Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Realism of Hope: Reflections on the Montessori Method

Today's blog is posted at the website for the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center, where I take the opportunity to reflect upon the work we are doing to cultivate a pedagogical environment for an integrated Catholic Montessori education. I reproduce the article below. For more information about the Center, please visit the website: http://www.john23mcc.org.

The Realism of Hope: Reflections on the Montessori Method

By John Janaro

It has been a dynamic and enlightening Fall session here at the John XXIII Montessori Children’s Center. It’s hard to believe that Advent has begun, and that Christmas break is only a few weeks away. While we all look forward to the Christmas holiday, our Montessori kids will be happy to return again for the Spring session. I always find it remarkable and encouraging that Montessori children actually like “going to school.

Indeed, the work in the Montessori environment helps children form an attitude toward reality as a whole. One thing I have observed about my own kids is that Montessori has shaped them into "learners" all day, every day. They take interest in ordinary circumstances and things, and are often engaged in some kind of constructive or exploratory "play." They are open to discovering the good in things, and the good that develops through their engagement with things.

And this openness is a reasonable attitude, because reality is good. Created things are good. The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is good, even though the person is wounded by original sin, burdened by limitations, and requiring guidance and discipline to remain focused on reality. The Montessori pedagogy appreciates all the various factors that are involved in the development of the child as a person who is loved by God and called to follow Him in the midst of the real world.
Montessori requires much attentive preparation and direction from its teachers, but it also has a tremendous confidence in the capacity of being to reveal truth, goodness, and beauty: to shape the minds and hearts of children who are placed in an environment that allows them to encounter the being of things.

Is this confidence well founded?

The real world—after all—is full of violence, tragedy, and ambivalence. Does this pedagogy rest on some naive ideology that ignores sin, destruction, and suffering, or that somehow proposes to change the world fundamentally by merely human educational techniques?

In fact, a genuine Montessori pedagogy—faithful to the vision of the foundress—has nothing to do with any ideology. Maria Montessori's program and all her efforts and insights were informed by her own profound Catholic faith and her experience of the life of the Church.
Here at the John XXIII Montessori Children’s Center the Montessori environment, and the activity of the teachers, are designed with an awareness that children are marked by the effects of original sin and that they must learn how to respond to the challenges of life.

But the confidence of this pedagogy is based on two factors. The first is that original sin has wounded but has not destroyed human nature and the human capacity for the good. The second, and truly the central factor, is that the world has been redeemed. The world has been redeemed.
As we approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, of His coming into the world and dwelling among us, it is good to remember His redeeming love. Christ has already won the victory. History and reality belong to Him.
The Montessori academic program at John XXIII reflects a pervasive awareness of this fact; thus it endeavors to provide a pedagogy that affirms Christ's redeeming love and fulfills Maria Montessori's own fundamental intuitions about reality and life. The Center offers children a place for an integrated Catholic Montessori learning experience. This is why the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has an essential place in the three-morning/three-day academic program, and also why the whole academic environment is permeated with the vitality of the Gospel, the good news that Jesus has redeemed reality and bestowed upon everything a new and more profound attraction.
Thus we have reason to be confident. Jesus has won the victory. His resurrection renews thebeing of things in hope. He draws all things to Himself, and He draws children to Himself through everything that awakens within them the fascination with reality, the desire to live and learn.
Certainly, life is a trial. But it is a trial in which we conquer in Christ. The redemption is a reality that has meaning for every person. All of creation—all of the experience of truth, goodness, and beauty—has been penetrated by the victory of Christ's redeeming love and the glory of His presence as Lord of the cosmos and of history.

Christ shapes the journey of every human person, even the billions of human persons who do not yet know Him. He is present in the world as the One toward whom everything points.

He is the One who awakens our interest in existence, in the reality of things, in truth. In the words of my old theology professor, the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, "This is what Christ has come to do—to revive, to give life to our interest so that we can recognize His victory, and therefore our victory."

We are speaking, of course, within the context of a recognition that the human struggle with original sin and personal sin continues in this present life: the struggle to respond in love to the invitation of His presence. But we also recognize that even this struggle has been redeemed by Christ. He has transformed it into the opportunity to remember in every moment our need for Him, to adhere to Him as the true fulfillment of life, to offer everything to Him with joy and generosity, and thereby to share in His victory.

The pedagogy at the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center is one that is infused with the realism of Christian hope, and with the confidence that those who bear this hope can generate an environment where nature and grace can fascinate a child, and lead him or her forward in the personal search for the path to their Destiny.

John Janaro is Associate Professor Emeritus of Theology at Christendom College. He serves as Scholar in Residence and Special Resource Consultant at the John XXIII Montessori Children's Center. He also the husband of Eileen Janaro (who is the Elementary Directress of the John XXIII Center's academic program) and the father of five Montessori-educated children, three graduates of the Center and two current elementary students: Teresa Janaro and Josefina Janaro.