Why haven’t others recognized what Dr. Montessori observed in children? Why hadn’t anyone before 1907 observed what she had in children?
Others had indeed reached similar conclusions: Aristotle said,
“Education should be based scientifically on the observation of human nature.”
Quintilian (a Roman rhetorician) said,
“Children have a natural capacity to contribute to their own development if they have reasonably good guides and a healthy home environment.”
Some ideas regarding assistance of children’s development in the ways that Dr. Montessori put forth had been around for many centuries, but had also been lost sight of. One sees this loss in particular as the result of the industrial revolution which introduced compulsory mass education. One concern: what age to begin formal schooling had a solution which varied from country to country based on when that particular culture considered the child ready to begin schooling; it could begin at 5, 6, or 7, depending on where they lived. Their determination for readiness? When they could sit still and listen. Mass education developed the concept of age division to be “fair to everyone” – one-room schoolhouses in rural areas were the exception to this. To take matters a step further, it was determined that certain amounts of information should be given at one time – doses of each subject at specific times of the day, developing into the concept of blocks of subjects. This negated attention spans and developing interests as well as connections between subjects (this has been argued, but not well enough!). The schedule, rather than the needs of the child, determined the day.
At-home tutors, for centuries, have been doing what Dr. Montessori “discovered” only in the 20th century: building those connections, allowing for Goings Out, hands-on exploration, instruction suited to the individual needs of the child.
Something else was introduced into the schools: rewards and punishments, used to entice/coerce children to sit still and pay attention. Originally, recess was not as a break from the school day, but as a technique to tire out the bodies so children could sit and listen again in the afternoon, supposedly to take in more information. In neither case was physical movement associated with learning in combination (as in our Montessori settings).
The child was lost sight of with each new development of compulsory education, setting up a conflict between what the adult set in place to run the day efficiently and the needs of the child. (Check out children on the playground - community building, own interests, etc). The adult set out the schedule and criteria for success, dosing out the information and the child is expected to passively receive it.
Dr. Montessori was (and many of us have been), a product of that form of education. But she thought that something different had to be possible and when she had the opportunity to set up the first casa dei bambini, she set it up in a very different way.