before. Now he is readjusted—you can educate him because he is in a condition in which he can develop and in which he has much to develop. The path of education is a long path. There are many exercises that will be useful and many things that can be brought to the environment. We can introduce all that is good, all that is lofty, and the child will be able to learn then… This is the joy of education, the education of the mind and of the practical life skills. After children are normalized, they can take in the whole of education. Therefore, the great hope of education is to help the youngest. This hope is in our hands.” (Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures)

In conclusion, our goal is to try to send a child back to normalcy at an early age, within foundational years. Any deviation that will be overcome later will happen with much more effort and overt help. We do what we can, to be as successful as possible with every child and more comfortable with their work. We embody an attitude of serving the development of life, through refined practice. Once having brought the child to this point in development, to normalization, we do not have to be as active in the child’s activities, and the children can work through their own development. It is no small wonder that Dr. Montessori called the work of normalization “the single most important” component of our work. The focus on this goal of normalization, with the overarching goal of future peace and harmony for all of society, in addition to the development of the individual is a work much larger than helping the child learn new ideas. It is the training of character for the child and the adult who serves education; in Dr. Montessori’s words, “It is a preparation of the spirit.”

Dr. Maria Montessori’s illustrations depicting work cycles along planes and stages of disorder versus normalization note that disorder gives way to contemplative repose between high-focus cycles of work.

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