Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The clumsiness of power spoils the key, and uses the pickaxe. - Tagore

How often it's happened that I go to a child, and am so excited to show them something, and when I offer the lesson and the child says "No." Worse yet, he recoils and makes a disgusted face when I kneel down to touch the material that I'm going to present. And inside of me there is a slight panic that says "You're not supposed to be rejecting this- it has been scientifically designed for you to like it!" And I have a split moment where I decide if I'm going to overrule the child ("YOU WILL SWALLOW THIS MEDICINE! IT'S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!") or smile mildly (sometimes it hurts) and say "That's ok. We'll do it at another time." It happens to me. Still. After years in the classroom, that I still wage an internal battle at certain moments when this situation comes up.

I picked up "Creative Development in the Child" and there was a passage that addressed this exactly. And it's not wishywashy about it at all.

"It is necessary that we obtain the deep felt consent of the child before doing the exercise. [] When these exercises are not done of the child's own will, they have no success, and are of no use. So the teacher must not only prepare the material but also suceed in establishing this contact. Without this spiritual contact, without the spiritual assent of the child and his eager collaboration, these exercises have no value at all. "

"The teacher may be prejudiced. She may say- What? Must I teach only what the children consent to? Where is my authority, and my dignity? We must understand however, that we can use our authority in many ways, but no one will force a child to do an exercise which he does not choose. Force will only awaken the disgust of the child towards the means of education given to him. By authority, which forces the child who is helpless, to do something we wish him to do because we are powerful, we put out a vital flame of light in the soul of the child. It then becomes impossible to make the child do these delicate exercises."

"A good teacher therefore is one who succeeds in opening the roads to furnish the child with the means he seeks, who can call down the spirit of the child. "

(Maria Montessori, Creative Development in the Child, pg 152-153)

I know that the result when I push the child is most likely going to be negative- usually the child will not repeat the lesson. Give up halfway. And usually lose interest. That's a steep price to pay. But I admit I sometimes wield the pickaxe.

It's good to be reminded why it has to go into the storage. For good.


Leslie said...

Thanks so much for this post! I appreciate hearing your own struggle with this- I'm all too familiar with my own! ;) It is such a great challenge to sit with Maria's words on this topic. I'll be sharing this with others!

Anonymous said...

Love this. Thank you.

My Boys' Teacher said...


Laura S. said...

Hi Susanne,
So true. Montessori said a fundamental lesson is an experiment, in many ways. In a big way, the lesson is a test of the teacher's assumption that the child is ready for the lesson. Sometimes, not. That's okay. There's always another day. Isn't it okay that sometimes the child just wants to say 'no' and be respected in his refusal, in his own experiment of his power as an individual? Yup - he does have the power to say no. All is not lost -- he's learning SO much. Maybe today's lesson is that, yes - he does have the power as an individual to say 'no' and be heard.

Lindart said...

I have children who say "NO!" to every offer of a presentation. I don't know why this happens, as you said, they SHOULD be interested! But sometimes I will say, well, I would like to do it, and you can watch! That is often OK with them, so I do it (give the lesson)and they are standing by me, watching. I then ask then again if they would like to do it, and often they say "yes". Sometimes they still say "no" and that's OK. They have still had the lesson and can choose it later if they want -which also sometimes happens! I think some children will always say "no" to something when they don't know what it is, just like when trying to get them to eat a new food "I don't like it!" "but you've never tried it!" But I DON"T LIKE it!!"

Insightful Brain said...

I agree... it is one of the hardest things and I battle with things such as these quite often! Don't be too hard on yourself...when I am, I always think about the teacherI worked with in the past who actually said to a child "You will do this work before you leave... I called your mom and she will not come pick you up until you complete the work." I was quite shocked.

Stephanie said...

This is such a great reminder! Thanks for writing this. With my own kiddo it is so hard to remember that it is ok to wait! Sometimes I think that I need to see her moving forward to know she is learning!
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