Cultural Model

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

Work Models

  1. Flow Model
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  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

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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.

Philosophy of Science

One of my basic assumptions in this section is that Montessori worked in a particular intellectual milieu that influenced her work and changed over time. My boundaries, therefore, must be broad enough in time so that change is evident and include thinkers who influenced her ideas about the study of education.

Can Science Inform Pedagogy?

[Lagemann's quote is probably better here, since it is not specific to psychology, but this stuff should fit in somewhere. ClaparŔde thought psychology should be the scientific basis for pedagogy. Sergi thought anthropology. Montessori thought there should be a new science, scientific pedagogy, that would inform other social sciences.]

"For the great majority of you, a general view [of psychology] is enough, provided it be a true one; and such a general view, one may say, might almost be written on the palm on one's hand...Avoid still more to consider that as a duty of education, the contribution to psychology of psychological observations methodically carried." (William James, Talks to Teachers).

"Under the impetus given by an accomplished scientist, Dr. Stanley Hall, the researches in child psychology, in America, became extraordinarily widespread, and created, at one time, a perfect rage for them. A large number of societies of 'Paedology' were founded, and a multitude of periodicals were established for publishing documents collected in enormous quantity. They like to do everything on a grand scale over there. To get on more quickly, and to obtain a greater result, they proceeded by vast inquiries, of which the utility, not to speak of anything else, often remains problematic. Teachers were assailed by interminable 'questionnaires' that the review of paidology sent forth; and those who did not engage in this new work were represented as old-fashioned. Amongst the inquires of this kind, which have raised great criticism, may be quoted the work in 1896, by Dr. Hall himself, on dolls. In this it was endeavoured to discover, amongst other things, what were the preferences of children as to the material of which those toys, dear to the hearts of all young people, are composed. And when the statistics were completed, it was solemnly reported that out of 845 children, 191 preferred wax dolls, 163 paper, 153 porcelain, 144, rag, 11 paper mÔchÚ, and only 6 wood, &c.!"

"But a science cannot be built up as quickly as a town, even in America, and the faults of this feverish and artificial activity were soon apparent. A reaction arose against the infatuation for Child-Study--a reaction as exaggerated as was the movement which gave rise to it. Professor MŘnsterberg, a colleague of Professor James at Harvard, began the attack and, in an article in The Educational Review (1898) which made a great sensation, endeavoured to show that the teacher has no need to be a psychologist: that the purely scientific attitude, abstract and analytic, of the latter, was inconsistent with the concrete and living attitude which ought to be that of the educator towards the child. This without doubt was calculated to reassure the minds of the educators who felt themselves 'useless as psychologists,' as Professor said, in 1899, in the words we have quoted above."

"It is clear, nevertheless, that if we leave out of account the circumstances in which they were spoken, we shall not entirely accept the statements of Professor James. Without doubt pedagogy is an art which demands above everything tact, delicacy, and a self-sacrifice which have nothing to do with scientific knowledge; and, in this sense, it is quite certain that a knowledge of psychology does not suffice for one who is to be a good educator. But if it does not suffice, it is none the less necessary, for an art is nothing but the realisation of an end, an ideal, by appropriate means. It is, therefore, essential for the artisan to have a thorough knowledge of the material with which he works, and the way to set about his work, if he would get from it the desired effect."

(ClaparŔde, 1912, pp. 6-7)

[He then goes on to compare the field of physiology and practical medicine as an analogy for psychology and education.]

[Is there a science particular to pedagogy that is separate from psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science, or economics? Or, what is the proper (useful/productive) relationship between scientific pedagogy, philosophy, and other sciences?]

Philosophy and Science

"After she had taken her medical degree, [Montessori] felt the need of studying the problems of human existence from a standpoint other than the medical, and she went back to the University and took a four-years' course in philosophy. In those days, she has told me, she saw the 'two camps' very plainly--the professors of the humanities sneering at science; and the scientists laughing at the philosophers, and she thought to herself that some day the teacher would come who would unite these two opposed interpretations of life in one." (Radice, 1920, p. 3)

[Montessori made remarks about Ardig˛ vs. Morselli in Pedagogical Anthropology. Was this before she studied philosophy of education?]

"The teachers of the old school, prepared according to the principles of metaphysical philosophy, understood the ideas of certain men regarded as authorities, and moved the muscles of speech in talking of them, and the muscles of the eye in reading their theories. Our scientific teachers, instead, are familiar with certain instruments and know how to move the muscles of the hand and arm in order to use these instruments; besides this, they have an intellectual preparation which consists of a series of typical tests, which they have, in a barren and mechanical way, learned how to apply."

(Montessori, 1909/1912/1964, p. 7)

"Many have looked upon materialistic and mechanistic science with excessive hopes... Science itself will be enriched by him not only with new natural discoveries but with new philosophical syntheses."

(Montessori, 1986, pp. 4-5)

"Dr. Montessori has described in her own books how she happened upon the secrets of the springs of human life: after years of medical practice among children, normal and abnormal, years of university study, years of study of the development of human life from every possible standpoint, from that of the anthropologist, the physiologist, the psychologist, and philosopher." (Radice, 1920, p. 5)

In time, the review will focus on the years between Montessori's graduation from medical school (1896) and 1950, the year of the Fourth Session of the General Conference of UNESCO in Florence, Italy. The year 1896 is important because it marks the beginning of Montessori's investigations into the work of Itard and Seguin and immediately precedes her study of educational philosophy in 1897-1898.

Toward the end of this period, in 1948, The Discovery of the Child was published (1948). In this book, Montessori revises her earlier opinion of the role of speculation in the development of scientific pedagogy.

No attempt will be made to discuss all thinkers or even all educational researchers of the period. Rather, the discussion will focus on people who provided basic assumptions on which Montessori based her work or provided her with important ideas about the design of learning environments, or who help by contrast or example to distinguish her work as a designer of learning environments, a researcher and an interpreter of the research of others.

"John Adams and (Thomas) Percy Nunn were responsible for establishing educational psychology at the London Day Training College, the most influential teacher training college in [England]... Nunn started to teach at his father's school at the age of sixteen, but when his father died in 1890, leaving him the whole responsibility, he resigned the headmastership and started to make his career in the state sector. In 1903 he joined the staff of the London Day Training College, becoming Professor of Education in the University in 1913 and Principal of the College in 1922. When the college was transferred to the university in 1933 he became its first Director."

"...Nunn found in psychology a means of implementing his belief that 'the primary aim of all educational effort be to help boys and girls to achieve the highest degree of individual development of which they are capable'. His conversion to a psychologically based approach to education was the fruit of practical experience. When he took up his first teaching post at Halifax, his main concern was to learn how to control his class, and he soon found that the best way to do this was to understand children's intellectual interests. He set himself firmly against formal discipline and based all his teaching, in particular his teaching of mathematics, on the interests of the pupils. His textbook on Education: Its Data and First Principles (1920) was an eloquent plea for child-centered education--that is education shorn of the traditional emphasis on rote learning and guided by the psychology of individual differences."

"Nunn used his pivotal position in the educational world to advance the cause of the psychology of individual differences. He sat on the Board of Education's consultative committee and played an influential part in the drafting of its reports. He was member of the Child Guidance Council ('though the very great pressure upon my time makes me, I fear, an extremely ineffective one') and a member of Sir Philip Hartog's committee of inquiry into the reliability of examinations. He was also a member of the Labour Party advisory committee on education, playing an important part in persuading leading Labour educational theorists, such as R. H. Tawney, of the value of mental measurement. His popular book on The Teaching of Algebra (1914), which many regarded as marking a revolution in the teaching of mathematics, was based, like most of his teaching, on two fundamental psychological principles: be guided by the child's natural interests, however difficult it is to discover them, and follow the psychological rather the logical order in the presentation of material. His textbook, Education: Its Data and First Principles (1920) was one of the most influential educational textbooks between the wars, and popularised psychological arguments about delinquency, the role of play in education, and the value of intelligence testing. Sensitive to the developments in psychological theory, his chief concern in producing the second edition of his book was 'to take due account of recent advances of knowledge, particularly in psychology'. In his third edition, in response to rapid advances in the theory of intelligence testing and to an increase in public curiosity as a result of the 1944 Education Act, he decided to include a whole chapter on mental measurement."

(Wooldridge, pp. 62-65)


The general theme here is that Montessori must be understood in relation to the times in which she lived.

  • Montessori was trying to reconcile major intellectual trends of her time. She was not a philosopher like Dewey. In fact, at least in her early years, she explicitly reject philosophy in favor of science. However, she did seek to absorb and reflect ideas predominant in the surrounding culture.
  • Montessori's status as a woman gave her a unique perspective from which to challenge views of women based on anthropometry and views of children as "human beings at an inferior evolutionary stage" (Foschi, 2008, p. 240) by applying De Vries's idea of sensitive periods to people]
  • Montessori initially rejected the "speculative positivism" of thinkers like Spencer and Ardig˛, but early on adopted an educational theory similar to Spencer's and gradually accepted that pedagogy could not be built without "speculation" (i.e., using the same scientific methods applied to medicine). Also, although she criticized Ardig˛ in Pedagogical Anthropology, she later quoted him to bolster her argument in Spontaneous Activity (Montessori, 1917, p. 46).
  • The concept of normality, a new concept in Montessori early years, was related to the ideal. Does this have implications for her use of the term "normalization"?
  • The word "direttore" in Italian translates better to the English word "guide" than to "directress"
  • Like Freud and Marx, Montessori surrounded herself with acolytes, forming a tight group with intolerance, dogmatism that led to frequent schisms.
  • Montessori's ideas on race were influenced by: anthropometry, her own feminist critique of anthropometry's traditional view of women, and Theosophy.

[Dominant trends]

"In nineteenth-century Italian philosophy we can distinguish four main trends: (1) St Augustine's and Aquinas's traditional dualistic metaphysics, which was renewed with some originality by the priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati (1797-1855), and was regarded by the Roman Catholic church as its 'official' philosophical doctrine; (2) methodological empiricism, which was developed since the Renaissance especially by the found of modern mathematical physics, Galileo Galilei, and which found its most prominent exponent in the positivist thinker Roberto Ardig˛ (1828-1920); (3) the speculative German tradition of Kantian-Hegelian idealism, according to its interpretation as a metafisica della mente, i.e. as a philosophy of pure self-consciousness, outlined by the greatest nineteenth century Italian thinker, Bertrando Spaventa (1817-83); and finally (4) Marx's and Engels's historical materialism, which was spread and fostered especially by Antonio Labriola (1843-1904) who worked out a 'humanistic' (anti-naturalistic) interpretation of it." (Kearney, p. 289)

[see The Development of Modern and Recent Philosophy]

  • Montessori's exposure to ways of knowing
    • Montessori's idea of the medial man would make it logical for her to try to encompass all major intellectual currents of her time
    • Montessori's mother was a devout Catholic. Her father was not. Her mother's uncle was Antonio Stoppani, a priest and geologist who worked to reconcile science and religion. Montessori became a Theosophist in 18?? and became lifelong friends with Annie Besant some time after establishing the first Children's House.
    • Montessori was educated by positivists, including Sergi
    • Marxism was a popular idea among students when Montessori was at the University of Rome. Montessori was interested in education as a means of social reform.
    • Montessori expressed appreciation for intuition in Pedagogical Anthropology. Might make sense to add something about Bergson (1859-1941) and Intuitionism.
  • Relevant details
    • Mysticism - Catholic church (Antonio Rosmini Serbati), Theosophy (Annie Besant)
    • Positivism (Spencer, Ardig˛, Morselli, Lombroso, Sergi)
    • Idealism: Kant (1724-1804) -> Hegel (1770-1831) -> Spaventa (1817-1883) -> Croce (1866-1952).
    • Materialism (Marx, Engels, Labriola)

Montessori, authenticity, and scientific pedagogy

Montessori claimed that her method should be applied as a whole not piecemeal [reference?]. Did she present evidence of this? What does "authenticity" mean in the context of the Montessori method? Did Montessori claim that her system was complete, i.e., did she see it as an open system, or a closed system [re Kelly in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand]? If she saw it as an open system, where did she recognize room for improvement? By what means is it to be extended? How is her work to be compared to the work of other progressives? To other educational innovators generally?

If you understand the cause of conflict as some fixed or one-sided idea, you can find meaning in various practices without being caught by any of them. If you do not realize this point you will be easily caught by some particular way, and you will say, "This is enlightenment! This is perfect practice. This is our way. The rest of the ways are not perfect. This is the best way." This is a big mistake. There is no particular way in true practice. You should find your own way, and you should know what kind of practice you have right now. Knowing both the advantages and disadvantages of some special practice, you can practice that special way without danger. But if you have a one-sided attitude, you will ignore the disadvantages of the practice, emphasizing only its good part. Eventually you will discover the worst side of the practice, and become discouraged when it is too late. This is silly. We should be grateful that the ancient teachers point out this mistake.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p. 74

There should be a section/article with a title like "Whither Scientific Pedagogy?" Considering future directions of educational research, I want to take a careful look at studies by Lillard and Cohodes, et al. Both use randomized data based on lottery. One concern I have with the Cohodes study is that the charter schools studied have a lower percent of special needs students and English language learners. Even if we only look at well matched winners and losers of the lotteries, we need to consider how losers are affected by ending up in schools with a higher percentage of special needs and English learning kids. Did they control for that? If not, how could you? For that matter, how do we know we're not just looking at effects of different class sizes, or computer-aided instruction, or the interactions between a particular set of variables, something else? What did Lillard and Cohodes suggest for future studies? How might this method be extended to larger data sets? Consideration of more variables? Maybe include an overview of current research techniques with discussion of strengths and weaknesses of each. 

For example, statistical approach taken by Lillard and Cohodes requires sufficient data and measurable outcomes. We don't always have lots of good data to look at or agreement on what constitutes a successful outcome. When doing studies in naturalistic settings generally, there is the problem of having too many variables to account for. On the other hand, lab-based studies take learning out of the classroom context, making it hard to apply results to real world situations.

[Montessori's approach to research]

"Issues for research design" from Hart, 2003 p. 86

Ontology: What is the subject matter of pedagogy? The child and the medial man. Focus on the normal. Reality exists independent of perceptions, cultural biases, prior understanding and assumptions.

Epistemology: How can we know anything about pedagogy? Knowledge gained through senses vs. intuition, personal experience. Knowledge as objective vs. contextual.

Methodology: Deduction vs. induction. Early arguments relying on induction: normalization, children taking out materials, putting away materials on their own. Children hanging from poles in a fence (gate?). "Generalization and explanation, or context-based description aimed at an emerging design, categories and theories?" (Hart, 2003, p. 86) Prediction, explanation, or understanding? In Spontaneous Activity, see the chapters "A Survey of Modern Education" for critiques of other methods and "My Contribution to Experimental Science"

Axiology: Personal values, morality, ethics. Feminism and child advocacy. Place of Montessori's values in her research.

Data collection: Montessori's use of the work of others (notably ideas promoted by Spencer, whom she did not credit). What collection techniques are most reliable? What kind of data more accurate? Measurement, anthropometry, observation, Binet.

[Montessori's medial man and her attempts at reconciling trends in Italian thought]

"In nineteenth-century Italian philosophy we can distinguish four main trends: (1) St Augustine's and Aquinas's traditional dualistic metaphysics, which was renewed with some originality by the priest Antonio Rosmini Serbati (1797-1855), and was regarded by the Roman Catholic church as its 'official' philosophical doctrine; (2) methodological empiricism, which was developed since the Renaissance especially by the found of modern mathematical physics, Galileo Galilei, and which found its most prominent exponent in the positivist thinker Roberto Ardig˛ (1828-1920); (3) the speculative German tradition of Kantian-Hegelian idealism, according to its interpretation as a metafisica della mente, i.e. as a philosophy of pure self-consciousness, outlined by the greatest nineteenth century Italian thinker, Bertrando Spaventa (1817-83); and finally (4) Marx's and Engels's historical materialism, which was spread and fostered especially by Antonio Labriola (1843-1904) who worked out a 'humanistic' (anti-naturalistic) interpretation of it." (Kearney, p. 289)

[Main influences, then, include (2) Ardig˛ by way of Spencer, (3) Croce by way of Vico, Hegel and Kant, (4) Labriola by way of Marx and Engels. Need somebody for (1). What were views on education of all these people? Need to contrast Spencer/Ardig˛ with Morselli/Lombroso/Sergi. Wundt was an idealist. Shook argues that Wundt heavily influenced Dewey (Shook, 2000)]

[Did Montessori try to reconcile these different trends in the way that Antonio Stoppani tried to reconcile science and religion?]

[Rockmore places Giovanni Gentile and Benedetto Croce among the Italian Hegelians (Rockmore, p. 21)]

Croce: "What we know is the result of what we experience on the basis of conceptual resources, which depend on the historical moment in which we live..." (Rockmore, p. 118)

Montessori:"The medial intellectual man is closely bound to the thoughts of his century; he incarnates the prevailing ideas of his time; he vibrates in response to the majority... The medial man ought to centralise in himself and keep in equilibrium the movement of thought of his period, giving it harmonic form, in works of art or of science. And it is the capacity for accomplishing this work of synthesis that constitutes the inborn quality in the man of genius."

"He does not create; he reassembles in one organism the scattered members, the medial vibrations of the crowd..."

"...There has never existed a medial intellectual man who sums up all the thought of his time: just as there does not exist a living man so beautiful as to incarnate all the medial measurements. But the man of genius is he who does embody the greater part of such ideas: and he produces a masterpiece when he succeeds in shedding his own individuality in order to assume what is given him from without..." (Montessori, 1913, p. 469).

"To come to grips with, to read carefully, to assess and to criticize a philosophical tendency, one must obviously know what it is, what it is not, where its limits lie; understand its main doctrinal commitments; and have a sense of whether and how it differs from what its critics say about it, as well as of what its self-professed enthusiasts, or designated adherents, have in common." (Rockmore, p. 21)

Also look at idealism of Croce and Gentile, positivism of Spencer, Ardig˛, et al., and Montessori's conceptions of normality.

See "My Contribution to Experimental Science" in The Advanced Montessori Method I.

[This piece of work seems qualitatively different from sensitive periods. The way Montessori presents it, it is arrived at inductively. Looks like an attempt to emulate Morselli.]

"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).

Wilhelm Wundt-German Psychologism (The Critical Revision of Positivism)

Bergson-Intutionism (Contemporary Philosophy of the Spirit)

Antonio Gramsci is placed with Levi-Strauss, Foucalt, and Derrida in Cultural Theory, Structuralism, Postmodern, & Deconstruction

Wittgenstein (1889-1951). Wittgenstein helped inspire the Vienna Circle and Oxford ordinary language philosophy. Influenced Toulmin (born 1922).

[Is there any relationship between Croce and current literary hermeneutics or literary criticism? Look up Croce with hermeneutical, interpretive or literary criticism]

[The issue of values becomes more complex when the subject of inquiry is alive. When investigating inanimate phenomena, the scientist only has to worry about epistemic relevance (how the investigator's own political, religious or economic interests influence the process of selecting phenomena for investigation, interpreting data, and evaluating the research of others) and cognitive values such as "dedication to the pursuit of truth, openness to counter evidence, receptiveness to criticism, accuracy of measurements and observations, honesty and openness in reporting results, and the like", (Phillips and Burbules, 2000, p. 54). When the subject of investigation is alive, the investigator can act in ways that are helpful or harmful to that life. This help or harm may occur during the investigation or may be a consequence of the research or its application.]

[In investigations of inert phenomena, it makes sense to look for ways to control or predict phenomena in ways that benefit others. However, the same cannot be said when the subject of investigation is a living being, especially a human one.]


All the philosophies of science considered in this section are based on foundationalist philosophy. To make the claim X, X must be securely established and it must be shown that X has a secure foundation. For positivists, this foundation lies in sense experience. For idealists, the foundation lies in some indisputable idea (e.g., "I think, therefore I am") or indisputable set of ideas.

However, foundationalist philosophies are problematic. Phillips & Burbules list six particular difficulties that led thinkers to question foundationalist philosophies during Montessori's lifetime, resulting in the post-positivist movement that began around the time of Montessori's death in 1952:

  1. "What is obvious to one person may not be obvious to another. What is indubitable and self-evident depends on one's background and intellectual proclivities and is hardly a solid basis on which to build a whole edifice about knowledge." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 14)
  2. "What an observer sees, and also what he or she does not see, and the form that the observation takes, is influenced by the background knowledge of the observer--the theories, hypotheses, assumptions, or conceptual schemes that the observer harbors." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 15)
  3. "...We cannot claim that observational or other evidence unequivocally supports a particular theory or fully warrants the claim that it is true because there are many other (indeed, a potentially infinite number of other) theories that are also compatible with the same body of evidence." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 17)
  4. "Evidence relates to all of [a] network of beliefs, not just to one isolated part; all of our beliefs are 'up for grabs' during the test of any one of them--we can save one assumption or belief if we are will to jettison another one." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 20)
  5. "How do we know that phenomena that we have not experienced will resemble those that we have experienced in the past?" [This is known as the problem of induction] (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 22)
  6. "...Decisions made within groups--even professional groups of scientists--are influenced by much more than the 'objective facts'... In a group some people will of necessity have more power or influence than others, some will have their voices repressed, some individuals will have much more at stake than others (their reputations or economic gains, for instance), and some will be powerfully motivated by ideologies or religious convictions." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 25)

"It seems that [the] process of making knowledge claims and then refining or abandoning some of them for claims that are more strongly warranted is a pattern that is better described within a non-foundationalist framework than in a foundationalist one (since the latter frame has to explain why claims made on supposedly indubitable foundations so often have turned out to be false)." (Phillips & Burbules, 2000, p. 31)

Science is not engineering. "[Sergi's followers] failed to distinguish between the experimental study of a child and his education... Converts to [Sergi's scientific education] carried as their standard the 'Biographical Chart,' convinced that once this flag was finally raised in a school the victory would be won." (Montessori, 1986, p. 2). But studies of existing educational practices do not spontaneously generate improved designs of educational environments.