The Adolescent – the Social Newborn

“The basic activities of human social organisation are the developmental lessons that Maria Montessori prescribes for the adolescent ‘the ‘social newborn’ whose developmental task is to enter adulthood, and in doing so, inherit the best of human accomplishment and civilization and move it forward. They are complex social beings in the making, and they actively pursue an understanding of social organisation”1. This brings us back to the consideration of the importance of the prepared environment. This essential term is followed through during all the planes of development and has a fundamental importance in Montessori education. It is its backbone and sets the guidelines, supports the aims and gives inspirations and ideas. The care of the environment using grace and courtesy is helping the children throughout all of these four planes, to create a sense of ownership what supports their development of independence and the will to study and work. We talk about the independence of being able to think and know for oneself. The ability to think, and develop social independence, is important when it comes to morality. We want the children to establish a conscience and thus be able to evaluate behaviour from a moral or ethical point of view. To help the children achieve moral independence one should not impose a set of principles upon   them, but to help them develop their powers of reflection. The children need to be informed about the possibilities and options so they can think for themselves and be aware of their attitudes and orientation in life”2. Independence is the result of a well laid out and structured Prepared Environment, what leads to developing social organisation. Practical life skills and order are underlined, introducing and giving the work that the children love to do, giving them a sense of belonging. Belonging leads to ownership, what leads to taking care of your environment. The result is work. Work is a human tendency supporting self-construction and needs to be purposeful. “Among the revelations the child has brought us, there is one of fundamental importance, the phenomenon of normalization through work. Thousands and thousands of experiences among children of every race enable us to state that this phenomenon is the most certain datum verified in psychology or education. It is certain that the child’s attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organize itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example. […] The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.”3. Throughout the week, it was interesting to see and live the life of an adolescent. The responsibilities that have had been set upon us, showed in what way social organization is a necessity to have a smooth and well-functioning society. If the opportunity to be independent is given, physically and mentally, one has the chance to built and create one’s own personality. The environment will allow and apply your freedom of choice. That helps you to become a decision maker. This had to be applied in organizing the daily routines during the week.  Personality growth is omni-present. The adolescent has the opportunity to meet his sensitive periods of morality, dignity, social and economical independence. They have the opportunity to satisfy them on their own terms. Important is that the rules of the society, the environment and personal space are respected. It is within the social organization that these ‘rules’ are set up and agreed on by all the members of the group. One needs to have a healthy understanding of adaptability. It does not mean that one needs to follow the given, but to show, that no matter what circumstances oneself or the group is in, the ways of how to balance out the equation needs to be found for that the society is happy and harmonious. Maria Montessori said: People that are not adapted to their environment are not superior people. Adaptation to the environment is something positive, a starting point from which a person can go a long way. Adaptation to the environment is the first necessity”.4. One needs to also cherish that next to the phenomena of the Absorbent Mind is a special power of the young child. This power is called the power of adaptation. This power is a process whereby the young child uses the environment to develop. This allows the child to become part of the environment and starts to own it. The young child absorbs the culture of her time and place, taking in the spirit, the customs, the ambitions and attitudes of a society by simply living in that society. This is a gift given to the child. This is a gift that the child will carry along through all the planes of development. So, reaching the third plane, the child has had a long period of practicing adaptation and hence has developed a strong capability for adaptability. That is essential for the adolescent. Being able to adapt, all doors are open. Throughout the week, the adolescent showed a natural adaptation to the group that has invaded their environment. Together, a general momentum of adaptation has happened. Adults and adolescents, finding their way to live together. One needs to keep in mind that the adolescent enters his phase of puberty where adaptability can be harder.  That can cause some turmoil in the adolescent’s acceptability. Maria Montessori states therefore that the study and work with the hand can offer the right distraction, the environment with the right amount of occupations is the right solution. “From the psychological viewpoint also, this is a critical age. There are doubts and hesitations, violent emotions, discouragement and an unexpected decrease of intellectual capacity. The difficulty to study with concentration is not due to a lack of willingness but is really a psychological characteristic of the age…The chief symptom of adolescence is a state of expectation, a tendency towards creative work and a need for the strengthening of self-confidence”5. A helpful and necessary technique is observation. This allows the guide to investigate and decipher the current state of being of the child. Ways of behaviour, deviations and misunderstandings can be taken care of with this approach. The guide can use different ways to communicate, through personal meetings, group sessions or journal writing. Observation is laying the basis of many factors, from academical difficulties to personal challenges. “The observation of the way in which the children pass from the first disordered movements to those which are spontaneous and ordered – thus is the book of the teacher, this is the book which must inspire ones actions6. Throughout observing, The guide has to put aside adjectives like omnipotence, power, authority, pride and vanity. Under these circumstances the guide can keep the ability to observe and to keep an open mind. This means that the guide has to be able to accept to be proved to be wrong. An idea, a conviction or belief, can now and then be proved to be wrong. Then, the adult, the teacher shall take it for granted and see how, where and eventually when, something went ‘wrong’. It is only with fresh and clear minds that children may be observed as they truly are. This helps the adult, the teacher to respond to the real needs of children rather than to preconceived ideas. The adult should be able to consciously be ready to change character to be able to serve the child in the appropriate way. When the adult allows to get trained in the technique of observation, there will come a natural help in place; “…the adult feels interest and such interest is the motive power which creates the spirit of the scientist”. In addition to having the precision of a scientist, the teacher should also possess the spiritual qualities of a saint. “These qualities together bring joy and serenity which characterize the next teacher. When she feels herself, a flame with interest, ‘seeing’ the spiritual phenomena of the child, and experiences a serene joy and an insatiable eagerness in observing them, then she will know that she is “initiated”. Then she will begin to become a “teacher”7.  The teacher, the guide is the representation of the development that Montessori refers to as ‘Supernature’. As guide one has the responsibility to present to the children the evolution of the i.e. machinery and how this has changed the fulfilment and satisfaction of the fundamental needs. Humanity has always had the urge to make life better and easier. ‘Supernature’ is representing that. Animals have the ability to produce its food directly. Contemporary man doesn’t live with nature but with ‘supernature’ and Maria Montessori says: “The education that will lead the way to a new humanity kind has one end alone: leading the individual and society to a higher stage of development. This concept involves many factors and may seem obscure, but it becomes clearer if we realize that mankind has to fulfil a collective mission on earth, a mission involving all of humanity and therefore each and every human”8. Going through the first two planes, the child is prepared to inherit this responsibility. They are given the tools to start their journey through the third plane of development. Social responsibility, the social organisation with its different elements are becoming a structured guideline that can and should be used to educate the children. Practical consideration for social organisation starts again with the prepared environment. This is provided with the right set up of the physical environment what represents the support for all the occupations that are on the planning for the adolescent community. Practical headlines are ‘Residence for young people’, ‘Farm’, ‘Store’, ‘Guesthouse’, ‘Museum of Machinery’, organized and maintained by the adolescent with the support and   the guides. To focus on their Social and economical independence, this is the ideal scenario for the adolescent to apply and practise the coming adult hood. They are introduced to production and exchange, what combines two essential factors that sits within the fundamental needs. With production they learn to support themselves on creating food, shelter and protection what leads them to exchange for further growth by earning money or exchanging goods, to meet the needs that they have. All this sits within the social organisation. They become members of this society, understanding the necessities of themselves, the others and the environment. This is key for humanity to evolve.

Maria Montessori said: “I would like to pose a question: does not man also have a cosmic mission to fulfil on earth? Is it conceivable that this being who has such great intelligence, which is the worker par excellence, has no part to play in he labour of the cosmos9?

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One Comment on “The Adolescent – the Social Newborn

  1. Oh, yes Christoph! Thank you for sharing this! Mmmm. Good stuff, here.

    I like Dr. Montessori’s prescription for the future adolescent, which is defined by four planes of development each characterized by sensitive periods for learning and are the basis for the age groupings found in Montessori schools: (ages 0 to 6), the absorbent mind, (6-12) conscious imagination, (12-18) new identity and (18-24) maturity. These building blocks yield a description of the kinds of reflective encounters for students needed to grow social imagination and an articulate public.

    Montessori wrote: “Education is not something which the teacher does, but a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.” In other words, what she is saying here, is ‘you are a wonderful, unique special, original, one-of-a-kind masterpiece; a glorious manifestation of the love inside of you!’

    She goes on to write: “It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his (her) environment.” This is a kind of recipe for describing the importance of a prepared environment and the psychology of response-based learning. People learn by thinking about and making things that are useful and important to ‘them’ and comes from who they are and the way they are! Constructivism is a learning theory found in psychology which explains how people might acquire knowledge and learn. It therefore has direct application to education. The theory suggests that humans construct knowledge and meaning from their experiences. I would go further and add that ‘knowledge is created and a social activity’!

    Creativity is pre-verbal and crosses all fields. I propose a new creative pedagogy and what it means to be human. I would like to graft these learning models into two main ideas of my vision based on my observations and work with children in American public and private schools: 1) the need for creative recovery and 2) why the imaginative voice of the artist and innovative thinker in human conversation is important in education. We need to unlearn perfectionism, learn how to unblock and relearn how to be comfortable in our own skin. Like Montessori my curricular choices and preparation begin to develop much more social, emotional and aesthetic perspectives on motivation, ones in which the environment helps to provide motivating features that can light a fire under students as often as possible.

    Jeffrey Wilhem wrote in “You Gotta BE the Book” that kids “must be free to deal with their own reactions to the text? (Wilhelm, 2008). Kids who simply go through the motions but do not read from their hearts sets up a “correct interpretation” mindset which can kill creative freedom and innovative thinking.

    Donald Gallo wrote in ‘How Classics Create an Aliterate Society’ that classic literature is hard to understand because the stories are not about teenage concerns and are written for educated adults (Gallo, 2001). The classics are hard to understand if you do not see any connections between your life and the lives of the characters. According to Gallo when someone is forced to read things s/he dislikes, this act of submissive imitation, creates an aliterate society because people like her/him can develop a distaste for reading all together later in life.

    One of Gallo’s solutions is to pair classics with modern kid novels. Kids can more easily respond to a voice they recognize, construct meaning from the text, and learn the nuts and bolts of literature. ALSO, they can more easily discover their own inner voices if they read a voice they can relate to.

    One day I used a modified version of Tony Hills’ reading method. I asked everyone for ten minutes of sustained silent reading. I counted off and divided them into creative clusters: silent reader, reading buddies, ‘on-deck’ rehearsal group and Mr. S’s ‘director’s table’ (I’m seated wearing my director’s hat: a detached hood from my coat; a simple prop to help promote play and comes from what makes me different).

    My ‘director’s table’ is where I act out beside them. Before anyone arrives to the ‘director’s table’ they step in and out of a character through voice impersonations, gesturing, bodily movements, caricatures or props in the rehearsal group; anything to get into the character, feel emotional connections to the story elements and bring it to life!

    We read “Priscilla and The Wimps” by Richard Peck. The (student) narrator begins: “Listen there was a time when you couldn’t even go to the restroom around this school without a (hall) pass.” (pause) I promote more play, “How ‘bout trying it in a British accent, just for fun!?” Then I ‘wait and listen’ . . . We skip to the first character’s dialogue. “What does the main character Priscilla look and sound like?” I ask the kids. (pause) Then, I wait as a silent audience . . . We fast forward to the gang members. “What about the Kobras!? Or their leader, Monk!?” I rotate the groups every ten minutes. We have a blast. The kids love it!

    Exposing kids to what I call ‘user-friendly’ voices helps tune the reader voice, sharpen reader vision, encourage daily practice and forms habits, which make reading easier (Kittle, 2008). This is a great springboard for teaching kids how to recognize their own unique inner voices . How!? By going deeper. By helping them make a social and emotional connection with these new voices. By channeling similar voices through drawing, drama, role-play scenarios and acting out the character within free learning spaces or what I call ‘creativity containers’.

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