Character Teaching

Character Teaching-a Full Prospective
"By character, we mean the behavior of men driven (though often unconsciously) to make progress.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.213

Montessori teaching follows laws of nature with children to bring about true normal character qualities, such as independence, self-discipline, patience, and integrity in the human personality. In this sense, it is a type of character teaching, which can be adapted to overcome many fundamental obstacles to progress in society.

Unfortunately, conventional Montessori teaching has largely abandoned this noble purpose for character development, focusing instead on improving academic performance and polite manners to conform to the surrounding culture.

The International Montessori Society (IMS), however, follows Dr. Montessori’s original character development approach to normal being, which is capable of esolving the culture of poverty and abusive child labor that is so widespread and problematic throughout the world. In this spirit, IMS began developing a character teaching (CT) project in 2001 to specifically address these serious social problems, recognizing that Montessori teaching is uniquely suited to function in conditions of extreme poverty.

Extreme Poverty
"The circumstances which favored the first experiment were mainly three: (1) Extreme poverty and a social condition of much difficulty…(2) parents of these children were illiterate…(3) The teachers were not professional teachers.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Ed. for a New World, p.51-52

Dr. Montessori discovered the child’s true nature in 1907 by observing poor young children living in very difficult social conditions. In this first Children’s House experiment in Rome, Italy, she found the combination of extreme poverty, parental ignorance and untrained teachers to be ideal for neutralizing the negative effects of detrimental influences in the surrounding society. Of course, the special circumstances for the success of this experiment are lacking in wealthy communities where Montessori teaching is now most widely sought to function.

Special Circumstances
"…facts…in Rome many years ago would not have happened but for special circumstances. If a House for Children had been organized in a rich quarter of New York, nothing of note would have happened, just as nothing happens in many schools which are richly endowed.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Ed. for a New World, p.51

Since 1907, Montessori teaching has largely been attempted only outside the special poverty circumstances that so favored its original great success. In wealthy conditions, however, parents and government agencies tend to hold back Montessori teaching by imposing limitations, expectations, and pressure for superficial results of academic performance and culturally-approved behavior. In all organized cultures, therefore, public opinion tends to discourage any Montessori teaching that is completely committed to true normal being in children.

Public Opinion
"…defects of character…are not always regarded as bad by public opinion. Some are even valued. Passive children are thought to be good. Noisy and exuberant children with vivid imaginations are thought to be spiritually brilliant.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.201

Public opinion has now largely made Montessori teaching into a form of conventional education, viewing children as limited, empty, and dependent on external control. This conventional Montessori teaching, however, cannot effectively address the fundamental cause of cultural poverty, which is so deeply-rooted as an accepted truth in many parts of the world. At most, it offers only short-term superficial results, such as moving poor working children from the streets or factory to a classroom of teacher-directed curriculum.

Since conventional schooling only builds up character defects, such as dependency on external authority and the illusion of benefit without effort, the basic problems of long-term poverty remain. By contrast, IMS offers an expansive type of Montessori teaching that follows natural laws of the universe.

Natural Laws
"There are natural laws which guide growth and formation, and the individual must follow these laws if he is to build up his character…”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.218

Following personality or culture, Montessori teaching can only treat the symptoms of poverty and basic human depravation. However, Montessori teaching that is committed to natural laws allows children to follow their own perfect inner guidance to return to their true normal state of peace, order, and harmony with others. This approach aims only to normalize the conditions, enabling children to bring out their own inherent qualities of normal character development.

Normalize the Conditions
"Lack of character, or defects of character disappear of themselves, without any need for preaching by grownups or for grown-up examples. One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to ‘normalize the conditions’ under which the child lives.”
i Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.299

Montessori teaching normalizes the conditions for children by removing detrimental influences of the adult personality, other children and physical objects in the environment around each individual child. Since 2003, this process has been greatly simplified with the advent of IMS Montessori technology.

The Character Teaching (CT) project proposes to train teachers for using this new IMS technology to implement Montessori teaching in two basic components: (1) a formal model school for young children, and (2) an informal daily tutoring program for poor working children in the open air. The formal model school will be conducted in the ideal circumstances for 2-6 year old poor children, allowing them to freely engage in a sequence of activities based on their own self-directed interests.

Sequence of Activities
" …children construct their own characters, building up in themselves the qualities we admire. These do not spring from our example or admonishments, but they result solely from a long and slow sequence of activities, carried out by the child himself between the ages of three and six.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.208

The CT model school enables young children to carry out a sequence of learning activities to concentrate on work with materials that eventually leads to their complete normalization. Once normalized, children begin to express positive character qualities, such as self-reliance, integrity, and personal dignity, which can become fixed in their stable way of being for life. As adults, these same qualities will then become the fabric of a new higher level of moral and responsible behavior in society.

Although a formal classroom environment is ideal for all poor children, this may not always be possible due to disorder in the family and social structure of many poor countries. The CT project therefore offers an informal tutoring component to reach poor working children where they gather in the open air to beg, work, or sell objects for their basic physical survival.

Informal Tutoring
"If we want an easy experiment with sure success, we should go to work among poor children, offering them an environment which they don’t possess.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Ed. for a New World, p.52

The informal tutoring aspect of the CT project sets up a Montessori environment by establishing a short-term contract with poor working children based on the concept exchange of value. This idea involves a time-money exchange in which the CT tutor gives the child a small amount of money in exchange for a few minutes of the child’s time for instruction in such basic skills of reading, writing, or math. Offering the money establishes a basis of interest for the lesson presentation; and, withholding its payment until after the lesson assures an effective control of the environment.

At each instructional session, the CT tutors follow the protocol Be friendly — get acquainted, recording the child’s name, age, residence and lesson presented. This written data helps monitor and regulate the progress of each child’s learning, providing also a record to pay the tutors according to the number of session conducted. Repeating these sessions on a regular, frequent basis allows children to deeply experience the value of their time, building up such positive character qualities as self-respect, patience, integrity and persistent to task. The children then establish a more positive way of thinking about themselves and others, eventually bringing out higher character qualities in all areas of life.

Positive Incentives
The CT tutoring component also contemplates special incentives for children who successfully continue in the program. For example, after 10 sessions, children receive a notebook journal and writing instrument of their own. They can also later qualify to receive clothing, text books, learning materials, and other useful items to encourage and acknowledge their commitment to progress and successful learning.

The CT project is a simple, direct application of Montessori teaching, yet still quite challenging due to its novel and unconventional nature. It is, therefore, very experimental, requiring a high level of personal integrity, commitment, and self-discipline by all supervisory staff. In operation, it must overcome a number of very practical obstacles.

" …all obstacles must be removed so that men, all over the surface of the globe, should be as children playing in a garden.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Peace and Education, p.27

Until 2003, the main practical obstacle to conducting an effective CT project was the lack of suitable means to quickly and efficiently train a large number of skilled Montessori teachers. Although the new IMS Montessori technology now theoretically solves this problem, the practical challenge still remains to identify those persons sufficiently interested and able to implement this knowledge in practice. For example, many still cling to conventional ideas about character development, such as the idea that giving any amount of money to children, no matter how little or how controlled, is somehow too corrupting to have any beneficial effect.

Due to these obstacles, IMS has encountered only limited private and public interest in the project so far. Nevertheless, some persons have joined the CT consultation board and made noteworthy efforts in countries such as Nicaragua, Kenya, Macedonia, India and Pakistan. The project also needs support from local government officials, which is difficult to obtain due to political and philosophical obstacles encountered with any new, untried idea.

Lee Havis, IMS executive director, believes that the CT project must first validate the practical success of the IMS technology in existing model programs, such as the New Way Montessori School in Meridian, Idaho. In addition, Lee is still completing the final version of his basic text that presents the new Montessori technology in full detail.

Operational Steps
The CT project plans to proceed in sequential steps, beginning first with a training seminar and consultation visit to lay the ground work for its later full-scale operation. Based on the success of this initial visit, Lee believes it will be possible to form a suitable local organization and obtain the necessary funding for its operation over a period of several years.

Ultimately, the project aims to demonstrate the original character developing purpose of Montessori teaching, by implementing the IMS technology in many schools throughout the country. At this scale, Lee hopes that character teaching will become sufficiently visible to become widely accepted and institutlized in society, leading to the ultimate eradication of poverty and abusive child labor in the world.