The Montessori Education System and the Desire to Learn

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire talks about what he calls the banking system of education. In the banking system the student is seen as an object in which the teacher must place information. The student has no responsibility for cognition of any sort; the student must simply memorize or internalize what the teacher tells him or her. Paulo Freire was very much opposed to the banking system. He argued that the banking system is a system of control and not a system meant to successfully educate. In the banking system the teacher is meant to mold and change the behavior of the students, sometimes in a way that almost resembles a fight. The teacher tries to force information down the student’s throat that the student may not believe or care about.

This process eventually leads most students to dislike school. It also leads them to develop a resistance and a negative attitude towards learning in general, to the point where most people won’t seek knowledge unless it is required for a grade in a class. Freire thought that the only way to have a real education, in which the students engage in cognition, was to change from the banking system into what he defined as problem-posing education. Freire described how a problem-posing educational system could work in Pedagogy of the Oppressed by saying, “Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated”(81). The educational system developed by the Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori presents a tested and effective form of problem-posing education that leads its students to increase their desire to learn as opposed to inhibiting.

 

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Freire presents two major problems with the banking concept. The first one is that in the banking concept a student is not required to be cognitively active. The student is meant to simply memorize and repeat information, not to understand it. This inhibits the students’ creativity, destroys their interest in the subject, and transforms them into passive learners who don’t understand or believe what they are being taught but accept and repeat it because they have no other option. The second and more dramatic consequence of the banking concept is that it gives an enormous power to those who choose what is being taught to oppress those who are obliged to learn it and accept it. Freire explains that the problems lies in that the teacher holds all the keys, has all the answers and does all the thinking. The Montessori approach to education does the exact opposite. It makes students do all the thinking and problem solving so that they arrive at their own conclusions. The teachers simply help guide the student, but they do not tell the student what is true or false or how a problem can be solved.

In the Montessori system, even if a student finds a way to solve a problem that is slower or less effective than a standard mechanical way of solving the problem, the teacher will not intervene with the student’s process because this way the student learns to find solutions by himself or herself and to think of creative ways to work on different problems.

The educational system in the United States, especially from grade school to the end of high school, is almost identical to the banking approach to education that Freire described. During high school most of what students do is sit in a class and take notes. They are then graded on how well they complete homework and projects and finally they are tested to show that they can reproduce or use the knowledge which was taught. Most of the time the students are only receptors of information and they take no part in the creation of knowledge. Another way in which the U.S. education system is practically identical to the banking system of education is the grading system. The grades of students mostly reflect how much they comply with the teacher’s ideas and how much they are willing to follow directions. Grades reflect submission to authority and the willingness to do what is told more than they reflect one’s intelligence, interest in the class, or understanding of the material that is being taught. For instance, in a government class in the United States a student who does not agree that a representative democracy is superior to any other form of government will do worse than a student who simply accepts that a representative democracy is better than a direct democracy, socialism, communism, or another form of social system. The U.S. education system rewards those who agree with what is being taught and punishes those who do not.

Furthermore, it discourages students from questioning and doing any thinking of their own. Because of the repetitive and insipid nature of our education system, most students dislike high school, and if they do well on their work, it is merely for the purpose of obtaining a grade as opposed to learning or exploring a new idea.

The Montessori Method advocates child based teaching, letting the students take control of their own education. In E.M Standing’s The Montessori Revolution in Education, Standing says that the Montessori Method “is a method based on the principle of freedom in a prepared environment”(5). Studies done on two groups of students of the ages of 6 and 12 comparing those who learn in a Montessori to those who learn in a standard school environment show that despite the Montessori system having no grading system and no obligatory work load, it does as well as the standard system in both English and social sciences; but Montessori students do much better in mathematics, sciences, and problem solving. The Montessori system allows for students to be able to explore their interests and curiosity freely. Because of this the Montessori system pushes students toward the active pursuit of knowledge for pleasure, meaning that students will want to learn and will find out about things that interest them simply because it is fun to do so.
Maria Montessori started to develop what is now known as the Montessori Method of education in the early twentieth century.

The Montessori Method focuses on the relations between the child, the adult, and the environment. The child is seen as an individual in development. The Montessori system has an implied notion of letting the child be what the child would naturally be. Montessori believed the standard education system causes children to lose many childish traits, some of which are considered to be virtues. In Loeffler’s Montessori in Contemporary American Culture, Loeffler states that “among the traits that disappear are not only untidiness, disobedience, sloth, greed, egoism, quarrelsomeness, and instability, but also the so-called ‘creative imagination’, delight in stories, attachment to individuals, play, submissiveness and so forth”. Because of this perceived loss of the child, the Montessori system works to enable a child to naturally develop self-confidence as well as the ability and willingness to actively seek knowledge and find unique solutions to problems by thinking creatively. Another important difference in how children learn in the Montessori system is that in the Montessori system a child has no defined time slot in which to perform a task. Instead the child is allowed to perform a task for as long as he wants. This leads children to have a better capacity to concentrate and focus on a single task for an extended period of time than children have in the standard education system.

The role which the adult or teacher has in the Montessori system marks another fundamental difference between the Montessori s Method and the standard education system. With the Montessori Method the adult is not meant to constantly teach and order the student. The adult’s job is to guide the child so that the child will continue to pursue his curiosities and develop his or her own notions of what is real, right, and true. Montessori describes the child as an individual in intense, constant change. From observation Montessori concluded that if allowed to develop by himself, a child would always find equilibrium with his environment, meaning he would learn not to mistreat others, for example, and to interact positively with his peers. This is important because it leads to one of the Montessori Method’s most deep-seated ideas, which is that adults should not let their presence be felt by the children. This means that although an adult is in the environment with the students, the adult does not necessarily interact with the students unless the students ask the adult a question or request help. Furthermore, the adult must make it so that the students do not feel like they are being observed or judged in any way. The adult can make suggestions to the children, but never orders them or tells them what to do or how to do it. The adult must not be felt as an authority figure, but rather almost as another peer of the children.

The consequence of this, not surprisingly, is that a lot less ‘work’ gets done by the students. Nevertheless, the students’ development is dramatically better in the Montessori system than in a standard education system. But how can students who have no obligation to do any work possibly compete with students who are taught in the standard system and do much more work in class and at home? I believe the answer lies in that while students taught in the standard way are constantly being pushed towards disliking school and doing things mechanically without really thinking about it, Montessori students are led to actively explore their interests and enjoy doing so. Furthermore, Montessori students are constantly engaged in cognition. They are continuously learning to think in different ways and creating solutions to problems from scratch, as opposed to students in the standard method of education who only solve problems with the tools or information that the teacher gives them to use.