practical aid to development

"The need which is so keenly felt for a reform of secondary schools concerns not only an educational, but also a human and social problem. This can be summed up in one sentence: Schools as they are today, are adapted neither to the needs of adolescence nor to the times in which we live. Society has not only developed into a state of utmost complication and extreme contrasts, but it has now come to a crisis in which the peace of the world and civilization itself is threatened. The crisis is certainly connected with the immense progress that has been made in science and its practical applications, but it has not been caused by them. More than anything it is due to the fact that the development of man himself has not kept pace with that of the external environment.

While material progress has been extremely rapid and social life has been completely transformed, the schools have remained in a kind of arrested development, organized in a way that cannot have been well suited even to the needs of the past, but that today is actually in contrast with human progress. The reform of the secondary school may not solve all the problems of our times, but it is certainly a necessary step, and a practical, though limited, contribution to the great reconstruction of society. Everything that concerns education assumes today an importance of a general kind, and must represent a protection and a practical aid to the development of the individual; that is to say, it must aim at improving the individual in order to improve society.

But, above all it is the education of adolescents that is important, because adolescence is the time when the child enters on the state of manhood [sic] and becomes a member of society. If puberty is on the physical side a transition from an infantile to an adult state, there is also, on the psychological side, a transition from the child who has to live in a family, to the adult who has to live in society. These two needs of the adolescent: for protection during the time of the difficult physical transition, and for an understanding of the society which he is about to enter to play his part, give rise to two problems that are of equal importance concerning education at this age."

--Maria Montessori, "The Erdkinder," 1948

Post-Odyssey trip I now have one four-day week of experience in the Montessori adolescent environment. Maria Montessori wrote one main essay on adolescence, "The Erdkinder." In it she presents many contemporary-feeling ideas to help children begin to journey towards adulthood, including providing opportunities for students to apprentice and work in real world occupations such as farming and running small guest houses in the country. The idea was for students to begin to step into their roles as individuals in society, after years of being children within a family unit. There is a sense of adventure and challenge and trusting that the students are up to new physical and mental tasks and growing independence.

Our students are not at boarding school in the country, so we find other ways to create these opportunities for growth and risk. One is through a set of classes called "occupations." Instead of electives, we have a variety of courses which relate to real-world work and/or creative expression. I am teaching the occupation called Marketplace, which will come to life in a school shop, at school events, and, in the spring, as a farm stand selling the harvest of the Farming occupation. Other occupations at the school include a bicycle repair shop, forestry, design lab, and musicianship. This is a new challenge for me in that it is a shift from only teaching English, but it is also something that will allow me to utilize and share my past experiences running small businesses and developing spaces for art and commerce. Though a bit daunting in the crush of the very-new school year, there is something about the occupations that acknowledges that teachers are full humans with diverse experiences and interests, not simply obsessive geeks about one narrow subject area. This feels respectful and more realistically representative of all that adulthood entails--layers of tasks, roles, and continual learning.

Because core classes, occupation classes, plus service work, plus community meetings and advisory time are all woven into our week, my brain is a blur of spreadsheets and schedules and where-to-be-when. I sat here on the floor preparing most of this Saturday, which is tiring, but I look forward to one week from now when I'll have another five days of experience and things will feel a little bit less completely new and strange. It is through the work that I will find the way.

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