I’ve written previously about the Socratic approach of Northrop Frye. He says that the role of the liberal arts teacher is to create a structure of the subject matter around which the student can form their own understandings. This is exactly Maria Montessori’s view, but her approach is informed by Rousseau and the rationality of scientific method:
The didactic material, in fact, does not offer the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the ‘order for that content’ Athenaeum, April 18, 1914
Montessori was a great champion of scientific progress, and I wonder how she views human rationality. The development of a child’s intelligence is a process of refining motor and sensory functions. The latter lays the foundations for intelligence “by a continual exercise of observation, comparison and judgment.” As I begin to read Montessori I ask the question – What is the end goal of the development of intelligence?
One of the goals of philosophic education for children is to introduce contemplative questions, which also develops intelligence by forming comparisons and judgments, but most of all by thinking about thinking itself – or metacognitive skills. How is this philosophic thinking different than experiential learning?
Contrast Montessori’s view that science should guide the development of children’s rationality:
It is by scientific and rational means also that we must facilitate that inner work of psychical adaptation to be accomplished within the child, a work which is by no means the same thing as “any external work or production whatsoever.” This is the aim which underlies my method of infant education, and it is for this reason that certain principles which it enunciates, together with that part which deals with the technique of their practical application, are not of a general character, but have special reference to the particular case of the child from three to seven years of age, i.e., to the needs of a formative period of life.
My method is scientific, both in its substance and in its aim. It makes for the attainment of a more advanced stage of progress, in directions no longer only material and physiological. It is an endeavor to complete the course which hygiene has already taken, but in the treatment of the physical side alone.
(Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook)
The building of intelligence through making comparisons and judgments is certainly the foundation of more abstract ways of thinking. What place is there for didactic conversational relationships with children younger than seven?