As Mary Conroy and Kitty Williams state there is something different about the Montessori method that makes outsiders rush to extremes in their attempts to classify it: "I've heard Montessori is too free and chaotic' or 'I've heard Montessori is too structured'" (Conroy, Williams). The truth is that the Montessori method is neither. It is, in fact, something completely different. This paper will analyze just how discipline and obedience are instilled in children from the Montessori Perspective.
As Conroy and Williams not, "the best Montessori teachers or facilitators understand that maintaining the delicate balance [between freedom and structure] is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their job." This challenge is brought into perspective by Montessori's own definition of discipline: "discipline is 'not…a fact but a way'" (Conroy, Williams). This way, as Montessori observed, was found independent of the teacher when the children were given the freedom to "reveal their inner or self-discipline" (Conroy, Williams).
Indeed, as Samuel Ravi notes, the Montessori perspective is one that insists that "discipline cannot be attained by way of commands, by sermons, by any of the disciplinary methods universally known" (359). The trick is to foster it in the child indirectly "by developing activity in the spontaneous work" (359). To reinforce the idea that discipline must be instilled in the child from within because it will not be instilled from without, Ravi quotes Montessori, who acknowledged that "in truth, the 'good' are those who move forward towards the goodness which has been built up by their own efforts" (Ravi 359). What this means is that for true education to take place, the will has to directed to receiving it -- and no one can force a will but the person whose will it is. That is the Montessori perspective of discipline.
How does it relate to obedience? Conroy and Williams observe that "discipline presupposes a certain degree of obedience." Montessori herself states that "obedience appears in the child as a latent instinct as soon as his personality begins to take form" (Montessori 367). Obedience, like discipline, is something like a virtue that the child must acquire -- or, in other words, it is a habit that it must attain. Virtues are, after all, merely habits that are good (just as vices are habits that are bad). Therefore, the essence of understanding obedience in the Montessori method is this: the habit of obedience is something that should be acquired by the child. The question is: how can the teacher help the student acquire this obedience?
The Three Levels of Obedience
The first period of obedience is arrived at a subconscious level -- "when in the confused mind of the child, order produces itself by a mysterious inner impulse from out the midst of disorder, producing as an external result a completed act" (Montessori 368). What is significant here, however, is the fact that because this order is arrived at on a subconscious level, the child cannot reproduce it at will (because the child has not been conscious of how order was produced).
The second stage of obedience, then, is a continuation of the first, with this improvement: the child recognizes the impulse to obey. In other words, "he looks as though he understood the command and would like to respond to it, but cannot -- or at least does not always succeed in doing it, is not 'quick to mind' and shows no pleasure when he does (Montessori 368). This second level of obedience is like a developmental stage. The child has grown into consciousness, is aware of an outside order that exists, and is compelled to adapt himself to it -- but not always and neither is the child even always capable of adapting himself to it were to desire it anyway. The child is, essentially, still fumbling his way along.
The third level of obedience, then, occurs as a result of this second. The child develops, matures, acquires the capacity to succeed in an orderly fashion at the performance of whatever task is at hand: in this third and final stage of obedience, "the will can direct and cause the acts, thus answering the command from someone else" (Montessori 368). As Conroy and Williams note, this third level of obedience is called "joyful obedience" and it is united to self-discipline in such a way that the child is able to see "the value of what is being offered to him by authority and rushes to obey" (Conroy, Williams).
How Discipline and the Development of the Will are Fostered through a Favorable Environment
Discipline and obedience (or the development of the will) are fostered in the child by way of a good environment -- not a tyrannical one in which an outside will exerts an indomitable pressure. In other words, "the classroom should be beautiful, orderly, and so inviting that the child cannot resist exploring. It should be steeped with a sense of wonder" (Conroy, Williams). This wonder invites the child to explore all that is at his fingertips -- and this exploration allows the child to become familiar with that which is outside him. By acknowledging an outside world and its design, the child will be more apt to develop his will and acquire the virtues of discipline and obedience (out of his own desire for personal pleasure -- pleasure at meeting the demands of the world).
However, one of the most important aspects of the classroom setting is this: the rules must be clearly delineated and they must thoroughly explained to the child so that he is not ignorant of them. If he knows the rules, he may be expected to follow them. It is that simple. The rules themselves are also simple and in Montessori schools they generally run as follows: 1) Take care of all people and living things in our environment, and 2) Take care of all of the material things in our environment. If you think about it, every 'do' or 'don't' one could wish to implore fits in these two rules, or could be narrowed even further to this one simple rule, 'be respectful of everyone and everything'" (Conroy, Williams). Barbara Isaacs seconds this favorable environment and observes that "when Montessori described the favorable environment, she saw the child as an active agent of this environment, and the teacher as the facilitator of the child's learning and development" (Isaacs). Complementary to the classroom environment, however, should be the home environment. Neither of the two should be exclusive, but both environments should work together to establish a kind of learning. These environments can give rise to an understanding of maturational development.
Linking Maturational Development of Discipline to Development of the Will
As the child matures and the will develops, he begins to show signs that he is more inclined to obey instructions and able to carry out tasks. This is the maturational development of the child. As the child matures so too must his will develop, otherwise the education of the child may be considered unsuccessful. A control of the will must match every stage of maturation, and a will that has not conformed to the necessities of the outside world is a will that is still rooted in an early stage of maturation. It is for this reason that adults are referred to as acting like "children," because they do not display the kind of control over their wills through self-discipline that should be expected from someone who has reached their level of maturation.
How Interlinking Aspects are the Foundation of the Development of Obedience
How is this development reached? What is the foundation for its growth and support? Montessori describes it as a highly spiritual foundation: "Obedience naturally is sacrifice. We are so accustomed to an infinity of obedience in the world, to a condition of self-sacrifice, to a readiness for renunciation, that we call matrimony the 'blessed condition,' although it is made up of obedience and self-sacrifice" (Montessori 363-4). Elsewhere, Montessori notes that "obedience is the law of life" (364). To this law, the child must conform and the teacher may assist this conformity thus: "the teacher should be a specialist, trained in child development, as well as Montessori Philosophy and methodology…[and] will need to possess robust enthusiasm for learning, a deep respect for all life, kindness, and the patience of a saint" (Conroy, Williams). This last part, sanctity, is vitally important. As Ravi notes, "Montessori says that the child is God, her school is temple and the duty of the temple is the essence of childhood" -- in other words, it is about raising children who will become men (Ravi 360). Religion, spirituality, the soul, grace, the mind, order, discipline, and a healthy environment all play interlinking parts in the foundation of the development of obedience. Montessori does not ignore the existence of God, but uses it to facilitate in the maturation process. God is viewed as a Being above all men and all creation --…