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Maria Montessori, 1948 Course Inaugural Lecture

From the Inaugural Lecture of the Montessori Training Course, Poona, 8 November 1948, by Dr. Maria Montessori

I am fully convinced that the people who have gathered here have not done so merely because they want to learn a new method of education. There is something within them that goes beyond a mere interest in education. I believe that by now it is well-known that we Montessorians take the child himself as our central point rather than that which is called education. Probably some of you have already heard that we consider the child as the centre, as the secret, which may be used for the betterment of society. Indeed this is our main purpose!

I am not alone in thinking that taking something new into consideration will influence the rest of society and will be a means of bringing peace to this very much tried humanity of ours. This sort of affirmation is very much heard of today. Almost every one says "if you do this, the peace of the world will be maintained" or "if you do that, the peace of the world will be assured." Those who adhere to political ideologies claim that their ideology is the only way towards peace; those adhering to non-violence say that in their way lies the peace of the world. Hundreds of ideologists make this statement. Among all these claims of people and of ideas and among all the events taking place in the world one finds oneself very much confused. According to me the only way to find out where the remedy can lie is to examine our civilisation and to scrutinise it in order to see whether there is anything lacking in it and where to find the remedy.

Let us, therefore, see if there is something which is not taken into consideration by our civilisation and examine the question from this point of view. If you find something lacking which at the same time attracts so little attention that no one considers it to be of importance, then you have found a void. Wherever there is a void among things that are necessary, there lies a danger. If something remains undiscovered in the sort of civilisation that is based upon the advancement of knowledge. This causes a state of things which is dangerous. It is just like standing on one foot and being in continuous danger of falling down. To study something which is lacking is to study something positive, not something vague like the foretelling of the future, but the observation of something real concerning the present. So, to search for what can fill the void is a positive study, something which is not imaginary or idealistic, but positive. Whenever something essential is found missing, the realisation of this creates a great impression.

In this great civilisation of ours something is lacking: (1) the realisation of the importance of the child and (2) knowledge of Man. Because of the lack of interest in childhood, the child is not known and therefore there is something lacking in our knowledge about Man. We cannot but come to this sad conclusion.

Our modern world has advanced and is advancing on all sides, urged or by science and technology. In every field great discoveries are being made. There is only one thing that has not attracted the attention of science and that is man himself. I am not referring to the physical man. I am referring to the psychic man, to what we call the values of man, the essence of man. Scientists themselves, the few who have studied the question, have had to confess, like Alexis Carrell, that "man is unknown". And if man is unknown, then the child is an absolute mystery. If man, who has been studied, is unknown, then it is no wonder that the child is a mystery. When I say the child is a mystery, I refer to the first part of the life of man, to the values that are hidden within the child and that have not as yet attracted the consideration and the attention of science. The physical man and the physical child are known today and upon this knowledge science rests and sleeps. What is lacking is the realisation of values, the realisation of existing powers which, not being realised, remain unused, neglected and are allowed to go waste. The gulf of ignorance on which humanity rests and sleeps - sleeps without even dreaming - is the void that attracts our interest and on which we are going to concentrate in this course.

In recent years a great number of discoveries have been made to fully exploit almost all the energies that exist in this world. Whatever material wealth there is in our surroundings is being made use of. Man has explored and made use of not only the things that are on the surface of the earth, but has dug into the bowels of the earth to derive from it gold, silver, coal and all other minerals. Man has gone and knocked on the doors of the rocks in order to call forth from it precious metals. Man has gone down to the greatest depths of the ocean in order to see what sort of life exists there. I need not say that, with the discoveries of these energies and with their harnessing, man has worked the miracles that we enjoy in our times. Man indeed has acquired faculties and powers that in olden times were considered to be inherent only to the gods. He can speak from one continent to another. He can fly through the air. He has arrived at powers which are no longer natural, but supranatural. As far as the surface of the earth is concerned the exploitation becomes even greater and even fuller. Efforts are being made to make use of every little bit of earth that is available.

How are the discovery and full use of whatever is available made possible? It is made possible by the great powers of the conscience and intelligence of man. Then I ask: why in this great race for the utilisation of all that exists, in trying to penetrate into the innermost secrets of nature, in overcoming and harnessing all existent energies, visible and invisible, why in the midst of all these tremendous efforts, man and the energies of man alone remain unexplored? While the secrets of the stars that are so far away have been unveiled and energies that are invisible, like the cosmic rays, are being explored and harnessed and are no longer a secret or hidden, why should the powers of man himself remain unknown and not arouse the interest of science? Why is it that a little piece of land or some source of energy, are of greater attraction to governments and the best minds of science? Whereas the immense energy that belongs to the human mind, that has created out of nothing the whole of our modern civilisation and has made all these new discoveries possible, is overlooked. Why is the human spirit left aside without even a minimum of care? Why does no one delve into the secrets of human life? While just a little bit of land left uncultivated is pounced upon, yet thousands and millions of human beings are abandoned and left uncultivated.

Is this not strange? Whatever there is around us is made use of. Waterfalls and streams at one time were looked upon as beauties of nature. They were a source of inspiration to the poets. People stood ecstatic in front of them. Now they are measured in terms of material value, of how much electrical power they can give and the amount of water that can be obtained from them for irrigation. Wherever you go and whatever and whenever you find something, it is utilised. Yet, when it comes to man no one thinks. Why do we not consider the amount of mental energy, of spiritual energy, that exists in the human being as an immense source of power? There is a great void in our spirit and an indifference in us all to man. It is this void, this indifference, that has called our attention.

All human beings that walk the surface of the earth, uncultivated by society, are also a clue to that energy, called life. This mysterious energy, which is the intelligence of man, which arises suddenly as though from nowhere or nothing and which is so abandoned, is what ought to call our attention and ought to cause surprise in us. It should surprise us that this energy - human intelligence - which had transformed the world through the centuries, seems to arise from just nothing, like a flower or a plant coming from a very tiny seed. When we start thinking of all the great energies that we find around us, of this great human intelligence that expresses itself in the discoveries and the creations that keep on being made, we wonder where they come from. Where have they come from if not from the child, from the newborn man, who creates and constructs man? If this is so, why is it that this mysterious child does not attract the attention of the scientists and of all men? The study of the child itself has been very modest in comparison to the studies in other fields.

Everybody who today speaks about wealth and riches complains that they are in the hands of only a few people and that they should be distributed more equitably. But at the intellectual level, one finds that the number of those who possess the wealth of knowledge is still smaller.

Man should become conscious of the fact that he is poor and that he has a right to riches. Let us reason here as we do in the economical field. When there is such great wealth, why should there be poverty among the masses? A movement is necessary to uplift this sleeping humanity and to make it conscious of its power and of its hidden wealth. This is a movement which is very necessary today, it is a movement of great social importance.

Today education (what is called education), is still largely the passing on of information. It is static and stagnant. It fails its purpose if it remains on the same old level, if it does not move with the needs of the time. Mere information imparted is nothing. It is the cultivation of the values that are hidden in the human personality that is of importance and urgently needed today. The mere transmission of a greater amount of information cannot help much. It is the cultivation of the personality itself, of man himself, that is necessary.

Realisation of the tremendous waste and loss of human energy, of energy neglected and ignored in its true value, should make man himself feel that he is yet to become more truly wealthy and mighty in the powers of his personality. We must lift the world up to a superior level where it will be the greater power of man himself, the spiritual power of man, that will hold sway.

This cannot be done by education as it is conceived and practised today. As long as we remain as we are, teachers and pupils, the world will not change. It is the study of man, the study of psychic man, that must be undertaken.

But how can you undertake the psychic study of man if you study only the grown-up man, leaving out the child in its origins? So the beginning of psychic man, the child, must be studied. Therefore, if education is the study of man it must start with birth and even conception. This is our new task: to go and study this human energy in a scientific fashion from its beginning, from its conception; to study scientifically this energy as other energies in the world have been studied, from their origin, from their source and to aim at their application. This is one side of the question.

There is another side to the question and that is that there should be an aspiration on the part of man, of all human beings, to share the wealth of the closed laboratories from where knowledge spreads. Our culture should express and make true our realisation and desire for the need to spread and enrich ourselves with this wealth. That is a need that calls for our attention in this our time. People must be made rich, they must believe and accept this culture and this culture must be widespread, much more widespread than it is today. Only with the cultivation of the human personality and the spread of culture, can many differences and discriminations disappear. There is no European nor Indian, no high or low, no truly rich or poor, except in the construction of one's mind.

The transformation education should assume today, is to become a really social movement, not a political or economical one. In the past, there have been movements for the emancipation of working people and for that of women. Today we need a movement for the raising of the spiritual and intellectual values hidden in every human being. It is from this point of view, to attain a higher level of human personality, as the instrument of realising this new vision of education, that the child must be considered.