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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.


[Lots of quoted text relevant to Montessori's concept of Normality.]

[See The Secret of Childhood: Normalization and Deviation]

[Crowell defines normalization as "the degree or capacity of adaptation to conditions in the community." (Crowell, 1898, p. 290). By this definition, the normalization of child involves compliance with social norms. Montessori felt, however, that "the world has not yet been able to evaluate the good and the bad traits in child character..." As an example, she cites society's valuation of passivity in the child. It is not in social compliance, but in a desire to work and in self-discipline that normalization reveals itself in the Montessori classroom (Montessori, 1995, p. 202).]

Here is an example of the importance of context in understanding Montessori's terms. Montessori's use of the normalization sounds strange to the ear of modern educators. Isn't every child unique? Isn't it wrong to hold up some idea of "the normal" to which all children must conform? The first thing to consider here is that the ideas of normal development and normal behavior were invented at the end of the nineteenth century (Johanningmeier, E. V., & Richardson, T. R., 2007, page 109), around the time Montessori was working on her doctorate in medicine. These were terms that arose from the recent application of statistics to child study (another such term is deviation).

The next thing to consider is that Montessori was not talking about somehow making children statistically normal. As mentioned earlier, Montessori sometimes appropriated words used by others and gave them her own meaning. To Montessori, normalization was a process by which a child reached a state that "normal" or natural for that child. She observed that over time, children in her classroom developed an ability to concentrate, to care for one another, to cooperate and to work for extended periods of time. She considered children "normalized" when they reached this state.

The Medial Man, the Normal child, and Normalization

Montessori made the following statement decades after the opening of the first Children's House: "Normalization is the single most important result of our work." (The Absorbent Mind, p. 204)

In The Montessori Method, Montessori uses the term "normal" to distinguish children in the Casae (sp?) dei Bambini from the "deficient" children she worked with previously (Montessori, 1912/1964, p. 169). However, "normality" in Pedagogical Anthropology relates to the ideal, and in other works, "normalisation" means something akin to enlightenment.

"The measurements obtained from living beings, and the statistical and mathematical studies based upon them, tend to determine the normality of characteristics; and when the biometric method is applied to man, it leads to a determination of the normal dimensions, and hence of the normal forms, and to a reconstrution of the medial man that must be regarded as the man of perfect development, from whom all men actually existing must differ to a greater or less extent, through their infinite normal and pathological variations."

"As far back as 1835, Quétélet, in his great philosophical and statistical work, Social Physics or the Development of the Factulties of Man, for the first time expounded the theory of the "medial man," founded on statistical studies and on the mathematical laws of errors. He reached some very exact concepts of the morphology of the medial man, based upon measurements, and also of the intellectual and moral qualities of the medial man, expounding an interesting theory regarding genius."

"But inasmuch as Quétélet's homme moyen was, so to speak, at once a mathematical and philosophical reconstruction of the non-existent perfect man, who furthermore could not possibly exist, this classical and materly study by the great statistician was strenuously combatted ad then forgotten, so far as its fundamental concepts were concerned, and remembered only as a scientific absurdity. The thought of that period was too analytical to linger over the great, the supreme synthesis expounded by Quétélet."

"...There is one who has an interest for us not only because he is an Italian, but because he has reestablished Quétélet's ancient theory of the medial man, under the present-day guidance of biometry: I mean Prof. Giacinto Viola." (Montessori, 1913, p. 454-455).

[Does she use the concept of "medial man" the way Max Weber uses ideal types? If not, how does her use differ? How does the concept of "medial man" relate to the idea of the "normalized child"?]

Montessori goes on to describe how statistical methods from Quétélet can be used to find a mean average stature, and "that mean average stature... seems to represent a bilogical tendency, from which many persons deviate to a greater or less extent, as though the were erroneous, aberrant, for a great variety of causes..." (Montessori, 1913, p. 456).

"We find that the resulting medial stature was pre-determined, e.g., for a given race; but many individuals, for various causes, either failed to attain it or surpassed it to a greater or less extent; and therefore in the course of their development that have acquired an erroneous stature." (Montessori, 1913, pp. 458-459)

"What has been said regarding stature serves as an example; but it may be repeated for all the anthropometric measurements, as Viola has proved by actual experiment." (Montessori, 1913, p. 461)

"Hence we have a means of obtaining the normal medial measurement by the seriation of a number of measurements actually obtained from living individuals the number of whom should be sufficiently large to enable us to construct a perceptibly symmetrical and regular binomial curve." (Montessori, 1913, p. 462)

"Professor Viola has observed that men who have a very large number of medial measurements are singularly handsome."

"More than that: the medial man reconstructed from medial measurements really gathered from living persons, has the identical proportions of the famous statues of Greek art."

"...This coincidence of the beautiful with the average is eqivalent to a coincidence of the beautiful with normality." (Montessori, 1913, p. 463).

"On the analogy of the medial morphological man, Quétélet also conceived the medial intellectual man and the medial moral man."

"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).

[By Montessori's reasoning, all professional athletes are degenerate cases because they deviate so far from the mean. Copernicus, Galileo, Hutton and Darwin fall short because none of them "vibrates in response to the majority" of their time.]

"A well-known writer told me that it sometimes happened to him, while he was writing, to forget himself completely; at such times he no longer wrote the truth as he saw and felt it consciously, but transmitted pure and unforseen inspiration."

"Such portions, said the author, are judged by the public as containing the greatest degree of beauty and truth." (Montessori, 1913, p. 470).

[Montessori was known for her oratorical skill. Was she trying to tap into the wisdom of crowds with her lectures? See paragraph below.]

"When a great orator thrills a crowd, he certainly does nothing more than repeat what is already in the thoughts of each member of that crowd; every individual present had, as it were, in his subconsciousness, the same thought that is expressed by the orator, whch was taking form within him but had not yet matured and which he would not have had the knowledge or the abilty to express. The orator, as it were, matures and extracts from him that new thought which was taking shape within him; his better part, which after light is shed upon it will have the power to elevate him. But no orator could ever persuade a crowd with ideas that do not already exist in that crowd, and which consequently, are not part of the truth of their age." (Montessori, 1913, p. 470).

"Consequently, the long awaited social progress which is gradually bringing about the 'brotherhood of man' is not in itself sufficient for the attainment of the ideal mean." (Montessori, 1913, p. 471)

"There are certain errors that must more or less necessarily be encountered along the pathway of humanity; and that act either directly or indirectly upon posterity, deforming and destroying its resistance to life; and it is these that must be taken under consideration, because they delay the normal progress of human society." (Montessori, 1913, pp. 471-472)

"They are conscious and well recognized errors; hence up to a certain point the active agency of man may combat them and succeed little by little in mitigating them and overcoming their disastrous influence upon biological humanity." (Montessori, 1913, 472)

"But these may also be actively combated; and in this direction education has a task of inestimable importance to civilization. We ought to know not only the thought of our century, which is the luminous torch in the light of which we advance along the path of progress; but also the moral needs of our time, and the errors which may be conquered through our conscious agency." (Montesori, 1913, p. 472)

"To know 'the faults of our century,' which are destined to be conquered in the coming century, and to make preparation for the victory--such is our moral mission. The ethical movement of human society has continued to advance from conquest to conquest, and in looking backward at the conditions that have been outgrown and have called them 'barbarous.'" (Montessori, 1913, p. 472)

"Today, in hygiene, in pathology and in anthropology, science is showing us the truth through positive proofs, through experiments and statistics. But these virtues which are paths leading to life, are simply being reconfirmed by science; just as they are being little by little attained by civil progress, which prepares their practical elements; but they were always intuitively recognized by the human heart: nothing is older in the ethics of mankind than the principal of brotherhood, of victory over the instincts, of chastity. Only, these virtues, intuitively perceived, could not be universally practiced, because universal practice demanded time for preparation. But they survived partly as affirmations of absolute virtue and partly as prophesies of a future age and were considered as constituting the highest good. Just as the esthetic sense led to the recognition of normality at a time when the scientific concept was very far from being understood as it is today; in the same way the ethical and religious sense was able to feel intuitively and to separate from customs and from sentiments belonging to an evanescent form of transitory civilization or from the temporary racial needs, those others that relate fundamentally to the biological preservation of the individual and the species and the practical attainment of human perfection. And while the medial intellectual man or the artistic genius combines wholly or in part the thoughts of his time, the medial moral or religious man sums up the guiding principles of life which everyone feels profoundly in the depth of his heart; and when he speaks to other men it seems as though he instilled new vigour into the very roots of their existence, and he is believed, when he speaks of a happier future toward which humanity is advancing. If the intellectual genius is almost a reader of contemporaneous thought as it vibrates around thim, the religious genius interprets more or less completely ad perfectly the universal and eternal spirit of life in humanity." (Montessori, 1913, p. 476)

"Accordingly, the medial man incarnates the beautiful, the true, and the good: in other words, the theories of positivism arrive at the self-same goals as idealism, those of poetry, philosophy and art." (Montessori, 1913, p. 476)

"By following the path of observation, we reach a goal analogous to that sought along the path of intuition." (Montessori, 1913, p. 476)

"The theory of the medial man constructed fundamentally upon positive bases of measurements and facts, represents the limit [limit, in the mathematical sense] of perfection of the human individual associated with the limit of perfection of human society, which is formed in a two-fold way: a close association between all human beings, or the formation of a true social organism (complete hybridism in body; human brotherhood in sentiment), and the steadily progressive emancipation, of every individual member from anxiety concering the defence of life, in order to enjoy the triumph of the development of life. All that was formerly included under defence will assume collective forms of a high order (repressive justice replaced by more varied forms of prevention: which have for their final goal a widespread education and a gradual amelioration of labor and social conditions); and in this reign of peace there will arise the possibility of developing all the forces of life (biological liberty)." (Montessori, 1913, pp. 476-477)

"In such a conception, the individual organism depends more and more upon the social organism: just as the cells depend upon the multicellular organism; and we may almost conceive of a new living entity, a super-organism made up of humanity, but in which every component part is allowed the maximum expansion of its personal activity emancipated from all the obstacles that have been successively overcome. This conception of biological liberty, in other words, the triumph of the free and peaceful development of life, through the long series of more or less bitter struggles and defences of life, constitutes, in my opinion, the very essence of the new pedagogy. And the evolution of modern thought and of the social environment can alone prepare for its advent, perhaps at no distant day." (Montessori, 1913, p. 477)

"Normalization is a technical word borrowed from the field of anthropology. It means becoming a contributing member of society. Dr. Montessori used the term normalization to distinguish one of the processes that she saw in her work with the children at San Lorenzo in Rome." (

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. Down side of sensitive periods--when a catepillar becomes a butterfly, it doesn't go through noticeable changes. Montessori's planes of development finish at age 24.]