The notion of task analysis is important for the Montessori teacher.  This analysis breaks down every single lesson into a sequence of clear steps along with the timing that is important in introducing the steps.  Largely this analysis is descriptive and practical in nature.  Descriptive because the “steps” of each lesson are understood in terms of one’s own motor-sensory frame of reference.  This is in contrast to an explanatory analysis that would break down the steps into all the various correlations and operations needed to explain the lesson. So, one would need to get into all the neurological, cellular, biochemical, biophysical, intellectual, rational, and moral operations involved in the lesson.  This of course would be a grand undertaking and make teaching a lesson impossible in any practical sense. And so the practical enters the scene.  The practical examines the steps, but then thinks through only those steps which would be difficult for the child(ren) in front of “me” to figure out the lesson.  This vastly simplifies the nature of the analysis.  One could for example realize that one’s arm needs to be lifted to a certain height, or maybe that one needs to stand up, but in this case, the child could already “see and do” those things, and really would remember these without any introduction. In such a case, one would not need to add it to the “tasks” that need to be highlighted to the child, with a 2 second delay before and after the task.

In addition to task analysis which breaks down the steps is synthesis.  This is when one then puts the steps back together again with the right time and delays that would be important for children. 

Both analysis and synthesis together allow the teacher to develop a large fund of possibilities regarding how one can “guide” any child.  As well, one can then begin to see how lessons and materials are linked together, and one can do so with a fair amount of precision so that if a child is having difficult with steps X and Y in a lesson will be helped by carrying out simpler lessons that set the stage for doing X and Y.  So for example, if a child is having difficult carrying a tray with a plate on it, then one might see how walking the line or walking through a room without bumping a table or how balancing something on one’s head could help the child. Similar connections arise when one begins examining every step involved in carrying out lessons in sandpaper letters or in tracing inset or linking phonemes to sounds and words in stories or in written form.  The connections between materials and their lessons abound throughout a Montessori classroom.   

Three years ago is when I realized that I needed to turn to building a new kind of school and a new kind of training program.  At the time, I thought the term “program” could still be used though I did have some revulsion to it because of its Modernist roots.  However, now I have decided the term must be abandoned and as something that cannot be salvaged because it has too much cultural baggage that warps peoples minds when the think and imagine “programs.”  So, if we are setting up a training but not calling it a program, what is it?

Really, what we are creating is not a program but a new kind of school that follows all of the rhythms of nature rather than industry (this is not to say that industry is evil, but that the format of industry in the modern world is a serious problem and hence industry itself needs to be recast into something more akin to mom and pop shops).

This new kind of school has within it the life of a living organism and a living community of organisms.  Just as a living organism has different “systems” serving different needs and contributing to the whole, so a school should have the same.  A living organism has a respiratory system to bring in oxygen and a digestive system to bring in nutrients. And so a school should be a place that brings in food for the mind and activities for the will and body.  And just as the organism has a defensive system against bacteria and viruses, so a school should have a defense system to protect all of its members from those evils that are more like living organisms (bad bacteria) and those that are subtly destructive (like viruses).  And as an organism has bones for structure and muscles for movements, so a school needs a way of life that has structure and a breath of life that gives it a vibrant culture.  And finally, just as an organism is built to procreate, so a school should have the same.  

When one thinks along the lines of an industrial machine, a machine with its parts and makers of parts, its specializations into factories and retail centers, then training schools get setup in the same way.  But if the setup is more akin to an organism, then the school itself should have its own procreative facets.  And this is what an apprenticeship program would be.  There is then no needed for university schools of education (at least in the usual sense).  

So, more concretely, what does this school look like?

  1. A husband and wife run the school.  He is trained in John Henry Newman and the school of Saint Joseph.  She is trained in Maria Montessori and the school of Mary.  
  2. They setup the school in a location of their choosing.  They establish its relationships to the state and Church.  They build relations directly with families.  
  3. They hire help as needed.
  4. And once they have reached “procreative age” as a school, they then bring in another couple for training.  These couples apprentice, which means they help out, they watch as the couple runs the school, teaches children, build relationships with families, the state, and the Church.  This kind of an apprenticeship (and yes, it is worth a book of its own) becomes the procreative organ of a school and of the Schools of the Holy Family.  This allows for an organic growth of schools through regions and throughout the world more akin to how organism start in one place, and then move to suitable niches wherever they can do so.  This is how they become “fruitful and multiply.”

There are many things that one might hear when being told about a Montessori classroom.  One will hear for example that children work independently, or that children work at their own pace, or more negatively that they just play.  Or sometimes one might say that at the Children’s House level they work independently and at the elementary level they work socially.  And regarding how the teacher relates to the children, one will hear phrases like “teach me how to do it myself” or “the teach needs to get out of the way” or “the teacher is nothing really but an observer.”  And of course in many of these phrases there are truths.  The limit is that these terms fall within the realm of the descriptive*, and so though important, they also have limits and cannot be treated as principles or axioms, though too often people do.

Let me give one example.  One such maxim is to let the environment do the teaching and get the teacher out of the way.  The purpose of this maxim is really not to get any and all teachers out of the way, but really those who tend to operate under the many mistaken notions of how adults should related to and then teach children.  One of these mistakes is that a teacher needs to schedule much of the learning of a child 1) since the child cannot do that for themselves, 2) because the child does not know what would be the best way to learn a subject, 3) because a teacher needs to teach many children to make her use of time and salary effective and so needs to walk many of them through at the same time and the same pace.  To teach each children individual would cost a fortune.  So the mistaken thinking goes, and thus this maxim is a counter to that.  But, if a teacher knows how to relate to a child, when and how to respond to a child’s requests, when and how and when not to interact with a child at a given moment and  a given location and when the child is doing x or y, then the maxim becomes a problem, and really should not be used.  The teacher after all is part of the environment and really a rather important part of that environment both personally and pedagogically.  

In part, this is why I wrote something that most Montessorian’s might cringe at, namely how the teacher should be a magnet to the mysteries of creation. Why?  Because the highest and deepest portions of all creation reside in the highest levels of creation, and on earth, that turns out to be the human soul.  And a teacher, we all presume, has a soul, and if a good teacher, a soul that has been formed into being a wise mediator, one who knows how to open the mysteries of all creation to other souls.  

The key to using this maxim right is really to move from a descriptive account of the maxim to one that builds on understanding the interior realities of the human soul, and how those realities unfold mysteriously through the light of the inner Teacher who is the one who gives us all the inner light of our own souls (we are created participations in the Divine Light).  Once one moves from the outer world to a deeper understanding of interiority, and how interiority develops, then one can move to a deeper understanding of the place of the teacher within the life of a children and a classroom environment.  Really, the classroom environment is not just the place with physical walls, where keys of creation are opened up, but the whole of creation.  This is why gardens and excursions are so important.  Investigating streams and hills and flowers opens up the real mysteries of life to a child. But even more than these, other human beings awaken the child. This is why the mother’s smile is so important!  Once one begins to understand how all of the relationships of a child to the world unfold, then one can begin to understand what is happening in a Montessori classroom that is setup right.  

The same is true when one talks about children working independently, especially in Children’s House (~2.5 years – 6 years of age).  This is the stage of the absorbent mind. It is true that children largely cannot work together on projects because they have not develop intellectually, morally, emotionally in such a way to do so. But it does not mean they are not social or that they are absolutely independent.  In fact, watching them reveals quite the opposite.  Even if they do not yet know how to have an adult conversation with one listening and the other talking, they are moving in that direction chatting at each other side by side.  And I suspect this ends up being crucial for the development of neural patterns for hearing, as well as the other senses involved in conversations, perhaps as much important as hearing adults use full phrases when they are infants and toddlers (hence laying down neural patterns of sound in the brain).  Or they like doing things while sitting together just as adults sit together at tables and do things.  I saw a couple of children once, for example, who would wander and wander when they were by themselves.  But as soon as they found a few friends sitting at a table doing works, they would then stop wandering and get a work and work side by side with their friends for a long period of time.  None of them were working together (one of the meaning of “independent”), but they all worked best side by side at that table.  In other studies, young girls begin to form dyads and triads with friends, and they carry out all kinds of mimicking roles of nurturing together, and as they move into the second half of the absorbent mind stage, they then cooperate in these roles.  Boys on the other hand start to form into larger groups by the age of 5 that work out a type of hierarchy.  They learn through these rather active larger groups (unless one continuously stifles these, and then boys learning rates serious decline).  So, it is not entirely true to say they work “independently.”  What the maxim does combat is the idea that we need to get them working together like one would find older kids doing, or even adult doing.  And it also combats the idea that all the children in the room should be doing the same thing together with the teacher teaching them how to do it.  That notion of “working together” which really is working in unison with the teacher is not really working together or independently.  In either case, the maxim of working independently has its severe limits and again, if one uses it as a universal principle, it will fall far short and even blind one to the important social elements of children’s lives at all ages.

The main point here is that even if you are gaining some of the descriptive maxims of how Montessori classrooms are different, as a teacher, you must push beyond these into a deeper understanding of the interior child. This is one of the real elements of “following the child” (which too is a descriptive term and must be put into its proper limits!).  

*By descriptive I mean “appearance” or how things are first known in relationship to us through our senses.  Descriptive knowledge does have truth, but also needs to be limited to the proper “descriptive” realm in which the notion was introduced. In contrast, explanatory terms or notions have moved into the relationships of things as such, and so are not limited by the relationship these have to the observer (though they do have other limits — see Bernard Lonergan’s book Insight: A Study of Human Understanding for a more comprehensive philosophical account of the distinction between the descriptive and explanatory).

 

A key to being a grand master Catholic Montessori Teacher

by David Fleischacker

 

One key to becoming a great teacher is to become one who is like a magnet to children. When you are a magnet, children want to learn from you over and over again.  They return to you like a fresh stream quenching their thirst. Of course, there are a number of elements to becoming a great Montessori teacher — one has to know how to teach the lessons, one has to know how to move and talk to a child, one has to learn about one’s own character and disposition.  But after these things, what else can one do?  The answer is the difference between a mediocre teacher and a great one.  That answer is to become a light to which the children are attracted. If you have to “get” children to do lessons, and yet all these preconditions are met, then you likely need this extra element.  And it is not merely a subsidiary benefit, but it is central.  That element is that first and foremost, the work or object of the lesson needs to reside in you as a beautiful, cherished treasure and discovery of your own.  In other words, the guide needs to deeply treasure the material or activity that unlocks something in the world before giving that key to a child. How?

  1. You need to meditate on the work, think about what it does within your own interiority. Think back upon your own childhood. Think about all the facets of creation that this key opens for you. Think about how this key fits into God’s work of creation and salvation. And as you give this lesson more and more, you need to come to see it as a friend, an old friend, who has helped so many children awaken to the beauty of all that is good.
  2. Carry this “meditation” out not only in private but in the room while children are around. Make it real, not a show. Show them that you care so much about this work that you do it too.  And  you should be absorbing this work as an adult, deeply into your adult horizon and heart.  There is a deep mystery in all of these works for every age.  

With out that deep residence of the material in your soul, know that the students know when you are asking them to do something and you see it only as a duty and not a cherished mystery.

When you you show them a material that is deeply cherished in your soul, children then will come to you and you do not then need to “chase them down” to get them to do some work. And for those who do not come, presume God has not yet made them ready for the work that you cherish.  Do not get upset about this. Do not go after them to “make” them like it or do it. This will back fire.  Remember that God does not treat you that way.  He could.  But he respects your freedom. Do unto others what God does unto you.

Montessori mentions that her way of education provides keys to life.  Many times we would think of those keys as facts about life and culture and the world. These is some truth to this, but one must go a bit deeper because not every fact is a key to the world.  And what I have found is that there are three types of keys in Montessori: the heuristic (or transcendental); the generic; and the local.

A key unlocks a door into some home or world. So a key can be a fact, but they are facts that unlocked another world of facts.  One example might be color. Once one learns about red, blue, and yellow, and one comes to discover the various types of colors, it really begins to unlock the ability to attend to a larger range of colors on a multitude of objects. Likewise for all of our senses. Once we know how to use a sense, to focus our attention to this or that facet of a sense, we then begin to see all the sensory objects that emerge in that sense. So for example, once we start to see shades of green, then we can see fields of green, oceans of green, forests of green, and wide ranges of shirts and hats that are green, and even the Green Bay Packers.  The same with sound.  Once we begin to hear various patterns of sounds, it unlocks all the birds that are singing in the spring time, or all the leaves that are blowing in the wind, or the beautiful orchestra playing downtown.  

Lonergan calls these types of notions motor-sensory notions.  Exercising them then builds a world of sights and sounds.  On a next higher level however, intellectual notions begin to emerge. In Insight, Lonergan identifies three fundamental notions that lead to intelligibility. Intelligibility is the object of any act of understanding.  When one understands a circle or the algebraic meaning of a line or the meaning of a gene in genetics, one is understanding an intelligibility.  These really are types of correlations or functional insights that articulate the nature of something.  

Notions in turn are not isolated but form into sets of relationships that unfold into patterns of recurrence that result in the development of one’s motor-sensory perceptions and memory, the development of one’s understanding into viewpoints, the development of one’s judgements into a person of solid reasoning (or what Lonergan calls the “principle notion of objectivity), and the development of one’s decisions into a well formed virtuous human being.  These patterns of notions are called heuristic structures in INSIGHT.

Montessori materials begin to plant seeds of these notions in the youngest children.  Not just the motor-sensory notions, but also the intellectual and moral notions as well.  Practical life materials for example help to strengthen the will in creatively generating beauty and order in the world.  Observing children at work in practical life leads one to the natural hope that one places in the youth of the world for a better future. Montessori’s sensorial materials help to further refine the senses, but they also begin to open up the child to a vast array of insights and the knowledge of how to reach insights through what St. Thomas calls phantasm (he was following Aristotle).  These phantasms are rich images constructed from motor-sensory perceptions.  These can be worked into various kinds of symbols and data patterns for insight.  Hence, even before reaching first grade, children can reach into higher levels of math.  Likewise for language.  As children come to learn words through three part lessons, and then explore parts of speech through activities, they come to a profound understanding of how language works and how it serves them in thinking, communicating, constituting orders (like a political constitution or a business contract), and in getting things done.  Language that came to manifest through its structure the interior notions and operations of human consciousness comes to be a profound key that carries with it the rich history of human intelligence and freedom. 

There is more of course, but these notions are some of the most profound keys that Montessori helped children to appropriate through their environment.

A second level of keys is really in terms of the generic categories of the world.  These can be such categories as color or shape.  But they can be categories of things, such as is chemical things or biological things (what Lonergan calls explanatory genera).  Montessori designed ways in the environment for children to makes such categories their own, for life.  Classification boxes, timelines, types of lands masses or water ways, are all delivered in a fashion that attracts and embeds these genera frameworks into the child’s soul by stirring in the child a deep and mysterious encounter and fascination with creation. 

A third level of keys is more specific yet. It deals with imparting particular facts and skills and words that are useful for today. This could be as simple as cleaning a computer to using a microwave rightly.  It will include a number of specific types of vocabular words and vernacular structures found locally so as to help the child better connect with those in his or her world. 

In short, I have found the keys to be as comprehensive as heuristic notions (or even transcendental notions — see Lonergan’s Method in Theology) which are universally relevant across cultures, to something based on generic categories which also can be universally found, or something more specific to a particular culture that deals with that culture’s peculiarities.  In all cases, the child finds liberty when given these keys.    

Maria Montessori talks about her way of education as one that provides a child with keys to life.  One type of key that I have found is that which allows the child to encounter and engage what constitutes any kind of developing or changing thing in this world.  That kind of key can only be unpacked if one becomes attuned to the interior life both in one’s self and in the child.

Interestingly, the keys upon which I would like to shed some light spring from fundamental keys already planted at the core of our souls.  A turn to interiority reveals this fact.  We  naturally thirst not only for food and drink, but also for understanding, truth, and goodness.  These are the transcendentals that constitute what Plato and others called the light of Being. St. Augustine followed this same language about a light within the soul.  Aristotle, Plato’s student, renamed this light in terms of what it was able to cause, namely the ability to think and abstract  and define and know the world and use one’s will in light of one’s knowledge.  He called it the agent intellect. St. Thomas does the same. Bernard Lonergan transposes this interior light into a combination of Thomistic language, Augustine’s self-knowledge, and modern interiority analysis.  He calls this light the capacity for self-transcendence, a capacity which is constituted by three transcendental notions; the notion of intelligibility, the notion of being, and the notion of goodness.  These fundamental notions are transcendental because they are the interior movers of our ability to rise beyond an old self to a new self, and to transcend into all that exists.  The everyday language of one facet of these notions are questions.  What and why questions express the notion of intelligibility. Intelligibility literally is the intrinsic notion or aim of a question for understanding.   “Is it so?” or “Is it true?” are  question that express the notion of being.  We want to know whether something is correct or real.  Questions for deliberation such as “Where should I go?” or “What should I do in life?” or “Should I get married?” are all questions that aim for a decision in the end. These express the first step of the notion of the good.  However, the notion is a bit larger as well than just a question, but  that would take me beyond where I want to go at the moment. If you would like to read more about these notions, see Lonergan’s book on insight, specifically his chapter on the notion of being, or his book titled “Method in Theology” and look at the index for his transcendental notions.  In any case, these notions combined together constitute the human capacity for self-transcendence.  

These fundamental notions do not need to be taught to a child. They exist.  They are the created participation in the Divine Light.  They are the Teacher who resides within each of our souls as a well-spring of conscious existence.  In the Montessori world, in a concrete fashion, she saw the need to create an environment that liberated this inner reality of our existence for understanding, being (truth), and goodness.  And wrapping these altogether is love.  The essence of the human soul is for love, and that love gives birth to these other notions and then is complete through their completion (or virtue).

However, these transcendental notions do become specified in different ways. So, for example, the question for understanding which seeks patterns of any type can be directed to seek the nature of something, or its efficient causes, or its final cause.  It can become directed toward the relationships of one thing with another through its environment, or even to the universe at large.  And it can be examined in terms of its frequency, or how it developed.  These are specifications of the notion of intelligibility and Lonergan unpacks these in a dynamic fashion in his book Insight

Maria Montessori’s discoveries that led to the creation of children’s environments result in helping children to form these specifications of their transcendental notions. For example, starting in Children’s House, she has a set of beads grouped in various ways.  There is a single bead, or a string of beads, or a area of beads set out like a square, or a volume of beads in a cube.  The strings of beads are from two through 10 in length. Then the areas of beads are two through 10 on each side comprising from four to 100 beads.  Then the volume is 2x2x2 through 10x10x10 beads comprising from 8 to 100 beads.  Children in a concrete way come to see the patterns of lengths when they are grouped into areas and volumes.  This allows them to see these patterns in their relationships.  This provides a heuristic notion that seeks more precision in understanding any types of patterns or relationships.  Such a specification of the notion of intelligibility Lonergan calls a “heuristic notion.”  This heuristic notion seeks patterns of sets and sequences.

Once a child begins to discover “relationships in sequences” such as between the number of beads in lengths, areas, and volumes, then this become a kind of tool in the child’s interiority for exploring the world.  Montessori’s discoveries are filled with these types of heuristic or transcendental keys which is what makes her way of teaching so profound for children.  It liberates them.  And this liberty is what gives them a profound joy and peace.

Blessed John Henry Newman relates in his own autobiographical writings that when he was a young boy, his mother, his father, and his grandmother had a tremendous impact upon him.  He recounts stories and suggestions they gave to him more than fifty years later.  Many of us know that we remember a number of events in our childhood better than we can remember what we ate yesterday for lunch.  The reason for this is the first six years of life hold a unique place in the creation of our minds, memories, and the unfolding of our souls. Maria Montessori calls describes the child’s being as an absorbent mind.

Neurological the causes of this seem to be a hyper-expanded synaptically connected brain.  Before birth, our brain undergoes a massive growth in synaptic connections between the neurons throughout many regions of the brain. Then during that first six years of life, what gets used stays strong and become relatively enduring and the synaptic links not used are lost.  This is the neurological basis it seems for why the child can learn so fast in those first years.  If you think about the amount of “learning” that takes place, it is enormous.  Motor control of the body is learn from simply hand movements to walking, along with vast amounts of coordination between the senses, proprioceptors, and movement.  As well, language is learned with an ease that the little child will never again experience.  Every word the child hears is absorbed. The child can learn to write, draw, paint, dance, sing, dress, and build.  Again, what the child does results in habits that endure and set the stage for the next period of life that begins around six or seven and traditionally was called the age of reason.

Montessori for this first level built a kind of children’s garden. It is a rich maternal environment with little keys to unlocking the immediate world of the child.  Keys for motor movements, sensory perception, and coordination, along with keys to shapes and sounds, colors and textures, tastes and smells, which flow into various kinds of musical, artistic, and daily practices of family and life.  They are keys because there is one thing at a time that is unlocked for the child. It might be diameter, or it might be tying a knot, or pouring a pitcher of rice.  The child can easily discern if he or she has done it right or wrong. And there is a nature drive for doing it right and for order.  So the child repeats the action or the observation over and over and over. While doing so, those same patterns of synapses are then kept and reinforce into that enduring layout.  Thus these self-correcting keys focused on one facets of life or creation are central to the child’s creation and unfolding.  The “teacher” in this environment is not controlling the mysterious unfolding of the child, but simply, every so often, shows the child how to use these keys (and does so with a kind of reverence and care to show every step of the key).  The same is when those keys are showing children how to help each other, to be kind, generous, and to take care of their garden and keep it orderly.  The children end up showing each other the keys as well, usually with great joy in their successes.  

Newman complements all of this in the end not only because he was a genius at how to implement higher levels of education, but because he in a profound way understood how education flows out of the family and transmit the riches of tradition.  He knew the ultimate aims of education in terms of preparing souls for eternity and for temporal life.  He understood culture and history, and how these intertwined. He also understood the workings of evil, and how good rises out of evil, and how good builds on good.  Thus, reading him, learning to see the world as he came to see it, opens up a magnificent universe of God’s glory and the struggles against evil.  It opens up how suffering can build a life of faith and obedience, and ultimate one of joy.  

So why is Newman a complement.  Montessori’s rich maternal garden of living, her four-dimensional learning world, can be filled with any tradition, any sets of keys, good and evil.  But which one’s should be introduced?  This is where the discerning mind must come in, with clear long term aims, and a deep and wise heart and soul.  One should bring in anything that is good from the culture and times of the day.  One should bring in the materials and activities, those keys, that prepare the child for a life in the culture in which she or he lives, and one that will allow the child in the long run to sort out good and evil, and to live as the prophet Amos lived, as a dressor of sycamores, who can dress life allow the good to flourish and ridding it of its evils.  Simple gestures between human beings for instance have empassioned ramifications, some of which can stir up the seven deadly sins, others of which can thwart them, and raise up the opposites of these, help the child to more easily develop habits of virtue.  Much more can be said of course, but it is an important begin to realize how much we can learn from Newman about kinds of keys should be introduced into the various stages of these four-dimensional learning worlds.

 

 Many times in education, one will find children being introduced to small pieces of this grand universe and our history with too much missing.  Why?  We have a little bit of math, of science, less of history including one’s own biography.  The modern age was defined by its desire to rid us of our heritage and move us into the purported better and better future. The latest style is the object of our hearts desire. The past is merely a prison from which we must escape.  But instead, we have imprisoned our children in darkness and despair which now rises to new levels that many of us have not seen before.

This forgetfulness of the procession of history generates a deep blindness in modern education.  It permeates even the heart of the first transmitters of tradition and faith, that of the family.  Divorces and families without genuine marriage carry no pictures of the past on their walls or in their hearts.

The deepest loss in this forgetfulness is the procession of God as He over and over again loved all of our ancestors back to the first man and woman. This is where an authentic Catholic Montessori can re-awaken the depths of God’s love for each child and family by awakening them to the world that led up to them and to the world not merely as an object of utility but as created by a loving God that flows from the love of the Father for the Son in their Holy Spirit.  Clothing, food, carpentry, building towns and cities, one’s own family tree should be seen in this great light of God’s goodness and truth, His correction and healing.  Our families are filled with prodigal sons, some of whom never returned, but some who did. It is our stories remembered in pictures and sculptures, paintings and dramas, music and dancing that brings this past incarnately into our own bodies.

 

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.