As we spoke about in previous posts, Montessori’s deep involvement in theosophy, laid the fundamental principles by which she developed her psychology. Annie Besant, the president of the Theosophy Society, talks about how the Montessori Method is the way by which theosophists ought to educate. For she claims that Montessori worked under the assumption that the child already has the knowledge within. Thus, the child does not need to be taught truth, but merely needs the truth to be drawn out of the child. How does the child have this knowledge? This is because the child is divined, as stated by Annie Besant and Maria Montessori.
Annie Besant, president of the Theosophy Society, became friends with Maria Montessori after being impressed by observing her new pedagogy.1 Besant wrote several times about Montessori’s new teaching method and gave details on how the novel approach was in line with theosophist psychology.
“Montessori system in leaving complete liberty to the child… but the main idea is right, that you should help the child to teach himself. That is the great secret of all education. Not that you should pour into his brain, as if it were an empty vessel, a certain number of facts that he was to memorize, but that you should draw out his powers of observation, his intelligence, and later his power of reasoning.”2 Annie Besant
This idea that the child does not learn from a teacher, but already possesses the knowledge is the foundation of theosophist psychology as well as the Montessori Method. For both systems teach that knowledge does not need to be passed on, but rather drawn out of the child. Montessori makes it clear the knowledge of religion comes from a sentiment within and needs to be drawn out.
“We must remember that religion is a universal sentiment which is inside everybody and has been inside every person since the beginning of the world. It is not something which we must give to the child."3 Maria Montessori
This usual view leads one to ponder how the child attains this knowledge if it is not learned. Montessori gives the answer:
“The child unconscious drinks in divine power, whilst the reasoning consciousness of the adult is but human.” Maria Montessori http://www.crossroad.to/Q&A/education/Montessori.htm
Montessori believes that the child has a special access to divine knowledge which is not found in the adult. This same thinking in Annie Besant’s understanding of theosophist education.
“A vital contribution of the Theosophist to educate is… the assertion of the fundamental divinity of man, and of the gradual deification of man as the process of evolution. This fact, I venture to think, is of vital importance in education. The child is not only an age-old soul, but he is also, in essence, Divine, and he has the three great gifts of Divinity, of God to man, and of God to His creation—essential omnipotence, essential omniscience, and the time to make the essential real.”4 Annie Besant
Again we can see the influence of theosophy in the psychology of Maria Montessori. This notion that the child actually knows more than the adult leads to a distortion between teacher and pupil. Thus, Maria Montessori insists that the teacher is not there to pass on information, but merely to guide the child in his process of learning.
“Consequently the task of the new teacher has become much more delicate than that of the old one,... The most difficult thing is to make the teacher understand that if the child is to progress she must eliminate herself and give up those prerogatives that hitherto were considered to be the sacred rights of the teacher. She must clearly understand that she cannot have any immediate influence either upon the formation or upon the inner discipline of the students, and that her confidence must be placed and must rest in their hidden and latent energies. Certainly there is something that compels the teacher to continually advise the small children, to correct them or encourage them, showing them that she is superior on account of her experience and her culture. But until she is able to resign herself, to silence the voice of all vanity, she will not be able to attain any result.”5 Maria Montessori, https://www.levir.com.br/theosophy/Child.htm
Not only was this published in the theosophist but this perfectly aligns with Annie Besant’s notion of a teacher.
“What is a teacher? He is nothing more nor less than an ambassador, an ambassador from the eternal soul to its temporary dwelling-place, the body. Madame Montessori has, I believe, realized this fundamental relationship between the teacher and the child. She says that the teacher watches. It is the work of the teacher to watch, not to control; not to give instruction, but to educate, to watch, to draw out that which already is there; not that which has previously been put in, but that which is already there waiting to be expanded.”6 Annie Besant
Thus we can see that the Montessori pedagogy is not a new form of teaching based on sound philosophical principles, rather it is based on the assumption that the child has access to special knowledge because he is to some extent “divinized.” As we shall see, this notion of the divinized child does not stop and is clearly used to teach the faith in the rapidly growing religious education program called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In our next post, we will explore how the ideas can be found in the CGS pedagogy.
1 Rita Kramer, “Maria Montessori: A Biography”, 79–81.
2 Annie Besant, “Wake up, India; a plea for social reform,” pg 184.
3 Montessori, 1989, “The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings”
4 Annie Beasant, “Theosophy and world-problems,” pg 93.
5 Maria Montessori, The Child, The Theosophist, y1941 v63 December, p.166
6 Annie Besant, Theosophy and world-problems, pg 95.