DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF A UNIVERSAL ADOPTION OF THE MONTESSORI IDEAS
Now, of course, it is infinitely easier in the first place to cry out to a child, “ Oh, don’t be so careless ! ” than to consider the elements lacking in his training which make him heedless, and throughout years of conscientious effort to exercise the ingenuity necessary to supply those lacking elements. But serious-minded parents do not and should not expect to find life a flowery bed of ease, and it is my conviction that most of us will welcome a solution of our problems, even if it involves the process of oiling and setting in motion the little-used machinery of our brains.
I am opposed in this optimistic conviction by the doctors whom I happen to know personally. They take a gloomy view of the matter and tell me that their experience with human nature leads them to fear that the rules of moral and intellectual hygiene of children, of this new system, excellent though they are, will be observed with as little faithfulness as the equally wise rules of physical hygiene for adults which the doctors have been endeavoring vainly to have us adopt. They inform me that they have learned that, if obedience to the laws of hygiene requires continuous effort, day after day, people will not obey them, even though by so doing they would avoid the pains and maladies which they so dread. “ People will take pills,” physicians report, “ but they will not take exercise. If your new system told them of some one or two supreme actions which would benefit their children, quite a number of parents would strain every nerve to accomplish the necessary feats. But what you are telling them is only another form of what we cry so vainly, namely that they themselves must observe nature and follow her laws, and that no action of their doctors, wise though they may be, can vicariously perform this function for them. You will see that your Dr. Montessori’s exhortations will have as little effect as those of any other physician.”
I confess that at first I was somewhat cast down by these pessimistic prophecies, for even a casual glance over any group of ordinary acquaintances shows only too much ground for such conclusions. But a more prolonged scrutiny and a little more searching inquiry into the matter leads to more encouraging ideas.
It is only yesterday that the doctors themselves outgrew the idea that pills were the divinely appointed cures for all ills. So recent is this revolution in ideas that there are still left among us in eddies, out of the main stream, elderly doctors who lay very little of the modern stress on diet, fresh air and exercise. It seems early in the day to conclude that the majority of mankind will not take good advice if it is offered them. We may not do as well as we might, but we certainly have not turned deaf ears to all the exhortations of reason and enlightenment.
Furthermore, beside the fact that doctors have been preaching “ hygiene against drugs ” to us only a short time, it is to be borne in mind that, as a class, they do not add to their many noble and glorious qualities of mind and heart a very ardent proselytizing fervor. It is perhaps not quite fair to accuse us laity of obstinacy in refusing advice which has been offered with such gentlemanly reserve.
Then, there is the obvious fact that doctors see professionally only the ailing or malcontents of the human family, and they suffer from a tendency common to us all, to generalize from the results of their own limited observation. Our own observation of our own community may lead us to the opposite of their conclusions, namely that it is well worth while to make every effort for the diffusion of theories which tend to improve daily life, since, on the whole, people seem to have picked up very quickly indeed the reasonable doctrine of the prevention of illness by means of healthy lives. If they have done this, and are, to all appearances, trying hard to learn more about the process, it is reasonable to hope that they will catch at a similar reasonable mental and moral hygiene for their children, and that they will learn to leave off unnecessary mental and moral restrictions, the unwise interference with the child’s growth and undue insistence on conformity to adult ideas of regularity.
Lastly, there is a vital element in the situation which is perhaps not sufficiently considered by people anxious to avoid the charge of sentimentality. This element is the strength of parental affection. It is not sentimentality but a simple statement of fact to say that there is in many parents a natural fund of energy, patience, and willingness to undergo self-discipline, which cannot be counted upon in any other numerous class of people. The Montessori system addresses itself to these qualities in parents ; and, for the sound development of its idea of self-education and self-government, trust not only to the wise conclaves of professional pedagogues, but to the cooperation of parents.
A Montessori Mother by Dorothy Canfield Fisher