Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Freedom and Discipline in the Montessori Environment

The Meaning of Freedom and Discipline, a Montessori Context
Freedom, the state of being free, derives from an Indo-European root meaning "to love". In the Montessori environment, freedom means more than being physically unrestricted and more than being without limitations. Our concept of freedom includes the absence of domination by another. In freedom, we refer to the power of self-determination attributed to the will. We discuss self-determination on the basis of this understanding. It may seem that freedom and discipline are at odds. However, in the Montessori classroom, freedom and discipline become one, dependent and nourishing.

Discipline comes from the Latin word meaning instruction or knowledge. As a noun, it means a controlled behavior that arises from training in behavior. As a verb, it is the training of oneself, or the training from another. We focus more on discipline as a reflexive verb. We see discipline as the training of oneself, in the control of one’s own behavior.

The "Biological Concept of Freedom"
Dr. Montessori writes that the biological concept of freedom is "freedom for life to develop, to unfold following the dictates of nature"[1]. Dr. Montessori writes that there are innate laws that guide development, and the child must have many environmental conditions in place to serve that development. When we provide proper conditions to life, then the child will be able to access freedom, unfolding on a natural path. Freedom is the condition which allows life to develop. We cannot observe the human being except in the conditions which allow life to grow and flourish, as in any experiment. She uses the term “conditions favorable to life” rather than simply freedom for the sake of clarity.[2]

The Limits of Freedom
Necessarily, the child and every being must encounter the limits of freedom. Every being has its own limits of freedom. The conditions of life are specific to each being, where freedom is different for different beings and organisms. The freedom of the organism is limited by the natural limits and natural laws-- absolute limits and absolute laws-- within the universe, according to each species.

Dr. Montessori goes on to write that, “The way to freedom is through discipline”. The road to freedom and the road to discipline converge on the fact that the things which are the most free are those that follow the greatest order and universal laws—not laws imposed or broken, but those which follow a universal harmony of discipline, inner control, and obedience to the dictates of nature. The road to freedom, then, is also the road of discipline, since they both develop at the same time.[3]

Starting without Freedom at San Lorenzo: The historical relationship
At the founding of San Lorenzo, the children did not originally did not have the freedom to take out the material or decide which work they would like to do. When the children showed they could move with care and control, she broadened her concept of what the children are able to do. Historically, the children did show their capacity to work with these freedoms. As a consequence, for example, we have open shelves. When given the freedom to develop such a discipline, she observed the children behaving with such natural harmony that she considered the greater capacity children have for self-control, obedience, and kindness. The spontaneous attraction to work led Dr. Montessori to remark on their interior capacity for this conquest toward freedom:

"Had these children maybe found the orbit of their cycle, like stars that circle unwearyingly and which without departing from their order shine through eternity?" [4]

Inner and Outer Discipline
According to Mr. A. M. Joosten on the Montessori concept of discipline, the intimate connection between freedom and discipline was something that Dr. Montessori learned from the children. Discipline is the outcome of the inner development, of being able to choose and act independently. Mr. Joosten distinguishes two distinct kinds of discipline:
·       Inner discipline, being governed by universal, natural laws, and
·       Outer discipline, based on human laws and specific to time and place
The inner discipline, therefore, is the rock on which outer discipline rests. Outer discipline must be given a form that supports inner discipline. All outer discipline must be in harmony the nature of the being. If we do not keep outer discipline and inner discipline in harmony, it will constrain freedom and development. Our work is to understand the inner discipline of the child.

The preparation of the adult is the study of the nature and development of inner discipline. We work towards the acceptance of these inner laws that guide the child and create conditions that help him obey these innate laws. Regarding inner discipline, Mr. A. M. Joosten writes:

‘Inner discipline is innate. It cannot and need not be taught. But it can and must be helped and guided in its development and outer manifestation. The task of the adult, then, is not to inject or teach discipline, but to offer the child suitable forms by means of which he can individually and in society follow and express the dictates of his inner discipline. This help must take very concrete forms. It requires not only ever increased efforts at self-discipline and respect for the inner discipline of the child, but also the preparation and organization of an environment where the child can and is helped to obey his inner discipline. It should be help offered and not violation inflicted.’[5]

Montessori Freedom and Discipline in Contrast to Conventional Application
This makes us stop and reflect that we might never require a child to act in such a way that is in harmony with his inner discipline. When a three-year-old child comes to us, the child arrives in a state of chaos. The three-year-old comes with disorderly movements, an intellect disconnected from reality, and with a will that is not guided by the intellect or supported by movements. The conditions for development have not generally been supported. The developmental energies are not static. They must continue flowing-- and thus the child's abilities for movement, knowledge, and will do not feed toward the child's freedom and choice.

We take it so much for granted that the child will be disorderly and uncoordinated that it is commonly how we think children to be, but this is not the true nature of the child when provided the proper conditions for development. Freedom is being able to make a choice: but to make this choice, the child has to be able to use the intellect, knowledge, and will in harmony. Dr. Montessori, writes, in The Absorbent Mind:

‘Free choice is one of the highest of all the mental processes… It is not possible to speak of free choice when all kinds of external stimuli attract a child at the same time, and having no will power, he responds to every call, passing relentlessly from one thing to another. This is one of the most important distinctions that the teacher must be able to make. The child who cannot yet obey an interior guide is not that free being who sets out to follow the long and narrow path towards perfection.’[6]

When the child's freedom is restricted, the child will not develop spontaneous discipline. Spontaneous discipline comes about as a result of being given the appropriate degrees of freedom to proceed toward one’s own development.

Therefore, the child’s discipline according to this pedagogy comes from the inner preparation, achieved when the child’s capacity for doing and strength of will come together. It is born out of the respect and positive atmosphere of a right relation between the teacher and the pupil, connected to freedom of choice and movement. In traditional schools, discipline is not an activity but “an immobility and salience...something festers inside a child, arousing his rebellious feelings.”[7]

The Role of the Adult in Creating the Conditions for Life
We focus on discrimination between spontaneous activity that is the creative expression of developmental energies and impulsive activity that is a deviation from natural development. The role of the adult is to create conditions for freedom, by limiting freedom for the protections of the individual, for the environment, and for others. We limit the capacity of the individual to act independently in the environment, so freedom evolves with independence. Limits are defined by the context of the activity, as natural and logical consequences. 

Guiding Principles for Creating the Conditions for Life
How do we know how far to apply the limits on freedom? We apply the principle of subsidiarity-- indirectly through the prepared environment, indirectly through the materials and activities, and directly only when absolutely necessary. The codes of behavior are manifestations of social behavior, communicated through grace and courtesy lessons. The limits of freedom are defined by each child, in their capacity. Freedom is not a blanket condition but something specific to each child's needs. In preparing the environment correctly, very rarely do we need to directly intervene about particular official rules about so many behaviors, from the adult.

The Ascent to Independence: Responding at different stages
In the early period when the children are in chaos, it is necessary that the presence of the adult is very overt. The material and the environment will not have the strongest structuring roles. There will be many, many collective activities. We provide many directions to provide positive alternatives to activity which is leading to negative activities. For the young child, we offer so many activities to support elementary movements, in their precision in control of error, and then move the child to purposeful activity and connection to reality in the Exercises of Practical Life. The individual presentations mean that each material is offered under the guidance of the adult. The adult offers vigilance, supervision, and individual presentations to find out what supports each child's specific developmental needs.  We help the child overtly in reconnecting the child to the inner call for order, peace, and beauty.

What if the child seems to ask for praise for his independence? We are sensitive to the child's first expression of independence. While we do not praise the child, we affirm their pride in being independent as long as the child needs it. Only later can we withdraw into the background. We bridge the gap between the first signs of independence and greater independence.

As a landmark in “the ascent towards discipline”, Dr. Montessori describes mitigation of disorderly movement; attention to real things; tendency toward imitation – and one day the child begins to concentrate, in focus and repetition in such a way that brings increased skill, “show[ing] that his spirit has been reborn.” Dr. Montessori writes that, “It is not possible to speak of free choice when all kinds of external stimuli attract a child,” because the child does not yet have the ability to make choices led by an interior guide. The child is led only by superficial sensations, not by an informed intellect or developed will. Children must acquire the ability to choose. The child’s sensitivity to going to the thing she needs must be awoken. [8]

Our Control of Error
‘If there is any disorder and indiscipline it means that the teacher has committed some error which has impeded the real freedom of the child. Out of this interruption of real freedom, the lack of discipline has come…. The teacher must look into herself to find out in what way she has limited or restricted freedom.’[9] 

‘Joy can be seen as a universal sign of harmony, and it may show us that we are on the road to freedom… If in the Casa dei Bambini there is a veritable progress along the path to freedom, we ought to see the same characteristics, a form of life developing vigorously, a discipline born of itself, and an uncontrollable joy—a tangible sign that out road has no deviations.’[10]

Guides question ourselves, when a child displays negative activities, as to whether we are impinging too much on the child's freedom. Is the activity really coming from disobedience to a social protocol, or does it come from not having given the children freedom to see the inbuilt discipline of the environment? We have a responsibility to guide the child to a collective respect for the place. The outcome and sign of discipline is a sign of deep harmony within the individual, with the community.

Implications for Society

It is only when we can follow the true paths of development that we can become capable of who we are becoming.  When development happens according to this natural path, following the innate laws of development, it leads to discipline in my interaction with community.

‘The fundamental freedom—the freedom of the individual—is necessary for the evolution of a species for two reasons: (1) it gives individuals infinite possibilities for growth and improvement and constitutes the starting point of man’s complete development; (2) it makes the formation of a society possible, for freedom is the basis of human society.’[11]

Every child develops alongside the inner flame of freedom and discipline, without which there is no development or society.  There are even political consequences in a democratic society-- the individual choices must be developed along an integrated personality, with awareness of the inner laws that guide general human development. Today, in society, the rule book of laws proceeds further and more elaborately, without resulting in a more disciplined society.

We see discipline as an expression of obedience and love. It is the exercise of freedom, in the developed soul. Discipline is the other side of the coin of freedom.  

Conclusion: Freedom as Nonviolence, Leading to Peace 
Creating these conditions for life is an act of nonviolence. If we are not providing the child the conditions to realize her full potential, it is an act of violence against the child. We go forth to build a community of children with a developed will, integrated with freedom given toward discipline. That is the true foundation of peace. Anything we create in the environment is supportive of the child, following her and his inner guide. We limits freedom only so that it is in tune with the absolute laws that govern development in the child, toward the harmonious adult and peaceful society.

[1] Montessori, 1913 Lectures, Pg. 54.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid, 60.
[4] Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, Pg. 138
[5] A.M. Joosten, On Discipline.
[6] Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Pg. 271-271.
[7] Montessori, Creative Development in the Child (Volume 2), Pg 41, (Kalakshetra)
[8] Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, Pg. 273-286 (Kalakshetra)
[9] Montessori. Creative Development in the Child, Vol 1, Pg. 42.
[10] Montessori. 1913 Lectures. Pg 61.
[11] Montessori, Education and Peace, Pg. 102-103

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