Magazine article Montessori Life

The Three Questions

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Three Questions

Article excerpt

First published in 1885, Leo Tolstoy's parable "The Three Questions" today seems allegorically relevant. An emperor, seeking a way to avoid failure in all his undertakings, announces a reward for anyone who can answer the three questions he believes will assure him success. However, he discovers that people tend to give very different answers to the same questions, and none of the answers satisfies him. Frustrated, he decides to ask a local hermit, well known for his wisdom. The emperor approaches the old man on foot and in ordinary clothes so that his royalty will not affect the sage's answers. The hermit, elderly and frail, is digging in front of his hut and pays little attention to his uninvited guest until the emperor begins to question him.

In his 2002 book, The Three Questions, writer and illustrator Jon Muth reworks Tolstoy's story into a modern fable of a young boy's quest to be good. Nikolai, the boy, believes that the answers to his three questions will provide the formula for living as a good person. He decides to consult his friends, who are interestingly enough, Sonya, the heron; Gogol, the monkey; and Pushkin, the dog. Like the emperor, Nikolai learns that his three friends have different answers to his questions and none seems quite right. He goes to the mountains to consult Leo, the turtle, who happens to live alone, much as Tolstoy's hermit did.

Here the two stories converge: the three questions. What are they and why are they so important to the emperor, to Nikolai, and to Tolstoy? Should they be important to us as well?

Consider the role of questions in our lives. Children ask why and how. College students ask when is the paper due, when is the next test, and so on. Adolescents, if we believe Erikson, question their identity and the morals of their society, while young adults wonder if their mates are the right ones for them. As we age, we ask ourselves if our lives have been of value and if we have mattered in the broad scheme of things.

Maria Montessori asked how the principles of science, including observation, could be applied to the education of children. She asked, "What is a scientist?" and answered that it was someone who must "... search out the deep truth of life ..." (Montessori, 1971, p. 8). Montessori questioned the very nature of education as she observed its delivery, approved by officials and written into law, as little more than "pouring . …

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