In 1998, I met a woman at Boston College giving a presentation at the Lonergan Workshop on Maria Montessori. Her name was Phyllis Wallbank. She was an advanced trainer for Maria Montessori prior to Montessori’s death. She was head of the British Montessori Association. She was the first to start a Montessori school that went through high school. There are many amazing things that this woman accomplished over the years. She told me when I spoke to her in 1998 that she had seen many connections between Newman, Montessori, and Lonergan (Bernard Lonergan, S.J.). I spent the next 10 years visiting her in London and working with her on questions in education.
I need to communicate some recent developments in my own mind that link Newman and Montessori more intimately together. Blessed John Henry Newman, soon to be canonized, had for the last 30 years of his life been the founder and director of a boys school in Birmingham, England. It was part of the Oratory, a community of men who served to follow in the footsteps of St. Philip Neri, a great evangelizer of the city. The Oratory school was a magnificent success both on civic and ecclesial levels, and personally for the boys and families of these boys.
Montessori’s contribution provides a four dimensional (space-time) learning world with self-correcting materials and activities each of which opens the doors to some beautiful and mysterious facet of creation, or our Creator. I have realized recently the scope of her contribution as being one that flows from a loving mother who seeks the flourishing of her children. Just as our Lord, the teacher in the classroom needs to know each of her children by name and this means that she knows each of her children to the heart of their souls, minds, and bodies. This is why “follow the child” was so important to her. Through this loving mother and teacher, God’s loving care came to each child.
This complements in a profound manner Blessed John Henry Newman’s work. He too knew each boy by name. He looked to provide them an education that helped them to live and improve the world, and most important to live in this world illumined by and for the next. He and his confreres generated a lively and very masculine school. At the same time, he always saw the need to have a matron who would care for the boys in a manner that he, nor his confreres, could do.
This highlights a need for every school. Schools are meant to be the extension of family life. As Catholic teaching repeats in many contexts, parents are the primary educators. They employ schools to help them in that education. This reality led to a thought a month ago that has grown in my heart and mind rapidly. It was recently confirmed in a visit I made to family and school in South Phoenix (The Ruiz family). Schools should not be run like an industry with a president or principle, but rather, they should be run by a loving couple, a faithful husband and wife (or by a priest and a sister who operate in a similar vein). I have thought about the kind of training they should have as well (more on that later).
A loving husband and wife, running a school, will offer much needed remedies to a number of ills today. Perhaps most significant is the fact that many children do not even know what a normalized family would look like. And Maria Montessori was all about normalization of the soul.
In an industrial structure corporate school, schedules, timelines, quality control, and outcome become the central characteristics. This of course, is not healthy for raising children. Although I have met a few families that operate as such, good families operate with a far more profound mode of life that is geared toward human flourishing. Here is where we see the real complementarity of a husband and wife, mother and father.
If the school exists more as an outflow of a good husband and wife, then it will take on many of the characteristics of a good family. Celebrating birthdays, holy days of obligation, special events, and guests will be more natural as one finds in a home. These events will not be seen as “disrupting” the production schedule. The four dimensional learning world founded upon principles discovered by Maria Montessori will give it a natural environment for the unfolding formation of each child.
Such a format would also be a natural integrator of the child’s own family with the school. The husband and wife will form friendships with the parents of the child. The parents and grandparents will become a more natural part of the education of their child, and of other children. It will make sense to bring in the dads or granddads who build, or the engineers, the doctors and nurses, the farmers and ranchers, the graphic designers and artists. It will make sense that all become part of this extended family and its school of tradition, love, and virtue. The Ruiz family did precisely this for their neighborhood in South Phoenix. Their home became a school, and that school is now a haven of peace and learning. It has grown into Mary’s Ministries. I hope these kinds of developments initiate the beginning of a revolution in education.