It takes a village – Moral development in adolescence

By Hilary Asquith Kawakawa head teacher

Recently I listened to a lecture by Laurie Ewert-Krocker, Director of the International Montessori Training Institute, in which she explained the many characteristics of adolescent development and the needs of the adolescent to reach maturity with confidence and become fully functional within the world. The lecture outlined how difficult a time of transition adolescence really is. Montessori acknowledged this turbulence through her writings about the third plane of development. There is a commonality of the adolescent experience of feeling both vulnerable and hesitant and a tendency to focus on the self and the role of themselves within the group. Ewert-Krocker says “it is easy to forget that we are dealing with an organism moving towards maturity…to get caught up in the focus of academic performance and success rather than our roles in supporting them to maturity and the social experience.”  Adolescents need opportunities to grow and develop their personal perspectives, empathy and interconnectedness within the social framework of society.

Moral development is fundamental in Montessori pedagogy. Montessori’s belief was that humans have a capacity that is wondrous. Much of Montessori education is about making sure that moral character develops alongside the academic work.

For success in life depends in every case on self-confidence and the knowledge of one’s own capacity and many-sided powers of adaptation. The consciousness of knowing how to make oneself useful, how to help mankind in many ways, fills the soul with noble confidence.” (From Childhood to Adolescence Montessori-Pierson p. 60)

Adolescents need multiple adults to study, build relationships with and have opportunities to hear different perspectives from. There is a gradual move away from their parents and a desire to connect with the worldview of others. Through the sharing of stories and growing their understanding of others, we grow their awareness of themselves and help them discover their place in the world. The need for positive role models and mentors is therefore paramount in this stage of development –

 because adolescence is the age when the child becomes man, which is to say a member of society.” (Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence, Schocken p. 96)

The work of the community is to ensure that our young people are surrounded by plentiful opportunities to engage with the world around them and provide mentors that will positively impact these developing minds. To not collectively work together to support this moral growth during this period of development would be a great loss to the future of humanity. It plays into the old adage that it takes the villages to raise the child. As Montessori said, adolescents are:

 the human energy on which the future depends” and we “must have the greatest respect for the young personality, realising that in the soul of the adolescent- great values are hidden… there lies all our hope of future progress and the judgment of ourselves and our time.” (Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence Schoken p. 112)

Freedom, Responsibility, Discipline and Social Development

By Joel Batson Tōtara Teacher

As I ponder the country having to yo-yo between alert levels, it strikes me that the task given to us adults (teachers and parents/whānau alike) is a massive one.  The extent to which we instil in the ākonga around us a sense of social awareness and responsibility can have lasting effects for all involved for a long time to come.  So it behoves us to fully grasp the idea that ‘with great freedom comes great responsibility’.  The actions of single individuals can end up having huge ramifications for large numbers of people and their related communities both positive and negative.

These ideas of freedom, responsibility, discipline and social development are all interdependent and interconnected.  They depend upon each other.  Yet, this idea of giving freedom to the child is one of the hardest ideas in Montessori to understand.  It is often misunderstood.  And it is even harder to implement!

A world used to exist where children were best ‘seen and not heard’. The level of freedom was low and the level of expected responsibility was quite different. Nowadays we generally tend towards a different norm where children are in some cases given as much freedom as fully developed adults, yet they are unable to cope with the responsibility that comes with it. Sometimes, the focus is on making sure everyone ‘feels’ good as opposed to ‘what do you think about that?’ This is a question that appeals to the reasoning mind.  Unfortunately for some, learning new and needed things can and should take some hard graft, which, at the time, often doesn’t feel that good!

In the Montessori classroom we try to give children as much freedom as they can cope with in order to independently self-construct.  It is not complete freedom.  It is the amount of freedom ākonga are able to make good choices with (showing a sense of discipline), based on observation and appropriate for whatever age and stage of social development they are at.

Boundaries and limitations balanced with affection and a sense of belonging are key here.  And for us, these are made concrete in what we call the prepared environment.  Our environments, including the adults in the room, are prepared in such a way in order to give ākonga the best chance to develop a sense of social awareness and discipline through experiencing limited freedoms and the corresponding responsibility at every level.

“Individual freedom is the basis of all the rest.  Without such freedom it is impossible for a personality to develop fully. … Freedom is the necessary foundation of organised society.  Individual personality could not develop without individual freedom.  Only individuals can unite to form a society.”

Dr Montessori, Education and Peace, pp.101-102 (Clio)

Implicit in the above quote from Dr Montessori is the fact that freedom implies responsibility.  Without responsibility, freedom ultimately becomes a lack of unity.