Character Teaching

Can Education Solve Poverty and Child Labor?
In 2008, poverty and child labor are growing
problems that threaten the stability and progress
of all countries in our complex global economy.
Many look to education as a solution, without
realizing the true cause or nature of the problem

Confusing cause with effect, conventional efforts
to end poverty and child labor fundamentally fail
to effectively address the problems they seek to
remedy. For example, thinking the cause of poverty
is simply lack of money by poor people, the solution
is to give them more money. Likewise, thinking the
cause of child labor is simply lack of conventional
education, the solution is to send the children to
ordinary formal schooling. In practice, however,
applying this superficial logic does not address
much less solve the underlying cause of the
problem, much less resolve, the underlying cause
at issue, which is the lack of proper character
development in children.

Unfortunately, goverment agencies, and prominent
private organizations tend to look only at symptoms
and effects of the problem, such as giving money
and schooling without addressing the true causes
of child labor and poverty. Sadly, the US government appears committed to following this faulty logic in its efforts to eradicate child labor through education. For example, the US Department of Labor (DOL) invests some $350 million dollars in this effort through funding “education initiative” grants. However, these efforts are limited to conventional education only.

Some funded projects only seek to raise awareness of child labor by distributing notices or conducting lectures and workshop to urge greater attention to the problem. Other projects spend large sums of money to study and document the problem, without getting to any solution at all.

Happily, there is a type of education that can effectively address and ultimately solve the problem of both poverty and child labor. The International Montessori Society (IMS) offers this new educational approach as a type of character teaching.

The IMS "Character Teaching”project sees the problem of poverty and child labor as one of assuring proper character development in children. It employs a novel “exchange of value” concept, which involves giving a small amount of money to poor working children in exchange for a brief amount of their time for instruction in basic academic skills. Detractors and conventional educators generally object to this time-money concept because they say that giving even a small amount of money to poor working children, no matter how it is regulated and controlled, will corrupt them and encourage their further harmful child labor. By contrast, Lee Havis, IMS director, argues, “this ‘exchange of value’ is vital for establishing a relationship of trust, respect and accountability with the children involved. It allows them to directly experience self-worth, integrity and personal accountability, which repeated over time, will ultimately become deeply incorporated into their whole way of being and character for life”.

The Character Teaching project follows the basic scientific approach pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900’s. In 1907, Montessori applied this approach with poor, neglected children in the slums of Rome, Italy. In these dire poverty conditions, she discovered that children have inborn natural qualities of self-discipline order, integrity, and instincts for independence, that can emerge by following laws of nature to control the environment, not the child. In modern times, these efforts at Montessori teaching have largely failed to misunderstanding of Dr. Montessori's original experiment, and a lack of consistent and comprehensive technology to put this fully into practice.

According to Lee, a key factor in the potential success of the IMS character teaching project is using a new comprehensive technology he perfected and consolidated for Montessori teaching in 2003. He says, “Combining this new technology of Montessori teaching with the concept of ‘exchange of value’, we have clear opportunity to solve the main problems of poverty and abusive child labor that was never possible before. Now, it just waits for a country government willing to give this unconventional chance to operate."

For further information, contact:
Lee Havis
International Montessori Society
9525 Georgia Ave. #200
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-589-1127 • email: