The Moral Landscape of Montessori

By Carey, Kathy | Montessori Life, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Moral Landscape of Montessori

Carey, Kathy, Montessori Life

Montessori instructs us in the art of becoming teachers. For two reasons she seems to view this process of becoming as one that is never completed: We can never know all there is to know, and each child is unique and must be observed as if we had never observed any other child. She says the "ordinary teacher cannot be transformed . . . but must be created anew" and in this process must shed her biases, prejudices, and preconceptions (1989, p. 67). Tlie Montessori teacher is the exemplar, the one who guides, tlie one who presents lessons, who supports and cares, who is able to see tire child who is "not yet there," and who, by her actions, expresses faith in the cluld's future (Montessori, 1989, p. 67).

Montessori, having lived through two devastating world wars, was a staunch advocate of peace. She believed that war and peace have opposite moral implications (1965). Peace is more than the absence of war. She says:

. . . only two things are needed in order to establish peace in the world: above all, a new type of man, a better humanity; then an environment that should no longer set a limit to the infinite desire of man. (1965, p. 27)


When the independent life of the child is not recognized with its own characteristics and its own ends, when the adult man interprets these characteristics and ends, which are different from his, as being errors in the child which he must make speed to correct, there arises between the strong and the weak a struggle which is fatal to mankind. (1965, p. 20)

Consider, then, the social cognitive theories of Albert Bandura, who is notable for Iris research in self-efficacy and in the power of social modeling. Bandura cogently demonstrates that social models, with whom the child has an emotional investment, heavily influence the child's development. We shape ourselves, as we grow, to be like those whom we strongly admire.

Bandura connects these social influences with moral agency. He says, "People do not operate as autonomous moral agents impervious to the social realities in which they are immersed. . . . Moral actions are the products of the reciprocal interplay of personal and social influences" (Bandura, 1999, p. 3). Moral agency requires inhibiting inhumane behaviors and utilizing proactive power to behave humanely. Moral agency requires more tiran moral thought; it requires daily connections between what we believe and what we actually do. Finally, for a complete understanding of human behavior, we must consider the "integrated perspective in which social influences operate through psychological mechanisms" (Bandura, 1999, p. 12).

Conduct is regulated by external forces (parents, teachers, etc.) and social sanctions (community standards, school rules, and so on). According to Bandura, people adopt standards and behave in ways that support self-worth and provide satisfaction, and they refrain from violating moral standards because to do so leads to self-condemnation.

However, because we are both psychological and social beings, living in manmade social structures, we are not immune to corrupting influences and are quite capable of inhumane behavior.

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