Patterns and Design
"Cultural context is the mindset that people operate within and that plays a part in everything they do" (Beyer and Holtzblatt, 1998, p. 108).
What did Montessori mean by "scientific pedagogy"? To understand this, we need to consider the cultural context in which Montessori worked. What did people mean by "science" at the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth? What were the prevailing ideas in educational theory when Montessori was developing her method, and how did these influence her? Finally, how did Montessori shape the culture of the Montessori movement, and how does that culture affect present day development of the Montessori method?
In this section, I will consider how nineteenth and twentieth century theories of knowledge influenced the philosophies of science and educational theories of Montessori's time, and how these influenced Montessori's thinking and research as well as the language that developed in the Montessori community to talk about child development and learning. Finally, I will consider modern cultural influences from within and without the Montessori community that influence current practice.
The first part of this of this analysis will consider how Montessori's cultural context influenced her collection and interpretation of data and the application of her findings. It is my intention that this analysis will help me (and perhaps others) to understand, modify or extend the Montessori method with current technologies by revealing some of the affordances and limits of Montessori's original work. Further, it is hoped that the perspective gained by looking a hundred years into the past will make it easier to see the influence of cultural context on Montessori's work and to keep today's cultural context in mind as I develop my own lessons and software.
In the fourth section, attention will be given to the nature of the community that formed around the charismatic Maria Montessori. Although I am a huge fan of the Montessori method as I've seen it implemented in a number of schools, I must confess to a love/hate relationship with Maria Montessori as I know her through her writings, historical pieces about her, and discussions with other Montessorians. She was a brilliant designer of learning environments and a careful observer who not only loved children, but had a level of respect for them that cannot be overstated.
On the other hand, she was a control freak who surrounded herself with accolytes rather than equals who could substantially advance her ideas and her methods. She claimed to be developing a "scientific pedagogy", yet, in her inner circle, loyalty and ideological purity were prized more highly than the questioning attitude of a scientist. She spoke extensively about the value of experimentation, yet insisted that her method be carried out only with tools and training specified and provided by her. [Do we distinguish here between early Montessori and Montessori of the 1920s and beyond, as Hainstock does? If there was a demonstrable change in her attitude, could the same be said of Freud and Marx?]
These attitudes and practices had a heavy cultural influence on the Montessori movement that persists to this day, most notably in the schisms within the movement surrounding the concept of "authentic Montessori" and the disconnect between the movement and academia. At the end of this section we discuss attempts to find common ground between various Montessori factions and to bridge the worlds of the Children's House and the university.
[To be added:
At any point in place and time, there are particular ideas and observable phenomena that are most readily available to participants in various kinds of practice. For example, anyone interested in education in Italy at the turn of the century would have heard of Pestalozzi, Herbart, Spencer, Bergson and others [Kuhn's paradigms?].
[Is it fair to compare Montessori's movement with Dewey's? What about comparing Montessori and Spencer? Freud? Marx? Cover both the positives and negatives of Montessori's movement. Is there anything you can say generally about positives and negatives of Montessori/Freud/Marx/Rand type movements as compared with more open movements? What open movements would you compare it with? Look into James Hutton, Darwin, the Vienna Circle. Can the issue be related to proprietary vs. open source issues in software (protecting an idea vs. sharing it and leaving it open to change)? Is it circle of acolytes vs. circle of equals, or is there an approach that avoids the idea of "us vs. them" altogether?]
[Probably should include prevailing theories of knowledge here and then tie them to prevalent philosophies of science and education in those sections]
The relationship between observations, ideas and innovations is complex. One source of innovation comes from relating ideas and observations from different fields. Another comes from conjecture (Newton: If I could propel a cannon ball hard enough, could it travel all the way around the world before falling back to Earth? Could this account for the orbits of moons and planets? Einstein: What would the world look like if I were travelling at the head of a ray of light?).
Ideas are used to anticipate or determine actions, to guide processes, and to explain or justify outcomes. There is no straight line from idea to innovation to application. In all human action, ideas and experience are involved.
"In the nineteenth century, social science was inseparable from policy and reform, their union probably closer than that between science and technology." (Cahan, 2003, p. 254).
Discussion of Popper's idea of falsifiability, looking for disconfirming evidence, remaining open to criticism. When you find data that appears inconsistent with a theory you can (1) discount it (assume it is incorrect or insignificant), (2) look for an explanation with reference to the theory (maybe there is further missing data to explain the inconsistency, or maybe the inconsistent piece is a special case that was overlooked but can still be explained by some minor addition to the existing theory), or (3) shift paradigms. Any of these responses may be appropriate, depending on the situation.
Scientists need to be willing and able to question their assumptions, but it is impossible to make progress if we shift paradigms every time we encounter a new piece of data that doesn't quite fit. On the other hand, we will never make progress if we discount any data that points to problems in our theory. A healthy peer review process helps most scientific communities steer a reasonable path through these extremes. What are the special problems in the educational community in general and the Montessori community in particular that create obstacles to peer review as a vehicle for progress in educational research?
Experience, policy, and teachers' personal values generally count for more than research in the educational community.
The wider educational community seems especially subject to fads. This does not seem to be the case (in the sense of frequent paradigm shifts) in the Montessori community. This is a good thing. It would be a mistake to lightly abandon any of the principles or practices that have been so successful for over a hundred years in all parts of the globe. On the other hand, it is dangerous to consider any scientific theory or educational practice to be flawless or beyond improvement What mechanisms does the Montessori community have for self-criticism, seeking out data inconsistent with theory, peer review, making progress in the development of the Montessori approach to education and educational research?
Current research. Lillard's work helps draw attention to Montessori from wider community. Feez helps advance theory with new lens for observation. Rathunde's work helps us look at principles deeply as we apply Montessori's work to older children.]