An Excerpt from THIS SHARED DREAM about education, and a very good link
Rather long, and full of Opinion.
Dr. Hadntz is a Viennese physicist/physician intent on creating a Device that will change humans from a war-loving to a peace-keeping species. Bette Elegante (I noticed that in the Spanish edition of IN WAR TIMES, the translater rendered Bette’s last name as “Smart,” whereas, in my opinion, they ought to have kept Bette’s actual last name intact) works for the OSS.
I don’t know if this will be in the published edition, but here it is anyway.
At the end is the link to a marvelous piece by John Taylor Gatto, “How Education Cripples our Kids, and Why.” Gotto served on a Harpers Magazine forum on education.
Hadntz took her arm and steered her down a side street, staying half a block behind the harshly shouting rabble. The leader pointed to a shop front, and those behind him rushed forward, smashed the window, and swarmed inside. Books flew out the window. One shadowed man sprinkled gasoline on them from a large can and tossed a match; the books caught fire with a vroomp! The gang coughed in the smoke and jumped back, but their faces, lighted by the jumping blaze, were ugly with harsh glee, and their raucous shouts of Juden! Juden! echoed in the narrow street.
Bette thrust her right hand into her purse, where she kept a small pistol, but Hadntz caught her wrist. “I also carry a gun. If there was anything that one or two women could do at this point, I would have done it already. But I’m afraid there is much worse to come. Now, and later.”
Part of the crowd circled a man who reached into a flour sack and withdrew something that Bette strained to see. The circle broke with applause, and the man with the bag threw a rope over the bookseller’s sign and hoisted a collection of rags so that it swung above the street. It vaguely resembled a human being, as it had a rag-stuffed sphere where the head should be. A large sign hung below the sphere: MARIA MONTESSORI. The effigy, once lit, flamed up and further illuminated the mob.
“Maria Montessori?” asked Bette. “I don’t understand.”
“You visited one of her many schools in Vienna, as I suggested?”
“That note was from you?”
“Yes. Did you?”
“And what was your impression?”
Bette had been completely puzzled by the visit and the directions to make the visit.
When she had entered the Children’s House, a woman smiled at her and said, “You are expected. Please read these brief rules about your observation.” She handed Bette a sheet of paper and left.
Bette saw that she was not to make eye contact with the children, not to speak to them if spoken to, and, in general, to act as if she were an inanimate object. She was, though, allowed to take notes. The list suggested that she choose one child to observe. The list hoped that she would choose to send her child to this Children’s House, and announced the date of a lecture about the Montessori philosophy of how children learned.
The woman seated her in a tiny chair in one corner of the room filled with dim winter light falling through tall windows. She had read that the children were “working,” which seemed an odd choice of terms. She chose to watch a girl who seemed to be about three and a half years old. The dark-haired girl sat on the floor near Bette, and before her was a small rug. Next to her was a wooden box that contained all the letters of the alphabet, several of each in their own compartment, like a typesetter’s box. She slowly, thoughtfully selected letters from the box, and soon had written “my cat is mad,” in German.
Though it was against the rules on the list, Bette switched her attention to a girl of perhaps four, who was adding 432 and 798. She used an array of gold-colored beads which she had laid out on one mat—single beads for units, bars of ten beads squares of a hundred beads, and a cube that sat next to a label reading 1,000.
The entire room was filled with similar activity, low conversation from several children working together, and movement, as the children chose work, put their work away neatly, or decided to scrub a table or water some plants. There was only one adult in the room, and almost thirty young children, and yet, although the teacher moved among them easily, sitting on the floor or at a table with one or another child for five or ten minutes at a time, the rest did not misbehave or seem to need her attention.
Bette waited in vain for some sort of message. Would the girl spell out her next assignation? Would Fraeulein Vida, the directress, slip her a message? Would the girl doing math problems give her an address?
But nothing happened, for three hours, except the strangely soothing work of the children.
As she watched the terrible blaze in the alley grow stronger, and devour the chairs and shelves shoved out of the shop through the broken window, Bette said to Hadntz, “I was surprised that such young children were reading, writing, and doing mathematics. But who is Montessori?”
Hadntz said, “An educator. Her way of teaching young children is revolutionary. She was lately burned in effigy in Rome when she refused to let Mussolini distort the method of her schools, which up until then had been state-sponsored. A Montessori education produces highly literate, intelligent, independent adults. Mussolini wanted to produce the opposite–soldiers. When we have time, I want to know more about what you observed. I know little about her actual method.” Hadntz watched flames devour the cloth Montessori with a thoughtful gaze. “However, I have met the woman. She is extraordinary. She was the first woman to get a medical degree in Italy. That was in 1896. She was the main speaker soon thereafter at a feminist conference in Berlin.” Hadntz’s smile was ironic. “Feminists in Germany! Where have they all gone?”
“She became interested in how children learn. She earned more doctorates, one in psychology and another in anthropology, and took an anthropology chair at the University of Rome. Through rigorous scientific experiments–her subjects were slum children in Rome–she showed that ordinary children from the worst possible background can learn how to write and to read by the time they are four. Before that, she had developed methods by which retarded children were able to pass the City of Rome exams at a normal level. It was a stunning revelation of human possibilities.” She looked at Bette. “Your President Wilson’s daughter ran a Montessori school in the White House. And Alexander Graham Bell formed the first Montessori organization in the United States. But America, and, as you can see, Europe, finds brilliant and independent children a bit threatening. Best to rear them like tiny soldiers to always do as they’re told and not think. Thinking is dangerous. Thinking topples governments. Thinking people do not want to work in factories for low wages. Dr. Montessori is in Holland now. I hope she does not remain there. The Netherlands are not safe from German aggression.”
Tendrils of Eliani Hadntz’s hair, black and curly and wild, had escaped from their barrette and surrounded her strong-featured face, half-shadowed by a streetlight. Her eyes, too, were black, and Hadntz’s gaze was commanding, yet calm. Her low tones had an impact that wakened something in Bette, showed her a tantalizing glimpse of a path both radical and revolutionary, one she had never before considered. Still, she had no idea how much it would impact her life forever afterwards.
“My other point,” said Hadntz, “and perhaps the most important one, is that we know very little about our own potential as humans. What you saw the children doing should not seem amazing, because it is very normal. What else could we be doing, if we were not wasting our time with the other nonsense, like wars, that being human seems to require?”