My husband and I just watched Bridge to Terabithia this week. I'm not sure how, in my otherwise rich literary childhood and adolescence, I managed to miss this book. I definitely want to go back and read it now. Neither of us were too excited to watch the film, but it was in our Netflix queue. We were both pleasantly surprised. I won't say much, in case you haven't seen it, but if you were a child who loved stories, it is definitely worth your time. My husband summed it up well when he said that it shows the power of the imagination to help us deal with life, not escape from it.
Interestingly enough, I watched this movie in the midst of reading The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. I have decided to start researching different educational theories to pull some ideas that might work for homeschooling my boys. Because so many of my friends send their children to Montessori schools, I decided to start there. I should frame this by saying that I have no direct experience with a Montessori school, only through the children I know who attend them and the things that their parents say.
This was a hard book to read! There is definitely a generation (or three) gap here, and reading a book written in such modernist, scientific language was difficult for this postmodern girl. But I don't think the language was my only stumbling block. While I agree with some of Dr. Montessori's methods on the practical level (such as allowing children to accomplish tasks with little intervention, spending a lot of time observing and interacting with nature, engaging in purposeful play, and making a home user-friendly for a child), I do not agree with all of the philosophy that undergirds her methods.
In other words, I think Maria Montessori made some excellent observations about how children learn and develop, but I don't think she always drew the correct conclusions, or at least not the only ones. The method she developed must be successful in raising well-educated and adjusted children. Otherwise, why would there be a half-dozen Montessori schools in my town alone? At the same time, I do not agree that children must follow her method exactly in order to reach their full potential as members of the human race. And, as a Christian, I don't think that a world full of Montessori educated people is the answer to humanity's problems. Perhaps this is just an extension of that modern/postmodern conflict, or perhaps there just wasn't enough social "science" around then and things had to be couched in scientific terms. Either way, her scientific certainty in her method bothered me. Maybe someone who knows more about the theories can help to translate them into contemporary language for me.
What, you may be asking, does Terabithia have to do with all of this? Like I said, I appreciate many of the practical applications of the Montessori method and how they foster independent, content, observant children. That said, one of my biggest oppositions to the theory comes in the realm of the imagination. According to another book I am reading, Dr. Montessori believed that imaginative stories were a waste of time and that the powers of imagination should be used in learning history and geography, subjects for which children have no direct experience and in which they must imagine things beyond their everyday interactions.
While I definitely agree that the imagination should be used in those subjects, I am wholeheartedly in favor of encouraging imaginative play and of reading imaginative stories to my children that have nothing to do with the "real world." Who of us, Christian or not, who have read the Chronicles of Narnia, have not understood our world better for having entered that one? My husband would say that his childhood would not be the same without the imaginary worlds and characters he and his siblings and friends created. And I still read The Lord of the Rings and come away saying, "This is true. Those these creatures and places are imagined, but this story is one of truth."
While it is true that some children can use imagination to escape their world and to avoid dealing with problems, many use it as a way of addressing those problems. In Bridge to Terabithia, the two main characters create a special place in the woods, complete with a treehouse fortress, where they spend their afternoons imagining a fantastical world that helps them to work out solutions to their real-life difficulties. The imagined world provides a safe place to gain confidence in fighting the class bully, a peaceful place where they can be restored to return to their less-than-peaceful lives. Far from isolating them from real life and inhibiting their development, their imaginings allow them to succeed in a world where they had previously failed.
So while I may pull some Montessori methods for instructing my children, I will always make sure that their minds are steeped good stories of imaginary places to build on and that they have plenty of space to create their own worlds.
I'm still forming my ideas on this one, so I would love to hear what you have to say, especially those of you who have experience with the Montessori model. I'm pretty sure this is a debate, even in Montessori circles. I would also love suggestions for what educational theory to explore next.