According to the flow theory of learning, there are eight mental states that are experienced during any learning process, whether the subject is music, writing, education, sports, or art. Three of these mental states are anxiety, relaxation, and flow. Anxiety occurs when someone’s skill level is too low for the challenge, and relaxation happens when the skill level is higher than the task at hand. Neither condition is optimal for learning. Flow is the ideal match of skill and challenge. It induces the mental state that is also described as immersion; we know it as losing track of time.
According to Dr. Jerry Kilpatrick in his book Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, successful learning is the result of this kind of concentrated effort; and it has three components: interest, attention, and independence. This is what enables people to pursue personal long-term goals, whether its productive work, relationships, or their well-being. Or as Kilpatrick says himself, “an educational approach that cultivates independence of judgment and action and that enables the individual to develop purpose in life.”
Tale of Two Teachers
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were two distinguished educators who discovered the importance of inducing flow in young children. The process allows students to choose what to pursue and what keeps their attention. These educators are Maria Montessori and John Dewey.
However, their methods and opinions differ because their ultimate goals for educating children were so different. Montessori’s philosophy for teaching was utterly individualist, Dewey’s collectivist. The progressive American schools Dewey inspired were short on content and long on social interaction because his creed was straight out of Rousseau’s Social Contract: “personal interests must be subordinated to the general will.”
In contrast, Montessori’s goal was to develop the mind of each child and teach them how to differentiate – learn the nature of things. This leads to concept formation and abstract ideas, and then how to apply them. In other words, principles guiding actions. While Dewey’s approach has dominated government monopoly schools, Montessori has thousands of classrooms all over the world, and her books have been translated into many languages for the training of new teachers. Because of all of this, we are proud to honor Maria Montessori as a Poetic Justice Warrior.
The Montessori Method
Montessori began developing methods for childhood education after graduating from the University of Rome medical program in 1896. Her first assignment was to observe mentally disabled children, and this included research into the major work on educational theory of the previous 200 years.
By applying reason to reality, she created an organized system for teaching children with learning disabilities including uniquely designed materials and activities. In 1900, Montessori introduced an educational program for their teachers, established a research lab, and adapted the Montessori Method for mainstream students. It wasn’t long before some of the students who were labeled as deficient were passing tests intended for so-called “normal” children.
One misconception of the Montessori method is that it is unstructured. But according to Montessori Answers:
Each child has a written work plan with a list of jobs that they specifically need to complete. During work time, as the jobs are finished, the children record it on the plan. As the teacher corrects and reviews the work, she then records information about each child’s understanding and progress on the concepts.
This method of learning, known as inductive reasoning, is critical to human flourishing. It allows for new information to be added to prior knowledge, and to identify and correct false premises. As Montessori Answers continues:
Simple mistakes are corrected with the child either on the spot, or the next day. Deeper misconceptions that require a review of the concept or a different material, is recorded in the lesson plan book. Additionally, the need for a more advanced lesson or new topic is also recorded. New lessons are usually presented the next work period.
The inductive method allows the student, or any other human being with an active mind, to evaluate the probability of a premise being true and testing it. In the world of statistics, this is known as Bayesian Logic, which has led to wonderful achievements in information technology, economic science, and cancer research.
The Nature of Bureaucracy
As economist Ludwig von Mises has taught us:
The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!
Dewey believed that: “Democracy, and the one ultimate ethical ideal of humanity are, to my mind synonymous.” For that to work, compulsory public schools were essential to reconstruct society, and to enforce a fully formed public opinion for its designated citizens, experts, and politicians (the latter were Dewey’s enforcers). To appreciate the inevitable horrors of this dystopian future, take a look at the recent Divergent movie series.
In stark contrast, Montessori exiled herself from Mussolini’s Italy in 1934 because of her anti-fascist views, and spent the World War II years creating schools, training teachers, and lecturing in India. As philosopher Ayn Rand observed in her 1971 essay Don’t Let It Go –
The middle class has created an antidote which is perhaps the most hopeful movement of recent years; the spontaneous, unorganized, grass roots revival of the Montessori system of education – a system aimed at the cognitive, i.e. rational, faculty.
The Nexus of Philosophy and Education
While in India, Montessori developed new educational materials for young children to teach the natural world; working directly with plants and animals while learning botany, zoology, and geology. She expanded her research to include teenagers and infants; creating different planes of learning for different stages of cognitive development.
Philosophy professor Michael Berliner sums up Montessori’s contribution to childhood education best:
Since the purpose of education is to develop a certain kind of individual and society, education involves the practical implementation of philosophic ideals. Despite the success of Montessori schools, there is amazingly little understanding of the reasons for that success.
At present, the supporters of the Montessori method are unable to defend it against either the educational establishment or compromisers from within Montessori ranks. Teachers and parents need to understand the real philosophic meaning of the Montessori method. Ayn Rand’s philosophy makes that understanding possible.
Because Dewey’s progressive education bureaucracy disregards self-determination, it produces many young adults lacking purpose, and social justice warriors. The social costs of this include unemployed young men, and all too often, fatherless children and drug abuse. Fortunately, today’s parents can take back their responsibilities. Montessori, charter and home schools, online classrooms, and many other resources that apply reason to reality, such as Connor Boyack’s Tuttle Twins book series, are wonderful choices. Vibrant markets create choice.
As parents, future parents, or long-term thinkers, you can help create choice and join our latest Poetic Justice Warrior, Maria Montessori. To learn more please take our PJW quiz.