Maria Montessori was an educational genius—her pedagogical system beginning with the recognition of human nature, and how the young brain develops. But the fruits of her genius apply to more than just education.
She identified several (what she called) “human tendencies” that are reflected in the Montessori classroom—describing them as ‘life forces’ or ‘natural guides’ which drive man towards activities aiding his needs for survival, and fulfilment. Clearly, they have universal explanatory power far wider than just the Montessori environment.
Her son Mario Montessori explained that unlike physical drives, “mental tendencies give, suggestions, inspirations and problems that give no peace until they are satisfied,” identifying the eleven most important as:
- Orientation. People want to know their place in the world. They want to know how the people and things in it compare to themselves, to understand where they fit in.
- Order. People prefer order to chaos and confusion. Chaos and confusion are unsettling. Therefore humans try to find patterns and classification systems so that they can make sense of the world.
- Exploration. Human beings are naturally curious. Through exploration and investigation they learn from their discoveries.
- Communication. Humans delight in conveying thoughts, feelings, and information to each other. There is a natural desire to communicate. Regardless of the culture or time period, human beings have shared experiences and exchanged information.
- Activity. Active involvement with the surrounding environment allows people to learn and further their self-development.
- Manipulation. There is a connection between learning and doing. Humans work with their hands to establish the connection between their mind and their hands.
- Work. Throughout history humans have shown the ability and willingness to work and strive for not only survival, but improvement in life. Further, people feel worthwhile through their work. Maria Montessori believed that it was through work that a child constructed his true self, free of defect or misbehaviour.
- Repetition. Repetition leads to mastery. All humans learn through practice. Repetition allows them to reach closer to perfection.
- Exactness. Humans seek to be precise in their work. Doing something exactly right brings enormous satisfaction. Humans perceive when things don't fit together. When this happens, they adjust, refine, and improve.
- Abstraction. This is truly the characteristic that sets us apart from animals. Humans have an ability to draw conclusions, generalise, conceptualise, and imagine from experiences in the real world. They can imagine that which does not exist, and can think beyond the concrete and real.
- Self-Perfection. All of the tendencies culminate in this one. Healthy human beings have a natural desire to improve. They find satisfaction in their own personal growth, and want to perfect themselves.
You see what I mean?
These tendencies, so well explored and validated in the Montessori classroom, have application much further afield … to ethics, to architecture, to economics, to politics …