Magazine article Montessori Life

The Virtue of Work

Magazine article Montessori Life

The Virtue of Work

Article excerpt

A recent issue of the NewYork Times Magazine contained an interesting article, "The Case for Working with Your Hands/'by Matthew B. Crawford. The author runs a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA, and he is apparently good at what he does. He says, "The slap of worn-out pistons hitting their cylinders can sound a lot like loose valve tappets, so to be a good mechanic you have to be constantly open to the possibility that you may be mistaken. This is a virtue that is at once cognitive and moral/'

I know nothing about motorcycles and often am angered when the roar of their engines activates my car alarm. Nevertheless, Crawford's article struck a chord. He discusses habits of mind in a very physical, visceral way, reminding me of the hours I spent as a child assembling models. There was in this work time to think about how things fit together, to struggle with geometrical concepts while my hands folded or (in correction) unfolded along real planes or real lines, and the value of points, in space or on paper, became apparent.

Crawford, by the way, has a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and a resume that includes work at Washington think tanks. Commenting on his current work, he says:

Mechanical work has required me to cultivate different intellectual habits. Further, habits of mind have an ethical dimension that we don't often think about Good diagnosis requires attentiveness to the machine, almost a conversation with it, rather than assertiveness, as in the position papers on K Street. . . . Cognitive psychologists speak of "metacognition," which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate. (Crawford, p. 39)

Maria Montessori, in The Secret of Childhood, writes eloquently of the "hand," whose movements she says are most intimately connected with a person's intelligence, a belief readily apparent in the physical structures of her educational philosophy. Think Practical Life, the Sensorial exercises, her multisensory approach to language development, reading and writing, and, of course, her exquisite math materials.

The human hand, so delicate and so complicated, not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment. We might even say that man "takes possession of his environment with his hands." His hands under the guidance of his intellect transform this environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission in the world. …

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