Adaptation lends us a perspective and an orientation to life on the whole. As living beings, we must be adapted to the world around us. To begin, adaptation is a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. The dictionary meaning implies that the organism itself is only changing. However, there is perhaps another sense to consider, of mutual exchange. The word adaptation comes from the Latin word adaptare meaning ‘to fit’. In Dr. Montessori’s words, “The first thing to be realized is that adaptation is a realization of mutual exchange between every living being and its environment…” (Montessori, The Meaning of Adaptation, Communications, 1961). In every sense that there is change in life, there is also change in the environment, mutually, and reciprocally
The Process of Adaptation and Heredity
Adaptation might result in structural changes, physiological changes, or behavioral changes. The hereditary adaptation may take place in the sense of the morphological heredity (the form of the creature) or in the psychic heredity (in the form of instinct that guides function). Therefore, we do not attend specifically to only one creature’s adaptation in isolation but to how modifications with in interaction with one another; for example, in the case of the flower and bee coevolving. We observe that each creature is attuned to each time and space, and unlike humans, we observe that even their choices are largely determined by heredity.
The purpose of these adaptations is the conservation of life, as well as the conservation of the environment in harmony with cosmic organization. Dr. Montessori expresses an unconscious exchange of service between creatures, in this cosmic organization, with harmony when all contribute to the good of the whole. Each organism in this structure has limits, according to specific organizational needs. The individual struggles to adapt individually—therefore, we speak to the organism’s hereditary adaptation. The human, in contrast, adapts through creative adaptation.
Dr. Montessori elaborated on the concept of creative adaptation in the 1946 lectures:
“Humanity is different in this all-important fact – adaptation… He is not obliged by nature to do any particular. He must construct his own adaptation and his own behavior in the world… We poor people do not get these as gifts from nature” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, pp.82).
Therefore, humans do not inherit behavioral adaptations but rather a flexible capacity to learn; or, in another manner of speaking, our heredity is the social learning capacity, the supreme human inheritance of a multiplicity of behavior patterns.
Conservation of Life
For the conservation of life, we need protection, nourishment, and stimulation, to grow and multiply. All of these are critical for our sustenance and development. To fulfill these adaptations, we must create these networks of support for ourselves. She calls humanity “a complex of immense potentialities”. To our credit of challenges, we may list that we have no pre-determined patterns of behavior, no physical form with tools necessary for life or the upkeep of life, and we produce weak or helpless offspring. And, to our credit of boons, we maintain a more metaphysical freedom of the spirit not found in lower animals; tools of a mind that thinks, hands that work, and a heart that loves; and the gift of the child, the agent of all of the above spiritual heredity going forward in the species.
To imagine, our early ancestors, arriving at the end of the ice age, found themselves in a situation of having bodies without proper physical protection. They had no tools for specialized food preparation or the heredity preparation for how to build proper structures in their specific environments, and the human baby was fully dependent on the adult for years before it could assume even basic care of self. For their own survival, they had few tools. Yet, they prevailed simply because they were not adapted to a particular place. This is what is meant of the Freedom of Spirit. With the mind that could reason, they could adapt themselves to any place. With the upright posture, the body was so free to develop capacities for work, in actualizing the self and the community. Finally, the special gift of the capacity to love and care manifested with the unformed human baby who was capable of incarnating the heredity of learned adaptations. Furthermore, the human is endowed with natural tendencies which aid her progress: the human tendencies.
Guiding Instincts: Human Tendencies
“There are certain basic factors that do not change… It is these factors that make the child become adapted to any society, no matter what its pattern of behavior. These all important factors are what psychologists call human tendencies.
“Human tendencies are hereditary. The child possesses them in potentiality at birth and makes use of them to build an individual suited to his time” (Mario Montessori, The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 20).
We can also consider them hereditary instincts which guide behavior, toward interactions with the environment. This passage is in reference to the child, but they are true of all human beings.
The Human Tendencies
Orientation helps to find one’s position in relation to one’s surroundings. It provides a sense of security and a point of reference, the inner compass necessary for exploration. It is based on observation and supported by the tendency for order. It can be an emotional, cognitive orientation of a physical one. In any case, it is a point of reference which is the basis for other exploration, a familiar place for return. It is supported by the tendency for order.
The meaning of exploration is searching and investigating. We use exploration to satisfy fundamental needs—first of all, bodily needs and then spiritual needs. It is supported by the tendency for order and orientation supported by the tendency for movement and activity; and supported by the tendency for exactness, for refinement, and self-perfection. Mario Montessori writes, “The level of present-day civilization testifies to the fact that throughout the existence of humanity man has explored everything there was in his environment. Always driven of course by his needs.” (Mario Montessori, The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 26-27).
It is through this tendency that we discover technologies, lands, food, ways of meeting needs, outward to space and inward to the size of the atom. We explore intellectually, physically, and emotionally. The tendency is supported by the tendency for order and orientation, for movement and activity. It is further supported by the tendency for exactness and self-perfection.
In the human tendency toward order, we find patterns and sequences. We classify observations to create a logical arrangement of different elements. Constituent to this tendency, for example, we categorize plants and animals; we order the seasons and their effects on the environment; the chart the skies and weather, and we map the lands and the seas. Abstractly, we create social environments and moral codes. All of these are evidence of the mathematical mind. All of this is related to the tendency toward orientation, making the world more comprehensible to us.
From the Latin abstrahere, to draw away, based on observation, we begin to intuit aspects which are not directly experienced. Subsequently, we discover the laws of nature and create formulae which define a pattern or ano order. Supported by observation and a tendency for order, we build abstractions.
The imagination is the capacity to form ideas based on knowledge gained by experience. We conceive of something that is not yet there. We draw from observations to meet fundamental needs, in creating tools and developing agriculture. We are supported toward imagination by the tendency for abstraction and order. As we innovate and improve upon the environment, the tendency toward imagination helps us to meet our needs more fully, following exploration.
Work and Activity
Human beings want to move and to be active in purposeful activity, guided by intelligence. The hand moves to make purposeful work of the imagination. The hands translate ideas to action, to meet fundamental needs, such as to create tools which serve the social order. It is through work and activity that humanity manifests the imagination in tools and inventions, supported by the tendency for exactness, precision, and self-perfection. It is through the work of the hands that every human society has built a civilization which is in tune with the environment, with that place:
“So, gradually, each human group established an economy, suited to their surroundings,” Mario Montessori writes (The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 26-27).
Systems of quantification guide the human’s ongoing work. Without exactness, we could not meet our needs. It is not enough to have a tool which will not function just so; we are concerned with the precision of our needs. With the measurement of time, space, and mass with increasing precision, we avoid the happenstance outside of order, another fundamental human tendency. Forthcoming was humanity’s interest in the refinement of tools and skills. Supported by the mathematical mind, the tendency for order and imagination, work and activity, the human endeavors exactness.
Perfect means, literally, to complete. It is the tendency to discover even greater levels of exactitude and precision. Not as an end in itself but as a process, the human is constantly in the process of attaining greater levels of precision. Supported by the tendency of exactness, order, work, and activity, the human seeks to self-correct and create. Also supported by the tendency for exploration, the human continually refines in increasing levels of activity. Through repetition, one finds ultimate expression in even greater control of self. Therefore, this work is rejuvenation and nor exhaustion.
“If one can assimilate work spiritually, that is work in such a way as to satisfy the spirit, then work becomes play and one feels stronger, happier, and more rested because of it.” (Mario Montessori, The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 35).
We are interdependent beings. In association, we recall the critical survival of early man learning to live and work together. The need for association led to the collaboration and division of labor in society, as well as the care for the human baby, “the first nucleus of society”. With the tendency for order and abstraction, it lays the basis of human society and culture and civilization adapted to a time and place. Association supported the adaptation of the child to the conditions of the social group into which she is born, thus supporting the survival of the group.
Communication led to the development of language, supported by the tendency toward abstraction, the tendency to imagine, and to create in collaborative and cooperative work. This has allowed evolution of the being and the entire civilization. It supports our human adaptation even today.
Spirituality in the form of a love of beauty is supported by the tendency for work and self-perfection. We find the human’s need spiritual nourishment also finding a basis in music and art. Spirituality satisfies a need to explore beyond the perceivable universe, to find a greater order. With the tendency for abstraction, imagination and order provides the basis for religious beliefs. None of these needs appear to be immediately essential, but examining every society across ages, there is constantly this exploration of trying to understand the beyond, the who in any beyond, and looking for explanations of a greater order, forming a basis for world religion. On the basis of imagination and order, we create religion to satisfy this need, found in all places, cultures, and ages. The child’s response to beauty and order reflects a newfound spirituality.
Conservation of Life
All of the tendencies tend towards the conservation of life. The fundamental needs serve protection—in shelter, clothing, defense against predators and disease, in transportation. And in nourishment, we find food, tools for hunting and gathering, and food production and its transport. In our need for stimulation, the human finds association with other, communication, spirituality, and love of beauty.
Then—in Human Society, we arrive at community. In supporting adaptation at these levels, we have created human society in language and cooperation, in common beliefs and values that guide our interactions with one another.
This lays the foundation for the sciences, as a way of life adapted to the environment and an economy suited to a place. The culture and the forthcoming behavior patterns of music, art, and sciences follow because humans do not come into this place with a certain pattern of behavior. Because of the toolkit of the universal human tendencies, it makes possible the creation of human society. While the human creates her own contribution toward her own needs, it contributes also to the whole of conservation of life, the harmony of the whole.
Humanity’s Place in the Cosmic Organization
Humans create new conditions of life by modifying the environment. Our role is not just the maintenance of the organization, but the human is capable of maintaining the harmony of the whole even in the context of the modification of the environment. It is our role to create this environment which is above nature, the super-nature. According to Montessori:
“The great power of man is that he adapts to the environment and modifies the environment. We must see this vision of man in correlation with the environment and his adaptation to it” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures pp. 92).
Where do we fit in, in this cosmic whole? To support the child in her role in the cosmic whole, the adult must be able to answer that question, as one who builds a superstructure of adaptation.
The human tendencies are a toolkit for adaptation, active through all of life, in such a way that it supports the formation and development of individual human personality as well as the cosmic significance to the whole suprastructure of nature. Continually, we adapt to time and place in particular instances, toward a higher plane of development on both an individual and macro-social degree. In such a way, both the particular individuals and the environment itself within the environment adapt and may be said to be in a manner of evolution, in contact, according to the tendency toward perfection. Our work as individuals contributes on an unconscious level toward greater cosmic organization and increasing intentionality and awareness. Our challenge is awareness; yet we hope the challenge will be ameliorated through supporting young people in the satisfaction of the human tendencies. As human development is a creative, constructive process, the child’s work is featured as a possibility for change and growth in society:
“One of the tasks of the child is to build himself adapted to the environment…Every man that is born must prepare his personality anew. There is no hereditary adaptation in individuals, each must develop something which corresponds to it. Whenever a child is born, at birth he has not got the behavioral characteristics of the group into which he is born; he has to create and prepare them. He has to learn their language and the customs and the use of their implements etc. In others words, while developing himself, he unconsciously develops his own adaptation to his environment. To understand the child’s tendencies with the purpose of educating him, we must see man in correlation with his environment and how his adaptation is created” (Maria Montessori, The Meaning of Adaptation, Communications, 1961).
It is through the child that human evolution of human society comes to a higher plane of development. Understanding how we adapt using the human tendencies allows us to support the child in this work, as it is the child who will bring about this change.
The Role of Education
If adaptation is so fundamental to life, the role of education is to support this adaptation through the functions of the human tendencies. Dr, Montessori writes:
“If we are to walk, we must have a ground to walk on… Adaptation must come first. We must accept adaptation as the basis upon which we can build a concept of education” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, pp. 87).
“Adaptation to the environment is a fundamental part of education,” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, pp. 93).
This is adaptation and accommodation to our cosmic growth. The human tendencies being with us through all of life need various supports at different points in life.
“If education is to prepare man for the present, and the immediate future, he will need a new orientation towards the environment. The real purpose of education is to prepare the orientation for future generations, who will progress to a new plane. Humanity is not conscious of this. We still have the sentiments and the orientation of the past. There is no clear consciousness of the present, which is the beginning of the future. We can only help man if we aid the child to be better adapted to the future of civilization” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, pp. 93).
Only with the new orientation can the child contribute to this new type of civilization, a new way of life and work. The child is the vehicle for bringing change to humanity.
“The work of the child is like heredity, a heredity that is created by each child who constructs the man of his group. The consequence is that if you want to change these deep deposits in man which are against those of another group, you cannot turn to the adult. They can understand, but they can do nothing. Instead, you must take humanity during the age of growing, when the subconscious is being built up just by doing something in the environment, not by direct instruction to the intelligence. Place the child so that he can absorb something from the environment which will be part of him forever—so that he can have the chance of understanding afterwards—so that the subconscious and the conscious are not too greatly in conflict—so that in his deep deposits he is not stunted—so that he is not living within the narrow confines of his group, but in a vast environment. We must prepare a wider environment for childhood if men are ever to understand each other better. Not just to understand each other at a rational level, but so that they can act together following their deep characteristics:
“We must look at children as a vehicle for bringing change to humanity…” (Montessori, 1946 London Lectures, pp.101)
The adaptation of man did create each culture with its own ways of being, in language, moral codes, and incarnated behavior patterns of isolated groups. Yet, the child is capable of surpassing these differences based on what they incarnate on an unconscious level. Anything given openly and supportively to the small child, beyond the narrow patterns of a single group can support the unification of humanity in relationship with the larger cosmic whole. If we give this orientation to the young child, we create individuals who are consciously connected to the whole without conflict between what they have taken in subconsciously and what we are telling them of unity and cosmic wholeness. Although we talk of cosmic education as something given to the older child, the adult must be oriented toward the cosmic from a fundamentally early, constructive age, so that the child sees herself originally as a child part of a larger whole, for the future of civilization rather than a culturally fragmented future. We express to the child the fundamental unity of humanity, in a variety of cultures, as they incarnate in themselves a vehicle for change to humanity, and bring about a future peace currently unknown.
Mario Montessori writes:
“ During the period of human growth these tendencies assume different aspects by the aid of what Dr. Montessori called, “sensitive periods”. It is logical that if one can discover both tendencies and sensitive periods and one is able to second them, he will have found a secure and permanent foundation on which to base education, if education is viewed as a help to fulfill the optimum potential in the child.” (Mario Montessori, The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 18).
Manifestation in the first plane child
We reflect on how the human tendencies manifest in the first plane child. Toward orientation, the child begins exploring the Casa with large objects like furniture. To satisfy her need for exploration, the child orients to this room within the larger whole of the school. The child learns a sense of order in movements with precision, where every object has a place in the space. The child builds abstraction in work with language and sensorial materials, then later on in writing and mathematics. In imagination, the child interprets stories. She works and applies herself to moving activity through the day without tiring through the practice of concentration. She moves delighted by exactness and self-perfection through repetition. Through association, she finds herself in a group of peers in the Casa. She satisfies needs for communication through the activities of social life, and she gains an appreciation for beauty, art, and music to nurture her emergent spirituality.
Conclusion: Our Method
“There is one thing that will never fail: that is the Montessori method… if you understand it as Dr. Montessori understood it.
“I shall tell you why. Because the essence of that method is: ‘to help the development of the child and help the child to adapt himself to the conditions of his present.’
“True, the conditions will change, but there are certain things that do not change. And those are just the things that Dr. Montessori emphasizes… And if educationally one bases oneself on what is important for life and for development, then the Montessori method will always live” (Mario Montessori, The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education, pp. 17-18).
Through this explanation, it is clear why this method is as useful today as it was when it was created a hundred years ago—because the Montessori pedagogy is based on the fundamental human tendencies of the child, what is critical for adaptation universally. The foundations are the principles of human development. Therefore, the Guide asks how she is serving the child’s internal human tendencies, to serve the cosmic whole. Focus on the human tendencies refines the practice of guiding the child, in every area of response to the child’s needs, as they define every human’s connection to his or her surroundings. The Human Tendencies lie at the center of the understanding of children.