Work! Man’s Fundamental Instinct – Dr. Montessori’s Own WordsPinewoods Montessori School, North Carolina

These quotes were taken from Dr. Montessori’s book Education and Peace, and if you haven’t read it yet, this compendium will help to encapsulate the concept of “work” vs. “play” in the Montessori approach. Lots of food for thought here:

“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The child is also capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the normal human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them as a manifestation of their total freedom. We have seen them labour steadily, drawing on their own energies and developing them as they work.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind. If we therefore mind this embryo as our most precious treasure, we will be working for the greatness of humanity.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“Education must take advantage of the value of the hidden instincts that guide man as he builds his own life. Powerful among these instincts is his social drive. It has been our experience that if the child and the adolescent do not have a chance to engage in a true social life, they do not develop a sense of discipline or morality…The human personality is shaped by continuous experiences; it is up to us to create for children, for adolescents, for young people an environment, a world that will readily permit such formative experiences.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“The groundwork for such organization (of humanity) must be laid in childhood, at the very roots of life. Society can be organized, in short, only if education offers man a ladder of social experiences as he passes from one period of his life to another.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 3)

“In going about his dedicated labours on behalf of the child, the adult must realize above all else that his task concerns a revelation of the child’s soul. If he does so, the steps he subsequently takes and the aid he offers the child will be of great importance; if he does not do so, all his work will go for nothing. This work must have a twofold objective: constructing a suitable environment and bringing about a new attitude toward children on the part of the adults.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “The child must be able to act freely in such an environment. There he must find motives for constructive activity that corresponds to his developmental needs. He must have contact with an adult who is familiar with the laws governing his life and who does not get in his way by overprotecting him, but dictating his activities, or by forcing him to act without taking his needs into account.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“In such an environment, the child proves to be something quite different…He becomes an individual who works very hard, who is observant, who is not destructive…he is capable of great concentration; he is able to control the movements of his body…All this is a result of an interchange between the child and his surroundings, between the child and his work. It does not come about because there is an adult who guides every step, an adult who lords it over the child…When an adult leaves the room, their normal activities go on as before, and all of them pursue their work by themselves.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “This development takes place because the child has been able to work and to be in direct contact with reality. It does not come from anything we teach the child…the child is happiest when he is working.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

 “I would like not to lead you to believe that this kind of environment works miracles all by itself and that the adult has no part to play in it. The adult does have a role to play. He must show the child how to use objects correctly…The child watches the adult working methodically and carefully and repeats his actions methodically and carefully.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“What motivates the child is thus not the goal set for him by the adult, but his own drive for self-perfection. The child perfects himself through contact with reality, through activity that absorbs all his attention.” (Education and Peace, Chapter 11)

“The child has proved to have instincts whose existence we did not even suspect. He has proved to possess a surprising fundamental instinct – he wants to work.” (Chapter 12)

“We do not use the term work in the ordinary sense of the word. The child teaches us that work is not a virtue, not an effort that man is forced to make; it is not the need to earn a livelihood. Work is man’s fundamental instinct.” (Chapter 12)

“Man can be cured of his psychic ills by working; he can break through a genuinely spiritual life by working. Work is the means of remedying all his shortcomings…Man is born to work. The instinct to work is his most outstanding trait.”

“We regard it as good if a child shows affection; obedience is taken to be the moral virtue par excellence; being able to sit quietly and being imaginative are considered good. But all these traits disappear as a child works. Flightiness, laziness, rebelliousness, and deceitfulness disappear also. What is left, then?…What is left is the new man, who has none of our defects – the man who works diligently, the man who is healed of all his ills.”

“THIS man has genuine qualities – love, which is something different from attachment; discipline – which is different from blind submission; the ability to relate to reality, which is something different than flights of fancy. The child brings us light; he shows us the new man, the moral man and teaches us the value of simple and regular habits, for simplicity and regularity are the keys to well-being.” (Chapter 12)

“The child has given us striking revelations of different kinds of love, all of them directly related to work…Man has had intimations of this higher form of love because he has intuitions within his soul of every truth, though he has not followed and applied them in his everyday life. This higher love comes naturally to children…” (Chapter 12)

“In the deviated human adult we see a tendency to possess and a drive for power that are entirely different from those of the normal man. In the abnormal child we see clear evidence of this urge to possess. The child never stops asking for things, and the more he is given, the more he wants to have. He is a child who does not work, who has sensations but does not love.” (Chapter 12)

“The love of one’s environment is the secret of all man’s progress and the secret of social evolution…Love of the environment inspires man to learn, to study, to work…Every new thing that comes into being is produced by men who love their environment; bread, dwelling places, furniture, and so on. Everything in our social environment is the result of some form of labour. Men who have come to experience love are privileged. When there is an interchange between an object and a man’s spirit, something deep inside him is awakened – human dignity.” (Chapter 12)

“If the adult did not take the wrong path- as a result of his having been a neglected, mistreated child – he would feel love for his environment and a love of work. He would be a normal man.” (Chapter 12)

“Now that we have caught a glimpse of what a normal man can be, we have reason to believe that all mankind may one day become better, become normal.” (Chapter 12)

“The child has shown us the basic principle underlying the process of education, which he has expressed in the words ‘Teach me to do things by myself!’ The child resists letting adults help him if they try to substitute their own activity for his. The adult must help the child do things entirely on his own, for if the child does not reach the point of ceasing to rely on the help of adults and becoming independent, he will never fully mature intellectually or morally.” (Chapter 14)

“Individual freedom is the basis of all the rest. Without such freedom it is impossible for personality to develop fully. Freedom is the key to the entire process, and the first step comes when the individual is capable of acting without help from others and becomes aware of himself as an autonomous being…Freedom is the necessary foundation of organized society. Individual personality could not develop without individual freedom.” (Chapter 14)

“Man seeks freedom…in order to live.” (Chapter 14)

“The fundamental freedom – the freedom of the individual – is necessary for the evolution of a species for two reasons: 1. It gives individuals infinite possibilities for growth and improvement and constitutes the starting point of man’s complete development; 2. It makes the formation of society possible, for freedom is the basis of human society…WE MUST MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL TO BE FREE AND INDEPENDENT.” (Chapter 14)

“The environment must promote not only the freedom of the individual, but also the formation of a society. The education of humanity must rest on a scientific foundation and follow from it every step of the way.”(Chapter 14)

“The first step, from which all the rest follow, is then to help the child develop all his functions as a free individual and to foster that development of personality that actuates social organization.” (Chapter 14)

“The drive for freedom, the individual’s inherent need to be let alone so that he can act on his own, determines what we call one ‘level of education’.” (Chapter 14)

Note: The first level of education (childhood) is a school that uses materials that foster the freely organized activity of the child. The second level of education (adulthood) leads to the develop of society, to the social organization of the adult. This school is the gateway to the development of the personality and social organization. (Chapter 14)

“Education is indispensable not to foster material progress but to save humanity; all our efforts must be directed toward helping the inner man form himself rather than fighting the world outside.” (Chapter 14)

“The child, a free human being, must teach us and teach society order, calm, discipline, and harmony. When we help him, love blossoms, too – the love of which we have great need to bring men together and create a happy life.” (Chapter 14)

“Individual freedom is the basis of the first level of education. Our aim must be to make the child capable of acting by himself, as we have already indicated. The adult must be a source of help, not an obstacle. Above all, he must aid the child, never make him the helpless victim of a blind authority that does not take his real goal into account. We must truly help fulfill the child’s needs; we must let him do things by himself because his very life depends on his being able to act. He must be allowed to function freely. A human being who cannot carry out his vital functions becomes sick, and we often find that children who are not allowed to develop normally suffer psychic illnesses.” (Chapter 14 p.106)

“This is the mission of education. Let us therefore unite our efforts to construct an environment that will allow the child and the adolescent to live an independent, individual life in order to fulfill the goal that all of us are pursuing – the development of personality, the formation of the supernatural order, and the creation of a better society.“

“Vast instruction and an environment that meets his needs are necessary to develop the human soul and human intelligence – the life of the child.”

“We have been wrongly accused of wanting to deprive children of joy! But our intention is neither to give them joy nor to take it away…The child in our prepared environment does not play. He works, and greed disappears; he works, and laziness disappears. He wants to do everything! The human individual has demonstrated a tendency to work independently in order to develop his mind, and then love is born and leads to a happy society.” (Chapter 14)

“Man does not find happiness in play as an activity apart from life. Those who know how to do nothing else but amuse themselves soon fall victim to depression. Our schools, who duty it is to make possible the happy life that is man’s natural condition, must provide the child with surroundings appropriate to his needs – building and furniture on his scale – and at the same time put before him noble ideas and great discoveries of the human mind, offering him in material form the abstractions that are the typical products of the adult intellect so that the loftiest creations of human intelligence may penetrate his mind.” (Chapter 14)

First Period of his Life

“…individual must develop by himself, independently. This is the period of self-education…The characteristic feature of education given the child at this stage in his life must therefore be the safeguarding of his freedom, and since he is living in an artificial environment, he must be surrounded by things tailored to his needs. Everything must be child-sized…a whole world just his size must be created for the child.” (Chapter 14)

“If secondary education, however, is set up along the very same lines as this first level, it goes against nature, for once the child has passed the age appropriate to the formation as an individual he needs to devote himself to the formation of his personality. The adolescent’s social formation must now begin, and the individual must be given social experience.”  (Chapter 14)

“Young people cannot acquire social experience because they are forced to devote all their time to studying. In order for the adolescent to acquire social experience, society must build the right sort of environment for him, a supernature suited to his needs where he can have effective, practical experience of every aspect of social life.” (Chapter 14)

“Independence on another level is required at this age (adolescence), for independence is necessary for social life as well. Young people must perform social functions independently, work, and earn a living…They must therefore be given the chance to spend time studying and practicing manual and intellectual skills.” (Chapter 14)

“We try to create a harmony between those who with their minds and those who work with their hands.” (Chapter 14)

“The aim of human development must be a total expression of life, a life superior to ours. Then we will reach a higher level.” (Chapter 14)

“That is the third level, in fact, characterized by the preparation of the human soul for work as the vital function that is the corner-stone of social experience. When he enters the workaday world, man must be aware first and foremost of his social responsibility. If he is not, we will have not only men without heads and without hands, but also men who are selfish, who have no consciences, who are irresponsible members of society.” (Chapter 14)

“All humanity that works for the common good, even though it may be unaware of it, is creating the new world that must be the world of peace. The great efforts of men who have labored, made discoveries, studied and suffered – all the work of mankind will be seen to have had one common purpose in the world: that will be the world of peace.” (Chapter 15)

“We are convinced that the child can do a great deal for us more than we can do for him. We adults are rigid. We remain in one place. But the child is all motion. He moves hither and thither to raise us far above the earth. Once I felt this impression very strongly, more deeply than ever before, and I took almost a vow to become a follower of the child as my teacher. Then I saw before me the figure of the child, as those close to me now see and understand him. We do not see him as almost everyone else does, as a helpless little creature lying with folded arms and outstretched body, in his weakness. We see the figure of the child who stands before us with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow.”  (Chapter 15)

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