“Moral Education is the source of that spiritual equilibrium on which everything else depends and which may be compared to that physical equilibrium or sense of balance, without which it is impossible to stand upright or to move into any other position.” – Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence
Is Morality in education important?
When we think of the education of an individual, the first thing that strikes us is his future adult life. We want an education that helps our children to get a secure future. A future where his needs are met, where he or she may find work (a profession) and opportunities that are fun, challenging, peaceful and that provide for a good life.
We are of the opinion that a sound academic training of children provides for all of the above to a large extent; moral education is relegated to a footnote in education and valuing morality in education is sadly lacking. Have we ever thought otherwise?
“I can only say that as the children become older their life becomes more complicated. To answer these needs why does society only give sport and games? Why is there pride just in winning a game? Why not aim to make the individual physically strong? Why not institute moral sport through social experience? Why not have championships of men who are morally strong?” – Maria Montessori, Citizen of the World
The importance of Morality in education
Academic training alone is not enough. Academic training has to go hand-in-hand with moral training. Morality in education is of great importance for humankind.
We tend to assume that a good moral character is only important because it helps us to co-function with others, and mainly, if our work is related to people management. When it comes to individual contribution of work, we assume that our attitude/morality can be lacking as long as our work is good (from our own perspective).
I think this is a faulty assumption. I think so based on the observations I have made over the past 10 years working with children and watching them learn. It is also based on my understanding of human development as observed for more than 100 years after Dr. Maria Montessori discovered it.
I have observed the following:
When a baby is mostly living in a nurturing family where parents get along with each other, treat each other and their child with respect and love, when small successes are celebrated and mistakes (falls, breaking of something) are thought of as one of the ways to learn; children cry less, eat well and respond well to all adults in the household.
When they are allowed to exert their independence with work that they can do by themselves, their trust in the world deepens. This leads to 3 year olds who are independent (can eat, dress and play independently).
You may ask where is the morality here? Morality is in the adult’s mind. In his or her every action towards the child and others around him. The child observes and absorbs this same morality.
Here, I have the most extensive experience. In our schools where there is a prepared environment, having all the means of development for children in this age-group; all that is required is a connection to this means. I have seen that children who are provided with too much academic stimulation outside in developmentally ‘unprepared’ environments, tend to loose interest in learning. They become over-confident about what they already know and are satisfied with knowing only that much which gives them an edge over their peers in those areas. The adults in these children’s lives focus on their academic success and the child soon starts to try different ways to appease adults rather than following their own inner guide. This leads to a superficial learning which is forgotten as soon as the adults are happy. Until the next time.
Now, compare this to a child who is taught that his or her behaviour is equally important, if not more. The child learns how to manage his own behaviour so that he is able to function in the community he is in. He is allowed freedom to work as long as he or she is able to learn from it without causing harm to anyone else. This provides for so much more opportunity and a relaxed mind to learn. This child is usually not even aware of his or her own academic prowess. Learning from academic areas comes so naturally that they think it is perfectly normal for every other child to be the same.
The children have a reasoning mind, and during this period, they have a strong need to find out for themselves why something is right and why something is not. The way they can build this morality is if they have had many right experiences in their life so far. They will be able to relate every new information with what they have experienced before, and find out for themselves about the how and why of their own behaviour as well as the behaviour of others.
Secondly, they will talk to someone who has a strong moral sense and who does not judge them while they are developing this sense. That’s where we come into the picture. We give them an idea of the human world that they live in. It is so important for us to hold on to strong moral values for ourselves before we even try to reason with them about theirs. If we falter, they will see and will be unable to accept a morality that only applies to them and not to us.
“She must acquire a moral alertness which has not hitherto been demanded by any other system, and this is revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications.” – Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
Conclusion of the value of Morality in education
I have seen that when morality is valued by all the adults in the child’s life, it makes learning of academics natural and easy.
The children have no pressure to excel only in academics with a detached sense of morality, and hence, they are able to freely develop all their powers equally. Their academic knowledge then, is not only vast, but also stays with them. My hope is that all of us would value morality in education, and place it on par, if not more important than, academic education.
“The question of moral education is not as simple as it was before. Some element must be added in connection to the present form of society – which is different from what it was formerly. The relationship between the family, the teacher and the children must be harmonious, because the school environment plays a larger part than it did before. Both teachers and parents must have the help of the new psychological knowledge that was not known before.” – Maria Montessori, 1946 London Lectures
Anjum is one of the founders of Lodestar Montessori School. She wishes that everyone discovers Montessori the way she did. She lives in Singapore with her husband and son.