Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Montessori: The Development of Obedience and the Will

The following is an article post I have written about the Montessori theory on the development of obedience as a function of a developed will, from ages 3 -6. - Jeannot Jonte Boucher

The Function of the Will
Poetically, Dr. Montessori tells of three gifts that humankind brought to earth, previously unknown:
The Mind that Thinks
The Heart that Loves
The Hand that Works

When we think about the gifts that the human beings, no one is born with these gifts. It is through the child's own efforts that the child creates intelligence, love, and will. It is the intelligence which creates the connection to the surroundings, through sensorial explorations. But, it is the desires, the love, which create the will.

The will functions as the motivating force, an actor of choice, balancing impulse and restraint-- and contributing toward the virtue of perseverance.  It provides the energy which impels action. The will helps us chose what we want to do. It helps us refrain from doing what we should not do. It is the energy of the force which helps us keep working until the goal is achieved. It is typical of human activity that our actions are not guided by instinct, but it is guided by intelligence.

The will, necessarily, has to be guided by intelligence. The will cannot manifest itself without the support of movement. The cycle of intelligence to will is not complete without the will finding expression in action.

The Meaning of Movement and Intelligence as “Co-efficient of the Will”
A co-efficient is a cooperation to make a result. Therefore, each function of the will-- intelligence, will, and movement-- is how these elements must coordinate. The will is limited by the function of skill; but, the ability to choose is critical in our function as human beings. Human beings do not act on instinct, so we make choices leading toward each activity. Choices are each guided by knowledge, and we have to have a clear idea of options to make a choice. The stronger we are in such exercises, the more independent we can be of others. Clarity of ideas give us freedom, Dr. Montessori says. Choice-making is a function of our level of independence. And, as a continual reference, it is the intelligence which guides the will and movements, so that we may continue acting in the world. Without volition and intelligence in harmony, we could not live our human lives.

“Conscious will is a power which develops with use and activity… Its development is a slow process that evolves through continuous activity in relationship with the environment.”
              Montessori, the Absorbent Mind

The Gymnastics of the Will in the Daily Habits of Life
The gymnastics of the will play out in the equilibrium between impulse and restraint. Without impulses, we could not take part in human life. And without restraint, we could not regulate the impulses. Imagine a see-saw or balance of impulse vs restraint, balancing the bridge of the will.

Every movement we make has to be perfectly adjusted, within the hand, for example, and we have muscles on either side of joints to control the precision of holding. We balance the contraction of opposing forces. This is how the will functions-- We have a capacity to direct actions and a capacity to restrain actions. Thus, we direct actions specifically toward a specific end. Without this capacity of equilibrium, we see the young child running around and achieving nothing, or even still the child who is so fearful and reluctant of choosing or making a mistake.

In order to achieve nuanced movements, it requires a great deal of practice. It does not come by listening to someone talking to you. It comes through activity and use. As a member of a community, the individual constantly adjusts toward the needs of the group, balancing the individual and the group. These, Dr. Montessori calls, the gymnastics of the will, in daily life. "It is in fact merely a means to an end, and the end is that the child should act together with other children and practice the gymnastics of the will in Daily Life." She also calls restraint and will a "supporting girdle at the margin of consciousness." Then, when we give the child the activities of social behavior, and more practice still, the children no longer have to think of their willed choices, and then they may behave harmoniously as a community. It becomes grace and courtesy when the child is in a habit of putting the needs of others ahead of others-- an outcome of ingrained choice. We begin with the lessons of social behavior, but grace and courtesy comes forth from the habitual exercise of the will.

Stages in the Development of the Will
              “Under proper conditions, the will is a force which impels activities beneficial to life.”
              Montessori, The Absorbent Mind         
The will arises from the horme, horme being that which guides and impels self-construction, toward our survival. Acting under the guidance of the horme, that constructive activity comes into the realm of consciousness. Then, the unconscious force finds its expression as will. Since the will is founded in horme, which acts for the benefit of life, when the will is supported, the will is a force which impels activities beneficial to life. It is natural to assume that in the natural course of development, the will replaces horme to replace life.

There are three periods in the development of the will. At first, action is instigated purely by the non-conscious power of the horme. We think about young babies and the actions we observe in the very young child. The first moments are not under the conscious action of anyone. Yet, as the child expresses the horme again and again, the child becomes more conscious of it, to repeat it again and again, in a conscious way. This is the beginning of the first formation of the will.

But, when we look at the second period, the will begins to help the function of the horme. And the will begins to act. The child's choice is in obedience to the inner impulse, but next time, it is a more conscious choice. What was first impelled by an unconscious force begins to enter the realm of consciousness. As the intelligence develops and the movements become more under the control of the intelligence, the horme recedes further and further into the background.

In the third period, the will can sustain the actions to bring the choice to fruition. We need opportunities for the thought, will, and action to grow together.

Means to Support the Development of the Will
what care must the adult take in order to support the development of the will?
“A will in agreement with what the individual is doing finds the path open for its conscious development. Our children choose their work spontaneously, and by repeating the work they have chosen, they develop an awareness of their actions. That which at first was but a vital impulse (horme) has become a liberal act. The little child’s first movements have become instinctive. Now he acts consciousness and voluntarily, and with this comes an awakening of the spirit. “
Maria Montessori, the Absorbent Mind

In the first we know the child can only do what he is compelled to do by the horme. We only free the child to complete their task. In the second period, when the will begins to make choices under the guidance of the horme, we have to make possible the choices that support the innate need, so that the will has an opportunity to enter the consciousness. We need to be very careful, to take special care and not squash the child's first budding manifestations of the will. When the child begins to make the first choices, we create a safe, secure environment, we help the child get into the habits which support the child's day to day life.

The Relation between Will and Obedience

Obedience is to choose to follow another person’s sense of order:
“Will and obedience go hand in hand, in as much as the will is a prior foundation in the order of development and obedience is a later stage resting on this foundation. The word “obedience” now has a higher meaning that the one usually given to it. It may well imply a sublimation of the individual’s own will.”
              Maria Montessori, the Absorbent Mind

In discussing obeying, we are talking about listening to another person's direction. If I ask a person to do something, they must necessarily follow what I ask. They must understand to respond to what is asked or to have the physical skill to execute the action. And then, once the person understands, she will have to choose to follow-through, to respond to the directive. The obedient one suppresses her own desire to respond to another's desire. Obedience is the latest stage of that development, resting on this foundation. Obedience, according to this definition, is a sublimation of the self-will toward fulfilling the other-desire. Obedience can only come when a person is strong willed. We come again to the importance of the integration of personality.

Characteristics of Three Levels of Obedience
How we support the child through each successive level

In the first period of the development of the will, when anything the child does is instigated by the horme, the child does not have a capacity to obey. Parents understand this when they are dealing with young children-- Dr. Montessori says that even when a child under three cannot be obedient unless the order he receives corresponds with one of his vital urges. The three year old can only be directed through that horme, not having control over movements, and having only unconscious impressions. The young child has no capacity to obey; tacitly, we cannot control their actions except by asking the child to do what they will do anyway. This builds the habit of obedience. Like, "Let me show you where you can put that hat."

In the second period of the development of the will, we can see the beginnings of obedience, where the child can sometimes understand, or willfully carry out the action, but even without being able to replicate the actions, the child can achieve some ends. The child cannot obey, nor can she grasp the reason for following what is asked of her. While these formations are going on, the child can sometimes perform the acquisition or request, but it only when the child's movements and intelligence are more developed can the child respond to a developed will to act with grace and courtesy. When we see a child behaving willfully, the child has not yet developed the powers of the will, and we sometimes see sporadic development of obedience. The child needs the powers to carry out the command. If the child is not yet the master of his own actions, there is even more difficulty in following the will of another.

The power to obey is the last phase in the development of the will. Finally, the child has achieved the sufficient powers not only to be in control of actions, but then the child delights in following the request of the person. Then, the child has developed the trust to consciously and continuously sublimating the will, because this other person has more developed intelligence, which we collectively honor. The developed will can then chose to carry out the will of another.

The Function of the Will in Social Life:

“From what we have observed, obedience comes naturally when there has been preparation… Obedience comes from a force which is a key to the union among begins a strength which keeps humanity together.”
              Montessori, Creative Development in the Child, Vol. 1

We consistently choose to obey the rules of social life, so that we can be in compliance with the needs of the community. This obedience is key to the cohesion between beings. It is essential for the unity and harmony between human beings; we constantly make decisions to defer the will to the greater good. We discriminate and judge to determine positive actions in the community. The negative aspect is that many whole nations can follow along a command which is unhealthy, toward destruction. What Dr. Montessori, observed, is that there is an abundance of obedience to the will of another, but there is not enough discrimination toward the control of obedience. Likewise:

“All social life is organized around this basis of obedience. If there were no obedience, it would be necessary to order the children to do this or that. Thus, social life develops first through inner development, and then by obeying the rules of the environment. .The child is content to obey these rules, because he has the ability to carry out what the rules indicate. Such organization leads slowly to the division of labor and to setting of one’s actions in a specified span of time. This, the children have social experiences which lead to social organization… The placing of ourselves voluntarily in a known order. 

The Relation of the Will to Morality

“Nothing is more dangerous than disorder and a lack of conscience in obedience. Look at all the groups of men who obey when commanded to do any action! Whether to kill or to build—they obey with the same passivity and lack of conscience. It is in the instinct of man to obey, yet he does not know how to obey or what to say.

It is thus extremely important to know the meaning of obedience. Otherwise, adults will always understand obedience to mean doing whatever the caprice of a bigger person commands. Obedience is not a passive factor; it has an organizing power child must be kept alive. So a man must be the holder of his own obedience and he must be capable of disposing of it. He must know how to obey. He must understand that it is necessary to obey for his own defiance and the defiance of his society.”
Montessori, Creative development in the Child, Vol 1. 

Even when I have the will and choice to obey certain rules, we develop the rules and protocols on the basis of our view of society. But, if no one challenged them from times to time, obedience must be exercised with discrimination. The rules and regulations which are man-made, we want to make sure the laws are not absolute and should be questioned. If that is to happen, the social life comes about through the command which is within one's actions. Therefore, the child cooperates with the organization of society. The placing of ourselves in a known order is obedience.

If we want a democratic society for children to have a developed sense of the will. It is essential to obey for the individual and for society, but he must also have a developed sense of the will so that he can perform the tasks of justice.

Each Aspect of the Prepared Environment which Supports the Development of the Will

“The will, like every other function, is strengthened and developed by methodical exercise. In our method, exercises of the will are incorporated with all intellectual exercises and in the everyday life of the child. Outwardly, the child is learning accuracy and grace of movement, refines his sensations, learns to count and write, but, as a more deep-seated result, he becomes master of himself, the forerunner of the man of strong, ready will.”
              Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

When we give the tasks at the right time, they have the function of serving the child's need to develop the will and control, to complete the task of self-construction-- then we will reach the goal of developing the whole person.

The Physical Environment
-        The physical plant which needs care such as watering
-        The furniture which must be walked around carefully, chairs tucked in, tables clean and scrubbed
-        Furnishings such as metal and wooden objects or glass which beg to be chosen for work, in their beauty and clear-showing effects.
-        Real cooking tools and equipment for snack instead of plastic pretend food in a play kitchen

The Materials
-        Which contain built in precision, such as lacing work which cannot be done without fitting the strong back in the lacing hole
-        Built in control of error, such as showing the child to look for no drops of water spilled onto the floor, or a table totally dry at the end
-        Limited materials in all areas, with no duplicate sets to train the will in patience  

The Activities
-        Precision required, such as of movement in spooning and pouring
-        Points of interest, such as each of the red rods in sequence requiring a difference of the first piece
-        Control of error, such as all of the spindles being used and only nine being left at the last box
-        A criteria for perfection, such as a bow being made with equal lengths of string sticking out of the bow
-        Increasing length and complexity, such as the mirrored progression in conversations from oral language up to the world of writing
-        Observation, discrimination, and judgment, such as the child exercises with matching and grading color tablets

The Social Environment
-        The mixed age group, which allows a child to be both an admirer and a protector and helper, through the course of the years, in a true community

The Non-material Environment
-        Laws and rules, not given as “do not” phrases, but as something that the children apprentice each other in, and manifest in the form of grace and courtesy after much practice
-        Freedom within limits, such as how we allow a child to move freely about the classroom with purpose
-        Friendliness with error, insofar as a child is accustomed to using controls of error to check herself, she doesn’t have any  need for anyone to scold or tell her she did poorly
-        Respect, arising naturally from the child’s harmony with her peers and adults in the room

The Prepared Adult
-        Developing trust with the child through a respect for the powers of the child, the Absorbent Mind and the sensitive child, knowing that the child bears a promise for peace for all humankind
-        And serving as a dynamic link between the child and the material

Finally, I also make provision for the child’s discovery that they may not like certain choices-- if the environment is prepared correctly, no choice is possibly wrong-wrong -- leading to the guide’s constant observation,  reflection, and perhaps planning on the basis of our observations. There are many details, in the preparation of the environment, in how each supports their independence. In each, we can see the constant challenge to the will and develop their capacity to become who they are. Dr. Montessori writes:

“Our little children are constructing their own wills when, by a process of self-education, they put in motion complex internal activities of comparison and judgment, and in this wise make their intellectual acquisitions with order and clarity; this is a kind of knowledge capable of preparing children to form their own decisions, and one which makes them independent of the suggestions of others: they can then decide in every act; they decide to take or not to take; they decide to accompany the rhythm of a song with movement; they decide to accompany the rhythm of a song with movement; they decide to check every motor impulse until they desire silence. The constant work which builds up the personality is all set in motion by decision, and this tracks the place on the primitive side of chaos, in which, on the other hand, actions were the outcome of impulses. A voluntary life develops gradually with them; and doubt and timidity disappear, together with the darkness of the primitive mental confusion.”

Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method, Volume I. 

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