Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Just before we went away I read a post on the Montessori_Online yahoo group that really interested me. It was written by Jinan, in India, and was full of insightful, interesting & challenging ideas. What was particularly interesting to me was the concept of "textualised" v. "non-textualised" individuals or communities. The illiterate (& - my presumtion - pre-reading children) could be considered non-textualised; people for whom text has no impact on their consciousness (sorry, if I'm doing a poor job of explaining it!). I guess it grabbed my interest because I had been thinking about Hug & his purposeful *commitment* to not-reading (which I touched on in an earlier post) & my commitment to embracing that. Follow the child.
That post was followed by another great one, this time written by Sharon Caldwell. Sharon is editor of Montessori Leadership and www.montessori.org as well as the Montessori Foundation & IMC Representative for Africa. She writes with a beautifully personal & honest grace as well as a deep understanding of Montessori philosophy & practice. I asked Sharon for permission to publish a copy of her post, because I thought it may be thought-provoking to readers of this blog, as it was for me, which she generously granted:
I'd like to give some context to what Jinan is writing here. In December 2004 I had the honour of travelling with Jinan to a small village in rural Orissa - the trip for me was like taking a trip in a time machine because as we left the city on a dirt road, so the trappings of "civilization" disappeared to be replaced by something that probably existed 100 years ago. The village we visited has been supported for centuries by the most amazing traditional brasswork - when you get out of the car you hear a rhythmic beating of the hammers in the small workshops where the craftsmen work sitting on the floor. There was one man who was working in fine gold, but mostly the work was brass. Now, traditionally, children would work and play
alongside the adults, slowly learning the skills necessary to do this work. Now these children go to school to learn reading and math and other subjects regarded as important in a school-based society. None of them are learning this skill that has sustained the village for, probably, centuries. Not only is a unique aspect of culture disappearing, but the village is being primed for poverty. There is no real employment for literate people here - the skills needed to thrive are those involving making these beautiful artifacts, and growing food. People who are "educated" don't want to do those things - they want to go to the cities to find work - and largely end up unemployed, living in slums, women in prostitution and so on. A small
percentage may go on to higher education and find employment. But everyone swallows the idea that literacy and schooling is a panacea. We see the same thing in South Africa. Yes, literacy is a useful skill - but it is not the only useful skill - it has subjugated all other skills. Let us remember that it was not illiterate people who established concentration camps and gulags. We need to seriously start examining the idea of "other ways of knowing" and respecting those and recognising that just as a functioning body needs organs that are specialized for certain tasks so a functioning society needs different systems, with different organis within thoses systems, and within the organs very specialized and focused individuals ... I mean cells. [ At the risk of taking this metaphor a bit too far - in the body some cells are able to change to take over other jobs to repair damaged organs - but when cells get confused and begin to behave in ways they are not designed to behave in - we get tumours. - maybe that happens with people in society too?]
I recently read some interesting research regarding the aboriginal tribes in Australia - how their language does not have words that translate directly as "in front" and "behind" and so on, but always related to north, south etc. But they don't have compasses or any other instruments! How do children learn this - certainly not thorugh detailed lessons on where the sun is in the sky at any time of day, or treatises on the constellations. It is a way of knowing which the analytical textual mind just cannot access. If we continue to insist that everyone learn the same things in the same way,
these abilities will become extinct (as they almost are) just as surely as we have eradicated species from the globe.
Are these "other ways of knowing" somehow akin to the mulltiple intelligences identified by Howard Gardner? Maybe - and maybe there are a lot more than we know. Certainly it is clear that some of the intelligences flourish in the absence of others - we can't have them all at the same time!
Dr. Montessori's work is base on the idea that children acquire culture from their environment - in other words our "way of knowing" is influenced by early experiences - so for me the interesting question is the extent to which the predisposition of the brain is genetically set (and how quickly does this happen) to acquire certain ways of knowing more easily than others. There is research that shows that oriental children process number in a different area of the brain to western children, and this may have something to do with the way language is symbolized in the different cultures. If that is the case, then it is not a huge leap to propose that symbolized language is affecting our brains in other ways too -possibly even highjacking areas that would otherwise be allocated to say, feeling empathy? I know this is speculation but the plasticity of the brain is based on specialisation - the brain prunes neural connections to specialise on those skills that are favoured in whatever circumstances the human being finds himself. I'm rambling so I'll get on to my last point -
How much do we (society as a whole) really need to cling to this dependence on text - reading and writing - and develop it to the detriment of all else. We have software that recognises text - pretty soon we won't be typing in a forum like this, but merely talking into the computer which can store the sound file for others to listen to (oops - we can do that already... just, well me, I prefer text ....) - soon we will be able to click on the sound file and get the voice/sound file for it - probably with a translation into many languages. Technology renders all these things possible - but the aesthetic sense of the brass-beaters, the sense of place and connection to the Earth of the Australian tribes (the this is where I am *meant* to be rather than the geographical location that a GPS can give), the sense of awe and reverance that results from gazing at the night sky, or the mixture of primal fear and wonder when you are deep down in a cave watching the drip drip that forms magestic columns, or the sense of love when you look into a babies eyes, or true heroism that happens on a daily basis when people make small and large sacrifices simply because they care for one another - those are human things - that can't be replaced by text or technology. Surely that is what we should be focusing on when we work with children.
Oh yes, I think Dr. Montessori said that too.
Sharon Caldwell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
You can watch a video, entitled Children Being In The World by Jinan, on youtube. It's only about 7 minutes long & I think fellow-Montessorians & Rainbow Mama's will dig it. Watch to the end past the credits for the dancing bubba :)