cos Educational Theory

Cultural Model

  1. Philosophy of Science
  2. Educational Theory
  3. Terms
  4. Current Practice

Work Models

  1. Flow Model
  2. Sequence Model
  3. Artifact Model
  4. Cultural Model
  5. Physical Model
  6. Metaphors


  1. Design Problem
  2. Literature Review
  3. Work Models
  4. Design Patterns
  5. Design Experiments
  6. Lesson Ideas
  7. Montessori Computes
  8. Thinking About Circles

Related Links

Patterns and Design


Under Construction I am not very organized or methodical in my reading. Web pages seem like a good way to keep track of the various threads I'm pursuing so I can find my way back to the main one--I'm trying to understand the context in which Montessori worked, so I can better understand what she wrote and where she got her ideas. To keep track of my reading, I write down quotes I find interesting and add thoughts in brackets as they occur to me. My goal is to one day have more notes than quotes on these pages, and maybe even develop something coherent and interesting. Until then, the "under construction" icon will remain as a warning for those who might mistakenly think there's something readable on these pages.

Early Educational Theory

  • Montessori's study of pedagogy
    • 1897-1898, Montessori took courses in pedagogy and studied Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel
    • in 1899, Montessori went to the Bourneville Institute to study the methods of Itard and Seguin
  • Educationists before Spencer
    • Comenius (1592-1670)
    • Locke (1632-1704)
    • Rousseau (1712-1778)
    • Condillac (1715-1780, disciple of Locke, influenced Spencer)
    • Jacob Rodriguez Pereira (1715-1780, after moving to Paris, was "on close and intimate terms" with Rousseau, see Culverwell, 1913, p. 13)
    • Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Social reformer -> educator.
    • Itard (1774-1838). Drew on the philosophy of Rousseau and the scientific work of Condillac
    • Herbart (1776-1841). Set out to give a basis in psychology for Kant's work.
    • Froebel (1782-1852)
    • Seguin (1812-1880)
  • Spencer (1820-1903)

"Here lies the significance of my pedagogical experiment in the 'Children's Houses.' It represents the results of a series of trials made by me, in the education of young children, with methods already used with deficients. My work has not been in any way an application, pure and simple, of the methods of Seguin to young children, as any one who will consult the works of the author will readily see. But it is none the less true that, under- lying these two years of trial, there is a basis of experiment which goes back to the days of the French Revolution and which represents the earnest work of the lives of Itard and Seguin."

The Montessori Method

"We shall find the historical basis of the Montessori method in the work of Itard and Seguin with idiots; in the work of Periere with deaf-mutes; of HaŁy for the blind, and in the treatises of the Christian School (St. Simonism). Similarly, we shall see that the principles underlying the Montessori method have more in common with the theories of Spencer, Rousseau, Descartes and Pestalozzi, than with the philosophy of Froebel. Such a statement is not meant to mean that there are inherent conflicts between the methods of the kindergarten and those of the Casa dei Bambini. Rather they are supplemental methods in whose combination the American teacher may find a means of improved pedagogy."

(New Jersey State Conference of Social Work, 1912, pp. 108-109)

[Web sources on Condillac:

An essay on the origin of human knowledge: Being a supplement to Mr. Locke's ... By …tienne Bonnot de Condillac, Thomas Nugent


[Web sources on Itard and Seguin:

Report on education By Edward Seguin

Idiocy: and its treatment by the physiological method By Edward Seguin

The history of special education: from isolation to integration By Margret A. Winzer

Problems of subnormality By John Edward Wallace Wallin

The Handbook of private schools, Volume 6 By Porter Sargent

International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, Volume 15 By Norman W. Bray

The Child-study monthly, Volume 4 By Alfred Bayliss, William Otterbein Krohn, C. Victor Campbell, Albert Henry Yoder, Illinois Society for Child-Study

Proceedings of the annual session By International Order of Good Templars. Vermont. Grand Lodge

The Common school journal, Volume 9 edited by Horace Mann

The Wild Boy of Aveyron By Harlan Lane

The forbidden experiment: the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron By Roger Shattuck

The Physiological Basis of Primary Education by Seguin in The culture demanded by modern life: a series of addresses and arguments on ... By Edward Livingston Youmans, John Tyndall, Arthur Henfrey, Thomas Henry Huxley, Sir James Paget, Michael Faraday, William Whewell, William Ballantyne Hodgson, Herbert Spencer, Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard, Justus Liebig (Freiherr von)

In the name of the child: health and welfare, 1880-1940 By Roger Cooter, Society for the Social History of Medicine

The British and foreign medical review or quarterly journal of ..., Volume 24

Addresses and proceedings - National Education Association of the ..., Volume 50 By National Education Association of the United States

The encyclopaedia and dictionary of education: a comprehensive ..., Volume 3 By Foster Watson

Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States By James W. Trent


Object Lessons

"Our knowledge of the material world is obtained through the senses. The organs of sense are the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue and palate, and the nerves of touch located in the skin. The special nerves of these organs are acted on by things external to the body; the effect is conveyed to the brain; and mental impressions or ideas are the result. Thus a red colour acting on the retina, the sound from a whistle acting on the auditory nerves, or the smell of an onion on the olfactory nerves produces a definite mental impression. The five sensory organs, then, are so many doors and windows by which knowledge enter the mind."

"There is, however, another source of knowledge of material bodies. In this case the mental impressions are derived from within the body, and are due to muscular exertion. It is by muscular feeling that we estimate the amount of force required to overcome resistance. Thus we get the ideas of elasticity and weight from the amount of active energy put forth by the muscles to overcome inertia in the one case and gravitation in the other. If a weight is placed in the hand we are conscious of a certain amount of force expended to keep it from falling; if the weight is increased we are conscious of an increased expenditure of muscular energy."

"The mental impressions, formed by and through the senses, including muscular feeling, are called sensations."

"By the organs of sense we are said to perceive, or to make mental notes of external bodies, and these mental notes we call perceptions. Perception is the first step in knowledge: attentive perception leades to observation; observation is the forerunner of comparison; while comparison is the basis of classification; and these together constitute the foundation of all knowledge."

"The primary purpose of lessons on common objects and natural phenomena is to cultivate the senses, the train to habits of attention, intelligent observation, and accurate comparison, and so to lead up to the higher processes of the mind--reason and judgment. Of course the acquistion of information is an important aim; but the object lesson is designed to assist and guide the child to discover properties of things, and thus acquire knowledge for himself, ranther to pour information into his mind like wheat into a sack."

"Mental impressions are formed at a very early period of childhood. A bright light or a shining object attracts attention before the child has acquired the power of taking hold with its hands; and a certain amount of discrimination, enabling it, for instance, to distinguish the face of its mother from that of a stranger, quickly follows. The power of recognising resemblances and differences rapidly increases, new ideas are as rapidly acquired; and when the child enters school, he enters it with his perceptive faculties, to a certain extent, cultivated, and with his mind a treasury of simple ideas."

"The natural course for the teacher would seem to be to gather up into something like order, and to perfect, that which has been so far imperfectly accomplished; and then, starting from this as a basis, to evolve a systematic course of training, proceeding step by step in a natural order, each step being a logical sequence of the preceding. Further, the teacher who would best succeed must take childhood's method of imbibing knowledge and adapt it to her own use. Restless activity, insatiable curiosity, and love of imitation characterize childhood. What the child sees he wants to know about, handle, and examine, and, if possible, to take to pieces, or otherwise experiment upon; what he sees done he wants to do, and if opportunity be not found for the indulgence of his natural activity, he will find the opportunity for himself. An object lesson, then, besides fulfilling some definite purpose in training the perceptive faculties, should provide something for the children to do to satisfy their innate activity, something to examine and discover to arouse their curiosity, and something to copy to gratify their desire for imitation. Herein lies the secret of securing attention, of begetting a state of vigorous mental activity, and of associating pleasure with instruction."

"The selection of lessons, and their adaptation to the capacities of the scholars, or to their different stages of advancement, is another point of fundamental importance. A child of four years of age is a different being, intellectually, from a child of seven; and a lesson suited to the capacity of the one must be totally unsuited to the mental condition of the other. The mental faculties of a child are strengthened and invigorated by proper exercise, but are weakened and depressed by being exercised on subjects beyond his powers of comprehension. To graduate the lessons to the mental condition and previous training of the scholars necessitates a complete system. It is not sufficient to select a lesson at random, no matter how skilfully it may be handled. Each lesson, whilst fulfilling its own special purpose, must form a link in the chain, a unit in the whole."

"Nor is the method of giving the individual lessons of less importance than their selection and adaptation. Occasional information given about things of every-day life does not serve the distinctive aim of object lessons. To be a passive recipient of information gives no pleasure to a child. To hold an object before it, and enumerate it general properties--what it is composed of, or where or how it is made--and then to get the information returned by questioning, is at best but a mere exercise of the memory; it does nothing in the way of exercising and developing the more important mental powers."

"'To tell a child this, and to show the other, is not to teach it how to observe, but to make it a mere recipient of another's observations--a proceeding which weakens rather than strengthens its powers of self-instruction, which deprives it of the pleasure resulting from successful activity, which presents this all-attractive knowledge under the aspect of formal tuition, and which thus generates that indifference and even disgust with which these object lessons are sometimes regarded. On the other hand, to pursue the true course is simply to guide the intellect to its appropriate food, and to habituate the mind from the beginning to that practice of self-help which iit must ultimately follow. Children should be led to make their own investigations and to draw their own inferences. They should be told as little as possible and induced to discover as much as possible.' (Herbert Spencer)"

"Having formed new ideas of things by the method of obseveration and experiment under the guiding hand of the teacher, our next step is to endeavour to fix these ideas in the minds of the children by means of language. But in every case words must follow ideas; in fact, terms should not be given till the necessity for them is felt. Thus, suppose 'a liquid' to be the subject of the lesson. The children are led by experiment on several liquid bodies to note that they all have certain common properties--such as flowing in a stream, finding the lowest level, spreading out and filling up hollows, easily flowing in drops, having no definite shape, but taking the shape of the vessel into which they are poured--and the necessity is felt for one term which at once embodies all these properties. The extension of the children's vocabulary in this way is one of the minor advantages of object lessons; and further, to secure freedom and accuracy in speech, the children should be encouraged to answer all questions, as far as possible, in complete sentences, or at any rate in complete phrases."

"The teacher may commence object lessons by taking some familiar object--such, for instance, as the black-board--and lead the children to observe its colour, shape, substance, surface, and so on; but then we have so many properties in combination that the scholars are not likely to get very clear notions of any. It is desirable, therefore, if not acutally necessary, that lessons on objects should be preceded by a special training in colour, form, size, weight, hardness, and others of the more conspicuous properties of bodies. Lessons on objects may then be introduced gradually, and, to a large extent, they may be made to constitute simple practice in the application of previously acquired knowledge."

"In dealing with the properties or qualities of objects, those only should be dwelt upon which render the objects valuable for the several uses in which they are employed. Thus, all childre are alive to the fact that we cannot see through sponge, cork, india-rubber, or leather; but to stop to describe these objects as opaque is a waste of time. On the other hand, although the children know equally well that we can see through glass, its property of transparency must be made a cardinal point in a lesson on glass, because it is this property which make glass specially useful."


"Short, simple, pleasing, and attractive should be the characteristic qualitites of the first object lessons; so short as never to weary, so simple as to call for scarcely an apreciable effort, and as pleasant and attractive as play itself."

"To train the senses, to cultivate habits of observation, to note, to compare, to contrast should be their aim."

"The lessons should form the first step in a complete system, the foundation on which future lessons are to be constructed, the key-note for other subjects of a similar character."

"The subjects should be selected from simple 'every-day things,' with which the children are most familiar, and which are likely to prove the most interesting."

"The little scholars should be encouraged not only to look at, to feel, to taste, to compare; but they should be led to talk about the things, and ask questions concerning them."

"At this early stage, where the powers of concentration are so feeble, the object should be placed as far as possible in the hands of all the children. If this is impracticable, then the specimens should be of sufficient bulk to be seen distinctly by every member of the class; but whatever may require to be done by way of experiment, such as feeling, tasting, &c., should be done by the pupils themselves. 'It is what the child does, that it learns to know."

"The lessons of this first stage are offered as illustrations of the sort of object lessions suitable to children of from four to five year of age. They have for their definite aim and purpose to train the children,--

(1.) To discriminate between the folowing colours: white, black, red, yellow, and blue.

(2.) To distinguish and name the following lines and forms: straight line (perpendicular, horizontal, and oblique), bent line, crooked line, square, oblong, and ball-shape.

(3.) To discriminate between sweet, salt, and sour tastes.

(4.) To appreciate the general differences between rough and smooth, hard and soft, long and short broad and narrow, thick and thin, heavy and light."

"It is important that the children should not pass to the next stage till the subjects of this course are thoroughly mastered, not only by a few of the more clever scholars, but by the bulk of the class [BREAKDOWN: "more clever scholars" are bored, those who haven't mastered the subjects are anxious.]. The lessons need not be repeated in the same form, nay should not; for the thoughtful teacher can exercise her class on the various ideas herein involved in an almost infinite variety of ways. Neither should the teacher slavishly follow the order of the different points in the lessons here given, much less confine herself to the identical questions in the text. Notes of object lessons can never be anything more than general guides to the careful teacher. They may assist her to confine herself to the definite purpose of the lesson, and point out the way in which she should strive to guide the thoughts of the children; but the actual questions to be asked and explanations to be given must always depend to a very great extent on the answers given by the children. The highest kind of teaching is that wherein the teacher by skilful questioning leads her scholars to imagine that they have discovered something new for themselves. [guided discovery by Socratic method]"

[Differences between object lessons and Montessori lessons for four or five year old: group lessons vs. individual lessons, familiar objects vs. isolation of difficulty, talk based vs. activity based.]

(Ricks, 1893, pp. 1-5)

"In 'The Montessori Method' Dr. Montessori has most generously acknowledged her indebtedness to Séguin. Long before Séguin returned in 1880 from the Vienna Universal Exhibition as United States Commissioner on Education, he had dreamed of 'the union of the joyous exercises of the kindergarten with the application of physiology to education.' This dream has found in the work of Dr. Montessori a fuller realization than Séguin could have imagined, and a richer fulfillment in a method that is psycho-physiological. Over half a century has passed since Séguin wrote in Idiocy and Its Treatment that the 'physiological education of the senses is the royal road to the education of the intellect; experience, not memory, the mother of ideas.' Dr. Montessori has answered the appeal of Séguin, and from the physiological methods of the eduction of idiots has 'obtained a formula applicable to universal education.'"

"One other principle of Séguin's underlies the method of Montessori; education through the development of the affective functions. It may be true that the study of Séguin inspired in some measure Montessori's beautiful love for the child. Certainly it is true that these great French and Italian teachers combine with a common method of the physiological sense training the principle that 'to make the child feel that he is loved, and to make him eager to love in his turn, is the end of our teaching as it has been its beginning. If we have loved our pupils, they felt it and communicated the same feeling to each other; if they have been loved, they are loving'"

"...It might be well in the serious study of the Montessori method to bear in mind Séguin's conclusions from the experiments of Periere."

"1st. That the senses, and each one in particular, can be submitted to physiological training by which their primordial capacity may be indefinitely intellectualized."

"2d. That one sense may be substituted for another as a means of comprehension and of intellectual culture."

"3d. That our most abstract ideas are comparisons and generalizations by the mind of what we have perceived through our sense."

"4th. That sensations are intellectual functions performed through external apparatus as much as reasoning and imaginations through more internal organs."

(New Jersey State Conference of Social Work, 1912, pp. 109-110)

"...Seguin's work intrigued American social reformers like Howe and Wilbur because appeared to answer the fundamental question: Can human deficiencies, expecially deficiencies that affect human intelligence, be reclaimed? In the 1840s there was room for both optimism and pessimism in answering this question. In Europe and America, schools were successfully training the deaf, dumb, and blind by focusing on their other senses. Success, however, came by overcoming one failed sense; a failed mind was another matter. The mind, after all, was the seat of all the senses. How could one train the senses in the absence of a mind? For Seguin's second mentor, Esquirol [Jean-Marc Itard was the first. Itard met Seguin in 1837 and died in 1838. Jean-Etienne Esquirol became Seguin's mentor after Itard's death. Esquirol died in 1840.], reclaiming the mind of an idiot had been a doubtful, if not impossible, prospect. In 1818 in an article on idiocy in the Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, he had painted a hopeless picture for the treatment and cure of idiocy; and in his 1838 Des maladies mentales, published about the time he coauthored his report with Seguin, he had reaffirmed that hopelessness. The most one could do for idiots was to care for them in a humane and orderly manner and provide moral treatment, which at least would not exaggerate their otherwise downward degeneracy and at best might result in some improvement in their habits."

"In this context of success and hopelessness, Seguin began to education idiots and to develop a theory of physiological education. This theory drew on several intellectual antecedents. Locke, and closer to Seguin's French roots, Abbé de Condillac, had raised questions about the nature of humans and their ability to think and about what it means to think in the context of adaptation to the environment. Condillac, departing from the Cartesian emphasis on the mind's separateness from the senses and emphasizing the mind's unique capacity to utilize and generate ideas, had posited a radical 'sensualism,' a view that the senses were the agents of ideas. Seguin's first mentor, Itard, had absorbed Condillac's writings and had remained a sensualist, despite the mediating influences of Abbé Sicard and his use of signing with the deaf. Itard's labors with the Wild Boy of Aveyron had been an effort, besides other personal and professional goals, to demonstrate the theoretical claims of Condillac. From Itard, then, Seguin had absorbed both the Condillacan emphasis on the senses as the starting point for the development of the mind and the Sicardan method of translating that emphasis into signing techniques for education deaf-and-dumb students. From Esquirol, Seguin was exposed to a view of moral treatment, whose antecedents in France went back to Pinel, as well as a naturalistic view of the mind in which mental deficiencies were permanent."

"After working with idiots for nearly ten years, Seguin began studying the techniques of Jacob-Rodrigues Pereire, the grandfather of two of his fellow Saint-Simonians. Pereire's emphasis on educating the deaf and dumb to communicate through touch would modify and reinforce Seguin's departure from Itard's and Sicard's emphasis on education through sight. From Pereire, too, Seguin developed a new appreciation for Rousseau's claim that notions mediate between senses and ideas. From the Saint-Simonians, Seguin drew on a 'Christian socialism,' a utopian vision of the potentiality of educating idiots and, albeit vague and incomplete, of reintegrating idiots into the mainstream of society. Finally, beginning with his work with Wilbur, Seguin was influenced by his experience in the United States. These influences, including his work at Syracuse and Randall's Island, his medial credentialing, and his comparative studies of American and European institutions in the last years of his career, shaped Seguin's mature vision of educating idiots, a legacy--not one he would have completely anticipated or chosen--to future generations of American superintendents and social reformers."

(Trent, 1995, pp. 44-45)

"[According to Seguin,] the behavior of idiots was not the natural outcome of idiocy but rather the outcome of an unnatural flaw. Idiots, then, were not as Pinel and Esquirol had claimed 'devoid of understanding and heart' because of an absence of mind, nor was their condition as Gall claimed the result of overly small, overly large, or malformed skulls... Idiocy was the result of a flawed interaction of the will and the nervous system that affected the mind. Although Seguin acknowledged that several factors could complicate the conditions of idiots, they like all other human beings had sensations, perceptions, and mental capacities. Their inability to control these sensations, perceptions, and mental capacities was the result of the arrested development of the will, which, according to Seguin, likely occurred before, at, or shortly after birth."

(Trent, 1995, p. 46)

"What [Seguin] called physiological education had three emphases: muscular or physical education (activity), education of the senses (intelligence), and moral treatment (will)."

(Trent, 1995, p. 46)

"[Physical] exercises should never emphasize repititious motions in the belief that repetition itself led to learning. If a movement or exercise was repeated, it must be done so, Seguin urged, to reach a specific and planned goal. Here Seguin departed from Itard, who had stressed repetition as a means of learning. Too, avoiding rote exercises facilitated the overcoming of the idiot's 'negative will,' which, Seguin insisted, was the principal impediment to idiots' learning. Physical exercises, therefore, must be stimulating and exciting, drawing always on the idiot's desire for pleasure, enjoyment, and companionship with other idiots (Seguin, 1866, 71). Seguin also underscored imitation as an effective tool for exciting the will. The pupil's imitation of the teacher or of educationally advanced idiots was for Seguin preferable to endless repetition based on the Condillacan notion of direct sensual learining (Seguin [1843] 1980, 68-76)."

(Trent, 1995, p. 47)

"Since [Seguin's] time, the methods, tools, and theoretical foundations for educating mentally disabled people have changed surprisingly little. Indeed, many of the techniques demonstrated by Seguin for successfully educationg mentally disabled people have now ben available for nearly 150 years. Better understanding of physical therapy and behavior modification has led to improvements in education, subtleties in equipment have allowed easier access to learning, and medical advances have made for healthier learners. Yet, Seguin's physiological education remains amazingly contemporary. Neither his technical advancements nor his educational theories remain wanting."

(Trent, 1995, p. 58)

[Although Seguin wanted to see idiots integrated into society, industrialization after the Civil War required more of workers, and idiots were moved into institutions at an even higher rate.]

[Before Seguin, most American reformers did not thing seriously about educating idiots.]

[Montessori diverges from Dewey (and other progressives?) in interesting ways.

Montessori made extensive use of didactic materials based on the work of Itard and Seguin (she referenced Wilhelm Wundt, Gustav Fechner, Ernst Weber and Binet as developers of tests that could be modified for pedagogy). Dewey used "raw materials". Dewey's approach seems more empirical/positivistic in comparison to Montessori. Montessori's didactic materials seem like archetypes (or representations of archetypes) that an idealist might use to evoke a mneme (the ideas of mneme and horme came from T. Percy Nunn by way of Jung and others). But in Absorbent Mind, Montessori doesn't use the idea of mneme to describe any kind of racial memory. Rather, she means it as a special kind of memory formed in the earliest time of life. She cites German biologist Richard Semon as originator of the term on page 62.

Montessori introduced the elementary child to the world through cosmic education (related to the work of her great uncle Antonio Stoppani) rather than starting locally like Dewey.

Montessori had a significantly different theory of stages. Rather than moving from a less perfect to a more perfect state, Montessori saw children as having different sensitivities at different periods of life. Earlier in her career, she encountered anthropological studies that claimed, based on measurements of human skulls, that men had larger brains than women and were therefore intellectually superior. She looked at the data from a woman's point of view, adjusted it to account for the ratio of body size to brain size, and argued that the data showed the superiority of women. She later rejected anthropometrics as a scientific instrument, but in her theory of sensitive periods, she also chose to look at data through a different lens than her male colleagues.

The Theosophical Society played an important role in Montessori's development. Through it, she met Percy Nunn. Thomas Edison, a major supporter of Montessori's in the United States, was also a Theosophist. Theosophists founded the New Education Foundation (NEF). The first couple of A.M.I. conferences were held jointly with the NEF. It was the head of the Theosophical Society that brought Montessori to India. Rudolph Steiner was a Theosophist before he founded Anthroposophy.

"[Vico's] early work in pedagogy consists of seven Latin orations (1699-1708) delivered at an annual ceremony to welcome new students... The sixth... argues for a graded, flexible order of studies, dependent upon the normal development from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood. According to his concept, which anticipates Rousseau, Montessori and Piaget, Vico treats a child not as a malformed adult, to be reshaped like plastic matter, but as a person with natural qualities and individual talents that flower only at certain stages..." (Russo, 2005, p. 94)

[Montessori] was very heavily influenced by Rousseau. Many passages of her books read like variations on themes by Rousseau, and her criticisms of the adult world, which in her opinion gives no consideration to children at all, are also reminiscent of his attitude. Her complaints about wet nurses and the straps, frames, protective helmets and baskets which were employed to teach children to walk too early were inspired by Rousseau, as was her resultant conclusion: "It is essential to let nature have its on way as far as possible; the more freedom children are allowed to develop, the quicker and more perfectly they will attain higher forms and functions."

She definitely had not carried out a systematic study of Rousseau's works - but just as she adopted a great deal of the critical discussion of culture and society of her own day, she must have read at leòast some parts of Emile, above all the first book.

Thomas Percy Nunn, at that time president of the English section of the New Education Fellowship, met [Montessori] when she gave a series of lectures in London. His ideas of mneme and hormic theory, presented in his book Education. Its Data and First Principles (Nunn, 1920), helped her arrive at her view of the constructive function of the developing human mind, which determines the course of life in constant interaction with the environment and in so doing takes on a definite shape itself... [Nunn was mentioned in Montessori's work] in connection with the concept of "absorbent mind". (Rohr, p. 3)

Montessori embraced [Herbart's] concept of orderly steps and developed materials carefully designed to facilitate each step. (Smith, 2005, p. 3)

Theories of stages applied to society--Comte, Hegel, Marx

Cosmic education and Big History project

Also see Montessori's comments on Herbart in Spontaneous Activity in Education (Montessori, pp. 44-46). From early on, Montessori seems conflicted about the wisdom of "speculative positivism" or "philosophical psychology" compared with empirical research. She seems to accept some of Herbart's ideas even while contrasting his lessons based on "philosophical psychology" with her lessons based on "experimental psychology". On page 46 of Spontaneous Activity, she quotes the "speculative positivist" Ardigò to support her own ideas. Note her comments on intuition and empirical research in Pedagogical Anthropology.

Knowledge originates in experience

"our ideas originate in experience (we can trace the genealogy, as it were, of any set of complex ideas back to simple ideas that originated in sense experience)"

(Philips and Burbles, p. 7)

Guiding Principles

"...Until a rational psychology has been established, it is possible, with the aid of certain guiding principles, to make empirical approximations toward a perfect scheme. To prepare the way for further research we will now specify these principles..."

  1. That in education, we should proceed from the simple to the complex...
  2. To say that our lessons ought to start from the concrete and end in the abstract, may be considered as in part a repetition of the forgoing...
  3. The education of the child must accord both in mode and arrangement with the education of mankind, considered historically...
  4. In each branch of instruction we should proceed from the empirical to the rational...
  5. In education the process of self-development should be encouraged to the uttermost...
  6. Even when, as considered theoretically, the proposed course seems the best, yet if it produces no interest, or less interest than some other course, we should relinquish it; for a child's intellectual instincts are more trustworthy than our reasonings...

(Spencer, 1860, pp. 114)

Since Montessori spent two years studying these educational theorists, it is not surprising that she developed a framework similar to Spencer's. One can also see echoes of these principles in the work of John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jean Piaget (1896-1980).

"The child [loves] to repeat the familiar... Modern teachers are prone to neglect the significance of the routine tendency... The young teacher may... safely disregard the view that the repetition of 'tables,' dates, grammatical paradigms aritmetical or algebraic operations is unpedagogical because it has to be forced upon unwilling nature. The child who rejoices in his power to repeat the jingle... will not fail to delight in a mastery over more serious forms of routine... No solid progress in the constructive arts, drawing and music, is possible without the constant repetition of familiar processes until one has them at the finger-ends... If there is any validity in the recapitulation theory, ritual, properly employed, should still have an important function in school-life... Valuable hints with regard to suitable occasions and forms of ritual may be derived from a study of the ceremonies prescribed for use among 'wolf cubs' and boy scouts."

(Nunn, 1920, 62-67)

"...Spontaneous activity, when not baffled or obstructed by unfavorable circumstances, tends always towards increasing perfection of form, to more complete expressiveness, to a higher degree of unity in diversity... This view of the biological utility of play was suggested long ago by the philosopher Malebranche (Drever, 'Instinct in Man', p. 33), but was first fully formulated and defended by Karl Groos ('The Play of Animalia", 1896; 'The Play of Man,' 1898)... A playful youth is a biological device to secure to the higher animals an efficient equipment for the battle of life."

(Nunn, 1920, pp. 69-70)

"According to Karl Groos [play] is anticipatory. According to... Stanley Hall, it isreminiscent. In [Hall's] view, the plays of childhood are simply incidents in the recapitulation of the history of the race..."

"The two theories [of Groos and Stanley] are complementary rather than opposed... Racial memories still reawaken in each generation because they have a direct value for the adult life of the present epoch... The atavistic factors are the mnemic basis from which the child's forward-directed horme proceeds, while the 'cathartic' action of play is the sublimation of the energies associated with them..."

"Stanley Hall's view is most helpful in the case of play which, like dancing and out-door games, is fundamentally a motor phenomenon... On the other hand, where play engages the intellect rather than the body, Groos's interpretation is the more instructive and... the more fruitful from the standpoint of the educator..."

"[W. McDougall identifies sources of energy with] innate 'dispositions' (i.e., racial engram-complexes), which are the great springs of behaviour both in beasts and men."

(Nunn, 1920, 70-73)

[Routine and spontaneous activity both have a role in classroom management. The teacher may rely on the "routine tendency" as follows: "He will first take care that the business of the school or the classroom is conducted in accordance with an adequate but simple routine, and will then leave it, as far as possible, to 'run itself.' He will not check developments of the constitution if they are spontaneous and harmless, but will abstain from introducing unnecessary or irritating inovations of his own. He will do wisely to tolerate even an unsatisfactory constitution if it has the force of the routine tendency behind it, and to wait patiently and work cautiously for its amendment. His attitude towards rebels will not be that of an autocrat whose personal will has been flouted, but rather the attitude of one responsible only as primus inter pares for the maintenance of a customary order upon which the convenience of all depends." (Nunn, 1920, p. 61).

Allowing spontaneous activity under "favorable circumstances" leads to constructive activity as opposed to the deviant behavior that arises when the child's goals are thwarted (REF??)]

Education as a Necessity of Life

Renewal of Life by Transmission

Education and Communication

The Place of Formal Education

Education as a Social Function

The Nature and Meaning of Environment

The Social Environment

The Social Medium as Educative

The School as a Special Environment

Education as Direction

The Environment as Directive

Modes of Social Direction

Imitation and Social Psychology

Some Application to Education

Education as Growth

The Conditions of Growth

Habits as Expressions of Growth

The Educational Bearings of the Conception of Development

Preparation, Unfolding and Formal Discipline

Education as preparation

[Dewey lists different views of education and seeks to discredit them one by one to prepare the way for introduction of his own approach. Montessori takes different points of view and tries to find contexts in which they are useful. It is possible to believe that "he who hesitates is lost" but also "measure twice, cut once" depending on context. Montessori's approach makes sense in view of her concept of the medial man.]

[See "preparation for life" in Education and peace, page 58, The Formation of Man, page 64. The Montessori Method: "Since the child now learns to move rather than to sit still, he prepares himself not for the school, but for life; for he becomes able, through habit and through practice, to perform easily and correctly the simple acts of social or community life." pp. 86-87. Also, "We define education as 'a preparation for life'--by which we mean adult-life." Montessori, 1971, p. 53. Need to see this quote in context.]

[Does the idea of education as preparation come from Comenius?]

[Dewey: "education is not preparation for life--education is life". Need to reread this section (first section of chapter 5)]

Education as unfolding

Dewey cites the philosophies of Froebel and Hegel as two different conceptions of education as unfolding (Dewey, 1916, pp. 56-60). Both see the child as unfolding toward some ideal. This idea of education is similar to the idea of education as preparation for life in that both views consider education as movement toward some future goal. However, education as unfolding puts emphasis on the coming to fruition of latent powers within the child rather than preparation for fulfilling particular social functions like a vocation or citizenship.

Froebel and Hegel were both idealists (Spencer, in contrast, was a positivist). [Froebel--knowledge of Absolute is evoked through symbols, especially mathematical ones. Hegel--knowledge of Absolute is evoked through evolution of historical institutions. One can imagine Froebel's philosophy as inspiration for Montessori's math materials, and Hegel's philosophy as inspiration for Montessori's idea of the cosmic task (especially as Hegel's ideas were combined with ideas of biological evolutionists). However, a more direct line to the idea of cosmic task can be drawn to Antonio Stoppani, Montessori's great uncle and author of Acqua e Aria. Bergson's "Creative Evolution" should also be mentioned here. Montessori also talks about preparation for life. Just as she refused to commit to a particular political party, she seems to pull ideas from a range of philosophies without claiming one in particular. This approach makes sense in light of her views on the medial man which she expressed in Pedagogical Anthropology.]

[See The Unfolding Intelligence around page 69 in The Secret of Childhood.]

[Absorbent mind: "If education is to begin at birth, there can be only one kind of education at that time. There is no sense in talking about differences of procedure for Indian babies, Chinese babies, or European babies; nor for those belonging to different social classes. We can only speak of one method; that which follows the natural unfolding of man. All babies have the same psychological needs, and follow the same sequence of events, in attaining to human stature. Every one of us has to pass through the same phases of growth." (p. 75)

[Montessori also talks about the unfolding of the cosmic plan.]

[Dewey sees a problem with the idea of education as unfolding. The ultimate state of the unfolding is so remote from the child that there is no way to know for sure what supports or harms it. As a result, the teacher ends up going through the motions of "drawing out" ideas and behaviors while in reality she is imposing ideas and behaviors that she believes in. This problem with "unfolding" is evident in a quote from Montessori. Montessori suggests that teachers engage children in conversations about life outside of the classroom, and goes to say that "such conversations as these encourage the unfolding or development of language and are of great educational value, since the directress can prevent the children from recounting happenings in the house or in the neighborhood, and can select, instead, topics which are adapted to pleasant conversation, and in this way can teach the children those things which it is desirable to talk about..." (Montessori, 1909/1912/1964, p. 124). Dewey would argue that, from the perspective of unfolding of latent powers, there is no way for the teacher to know in advance what kind of things are "desirable to know about" for a particular child. Contrast Montessori's discussions of unfolding with Nunn's idea of development and individuality. Comparison of Dewey and Montessori by Kilpatrick. Comparison of Froebel and Montessori by Standing.]

[Seems like the idea of stages fits in here. Note Dewey's critique of the idea of unfolding. He says that the idea of unfolding suggests a point of completion after which growth does not occur. Does Montessori consider the fourth plane of development as the end of development?]

[Contrast Dewey's chapter on Education as Conservative and Progressive in Democracy and Education with Nunn's discusion of conservative and creative impulses, horme and mneme, and Montessori's discussion of horme and mneme. Also, compare Dewey and Montessori's discussion of impulse and inhibition and the reflex arc.]

Education as training the faculties

"The educational works of Itard are most interesting, detailed descriptions of his teaching attempts and experiments, and anyone who reads them today will agree that they were the first attempts at 'scientific pedagogy'. He, in fact, derived from scientific study a series of exercises capable of modifying the personality, of healing defects that kept the individual in a state of inferiority. Itard actually succeeded in rendering semi-deaf children capable of both hearing and speaking, whilst otherwise they would have remained deaf and dumb and consequently for ever abnormal. This is very different indeed from a simple study of the individual carried out by means of the tests of experimental psychology. They only lead to a statement on the mental personality; they do not modify it but leave the educational methods unchanged. Here, instead, the scientific means employed become the means by which education is given, so that pedagogy itself is changed."

"Itard, therefore, may be called the founder of scientific pedagogy, not Wundt or Binet, who are the founders of a physiological psychology which can easily be applied also in the schools."

"This is a fundamental point which well deserves to be made clear. Whilst Pestalozzi, in Switzerland, became the 'father of a new affective education', in Germany half a century later Fechner and Wundt founded experimental psychology. The tow currents grew and developed separately in the schools. Academic pedagogy continued to evolve on old foundations, whilst side by side mental tests were given to the students which, however, did not affect education in the least."

"The experiments of Itard on the contrary, carried out only slightly earlier, were a real beginning of scientific education, capable of modifying both educational methods and the pupils."

(Montessori, 1986, p. 22)

[Dewey objects to the idea of improvement of faculties as an aim of education rather than a consequence of it. The faculties that Dewey has in mind include "perceiving, retaining, recalling, associating, attending, willing, feeling, imagining, and thinking." According to Dewey, "in its classic form, this theory was expressed by Locke." (p. 61). The problems he sees with education-as-training-of-faculties: (1) There are no pre-existing faculties of observation, attention, etc. to be trained. (a) These behaviors are complexes of more primitive behaviors (e.g., moving the eye in the direction of an object and keeping it in sight, turning the head in the direction of a sound). (b) These behaviors are not "latent intellectual powers" to be developed but responses to particular changes in the environment in order to effect other changes. (p. 63) NEED TO FINISH THIS SECTION]

[In answer to (1a), Montessori's sense training is more basic than the faculties Dewey is talking about here. How does Montessori talk about the development of attention and will in Spontaneous Activity? (1b) Montessori talks about the development of attention as a response to work with the materials, not as an aim (Spontaneous Acitivity, p. 119).]

[Consider Dewey's problem with activities that he considers mere exercises rather than ends to a particular means. People engage in activities all the time as ends in themselves. Is there an adaptive reason for this? Babies say nonsense syllables for the pleasure of making the sounds. Children play games that imitate the activities of adults. Are these "mere exercises" because they prepare the child for future activity? What about Montessori's idea that children are drawn to activities that prepare them for later activities? Is there a clear line between preparatory exercises and activity in support of one's life? ]

[At some point, should also discuss the role of the adult, interest and discipline, since some may try to draw the line by separating activities chosen by the child (guided by the child's interest, etc.) from activities initiated, suggested or directed by others. How do Montessori and Dewey both distinguish between will and whim? What is the role of the adult in fostering interests, and encouraging pursuit of useful ideas and skills? Did either comment on sublimation as Nunn did? What is the relationship between sublimation and the idea of "redirecting behavior"?]

Education as Conservative and Progressive

[Contrast Dewey's chapter on Education as Conservative and Progressive in Democracy and Education with Nunn's discusion of conservative and creative impulses, horme and mneme, and Montessori's discussion of horme and mneme. Also, compare Dewey and Montessori's discussion of impulse and inhibition and the reflex arc.]

[Self-preservation and self-expression]

Education as Formation

Education as Recapitulation and Retrospection

Education as Reconstruction

The Democratic Conception of Education

Aims in Education

Natural Development and Social Efficiency as Aims

Interest and Discipline

Experience and Thinking

The Nature of Method

The Nature of Subject Matter

Play and Work in the Curriculum

The Significance of Geography and History

Science in the Course of Study

Educational Values

Labor and Leisure

Intellectual and Practical Studies

Physical and Social Studies: Naturalism and Humanism

The Individual and the World

Vocational Aspects of Education

Philosophy of Education

Theories of Knowledge

Theories of Morals

Contrasting Montessori with Spencer, Dewey and Piaget

"The study of society [gradually came to be seen by thinkers of Montessori's generation] as a vastly more complicated matter than one of merely fitting observed data into a structure of human thought that was presumed to be universal. Such a "fit," they recognized, was far from automatic: they saw themselves as removed by one further stage from the direct confrontation of their materials which earlier thinkers had taken for granted. In short, they found themselves inserting between the external data and the final intellectual product an intermediate stage of reflection on their own awareness of these data..." (Hughes, p. 16).

It is interesting to note where Montessori's theory diverges from that of Spencer, Dewey and Piaget.

"The infant European has sundry marked points of resemblance to the lower human races; as in the flatness of the alæ of the nose, the depression of its bridge, the divergence and forward opening of the nostrils, the form of the lips, the absence of a frontal sinus, the width between the eyes, the smallness of the legs. Now, as the developmental process by which these traits are turned into those of the adult European, is a continuation of that change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous displayed during the previous evolution of the embryo, which every physiologist will admit; it follows that the parallel developmental process by which the like traits of the barbarous races have been turned into those of the civilized races, has also been a continuation of the change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous." (Spencer, 1870, p. 342)

For Nunn, development involves, "...from the first division of the fertilized egg, bodily growth [according to] a unitary plan, or the concerted action of individuals who thoroughly understand one another and have devoted themselves to a common purpose." (Nunn, 1920, p. 12)

Like Spencer, Dewey and Piaget, Montessori observed that children pass through various stages in the course of development. However, their ideas of stages were different. Spencer, Dewey and Piaget proposed "theories of cognitive development are 'hierarchically integrative'--that is, each stage or phase of development contains, elaborates, and builds on the developments of the previous stage or stages. They have the characteristics of progress and consequently do not observe losses that might be entailed in development." (Egan, 2002, p. 83).

[Like Spencer, Sergi et al considered children as "human beings at an inferior evolutionary stage" (Foschi, 2008, p. 240). Most thought at the time that women, children, and people living in pre-industrial societies were inferior to adult males living in industrial societies. This led to comparisons between women, children and pre-industrial people--notably, to the idea that children's education should follow the path of historical development from pre-industrial to industrial society. Montessori rejected this idea. She did not feel it appropriate for children to begin with development and examination of primitive tools when they could have materials especially designed to isolate variables so that children could perform experiments (pink tower, etc.). She did not believe it appropriate for children to begin their studies of the world with local surroundings when they have the imagination to think about the universe and the beginning of time. Itard's "Wild Boy of Aveyron" vs. Rousseau's "noble savage". Another thing that seems to put Montessori more on the side of Hegel than Rousseau is her idea of supra-nature--or is that idea just a reflection of a positivist outlook on progress? Where does Montessori agree with Rousseau? Even her outlook on supra-nature is tempered. In the Formation of Man, she says, on the one hand, that "[i]t was the scientist who gave the impetus to the construction of a real 'supra-Nature' fantastically more rich and beautiful than what we now call 'wild Nature'." (p. 9) On the other hand, she says: "Evidently the social conditions produced by our civilization create obstacles for the normal development of man." (p. 10). Montessori notes the tragedy of the two world wars, restrictions on freedom, and criminality in modern times. However, she does not see these as the inevitable result of corrupting influences of civilization. Rather, she sees it as stemming from "a lack of balance between the miraculous progress of our environment and the arrest of development suffered by man." (p. 11). /NOTE: "Both Rousseau and Freud cricize civilization for the way it hampers and inhibit human happiness." (Orwin and Tarcov, 1997, p. 87)/ Montessori: "To let pupils do what they like, to amuse them with light occupations, to lead them back to an almost wild state, does not solve the problem. The question is not to deliver man from some bonds, but to reconstruct." (pp. 14-15)]

Montessori developed a theory of stages which she called "sensitive periods". She attributed the idea of sensitive periods to Hugo De Vries (1848-1935), a Dutch geneticist. Montessori defined a sensitive period as "a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait. Once this trait, or characteristic, has been acquired, the special sensibilitiy disappears." During these periods, the young can feel impulses to actions and exhibit abilities that are very different from the adults of the species. Here is one of De Vries's examples, as relayed by Montessori:

"One example given by De Vries is that of the caterpillar of a common butterfly. We know that caterpillars grow rapidly and have a voracious appetite that is ruinous to plants. The particular caterpillar studied by De Vries was one which during the first days of its existence cannot feed on large leaves but only on the tender buds at the tips of the branches."

"Like a good mother, the female butterfly instinctively lays her eggs in a sheltered spot at the angle formed by a branch with the trunk of the tree where they will be safe and sheltered. What will tell the tiny caterpillars when they break out of their shells that the tender leaves which they need for food are above them at the end of the branch? It is light! The caterpillar is extremely sensitive to light. Light attracts it, fascinates it, and as a consequence the tiny worm inches its way up to the end of the branch where there is the most light."

"There among the tender leaves it finds the food to satisfy its ravenous hunger. the remarkable fact is that just as soon as the caterpillar has grown large enough to eat coarser food, its sensitive period passes and it loses its sensitivity to light. The instinct becomes dead and completely spent. It is no longer particularly attracted by light. The moment of usefulness of this sensitive period has passed, and the caterpillar goes along different paths in search of other experiences and other means of life. It is is not that it has become blind but simply that it is henceforth indifferent to light. And this same larva, which has shown itself so voracious in eating, is in an instant changed by another active sensibility into a kind of fasting fakir. During its rigid fas it builds for itself a kind of sarcophagus in which it remains buried as if devoid of life; but it is actually intensely busy and emerges as an adult from its tomb equipped with wings and resplendent with beauty and light." (Montessori, 1981, pp. 38-39).

Montessori applied the idea of sensitive periods to humans: "A child's different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not on others, making of them his whole world. It is not simply a question of having an intense desire for certain situtations or certain things. Within the child there is a unique potentiality for using these objects for his own growth, since it is during the sensitive period that he makes his psychic adjustments like that of being able to adapt himself to his environment or to move about with ever increasing ease and precision." (Ibid, p. 42)

[Add bit about tantrums, pp. 40-41. Kids are getting overweight and low in vitamin D. Is this a deviation because they are prevented from going outside? We are also adapted to seek out foods that are naturally sweet and fatty. We are also adapted to scan the horizon for danger and avoid or destroy it. Is Montessori following Morselli's approach here, or has she already begun to change her mind on speculation? Say something about analogizing from biology in general here.Compare and contrast with Spencer/Dewey/Piaget. ]



  • Cosmic education a la Antonio Stoppani, Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry vs. social studies of Spencer/Dewey (/Piaget?)
  • Stages of Spencer/Dewey/Piaget - evolution from less rational to more rational vs. Montessori's sensitive periods
  • Spencer/Dewey/Piaget - learning with raw materials, learning language through immersion (recapitulation) vs. Montessori (/Vygotsky?) constructing knowledge with prepared materials, learning grammar (enculturation)
  • Recapitulation based on fallacious idea that evolution moves inexorably from "lower", less complex form to "higher" more complex one. See Egan, 2004.]

Montessori Materials

[Representations of ideal forms, experimentation by isolating variables rather than Dewey's method of constructing understanding through construction with raw materials.]

Cosmic Education

[Montessori and Dewey would have disagreed on the separation of the fundamental needs of human into material and spiritual needs.]

According to Montessori, "Fundamental Needs are twofold Ė Material and Spiritual." (Hayes, 2005) [Spiritual needs:Culture,Vanity (Adornment), Religion; Material Needs: Clothing, Nourishment, Defense, Transportation, Housing]

[Dewey objected to the "dualistic worldview of the material and the spiritual, and... the assumption that the material constitutes 'outer' nature, while the spiritual is the realm of 'inner' mind." (Biesta, 2004, p. 20)]

also Communications, 2007/I, AMI

Possible inferences from the idea of "education as treatment": Aim of medicine is to afford rational action without interference from one's own body. Aim of psychology, pedagogy, is to afford rational action without interference from one's own mental state. Aim of sociology, economics, politics is to afford rational action without interference from others. But how do you define rational action? With this in mind, what is the role of the school?

Interference from one's own mental state might include: neurosis, psychosis, misperception, misunderstanding, inadequate kinesthetic sense. Misunderstanding might arise from inadequate background knowledge or emotional state that interferes with understanding.

Percy Nunn (1870-1944)

Fatigue and Energy

[Before Montessori, there must have been others who observed children who said they were tired of walking and then ran to play when arriving at an open field, etc. It seems logical that, in the absence of any pending goal, an organism would conserve energy until some external threat or opportunity or some internal craving or discomfort presented itself. This could explain fatigue when one is engaged in activity that in some respects fails to address some important goal. Does it also explain feeling refreshed rather than fatigued after an activity, or feelings of fatigue even when one has not exerted oneself (the feelings of fatigue support the goal of conserving energy when no other pending goals are present)? Fatigue might result from conflicting goals, so when all energies point to one goal as in flow, it's a rest from dealing with conflicting goals.]