Jul. 8th, 2011

An interesting document. The book was written when the Montessori system was five years old, and I gather no schools existed yet in the U.S. Most of the book is exposition on what Montessori is, but here's what I found remarkable:

Fisher believes passionately in Montessori education, and she fears it. She fears its superiority, not to other schools, but to mothers' raising of their children. She warns that unless mothers take Montessori into their homes, they will lose their children, down to the very youngest, to Montessori's long days (no lunch visit home) and total social and moral education. (She puts this in the context of a process of parceling out household functions to outside expertise: household crafts replaced by cash trade, children sent out to grade school.)

Fisher's hundred-year-old views on schools' uniformity and "teaching to the test" could easily be heard any day. Also a remark that "People will take pills, physicians report, but they will not take exercise."

The threat of Montessori:
And if all this sounds too troublesome and complicated, let it be remembered that the Children's Home looms close at hand, ominously ready to devote itself to making conditions exactly right for the child's growth, never impatient, with no other aim in life and no other occupation but to do what is best for the child.
At some time in the future, [...] the training of little children will be in [teachers'] hands, as is already the training of older children. [...] The last one of the so-called "natural," "domestic" occupations will be taken away from us, and very shame at our enforced idleness will drive us to follow men into doing, each the work for which we are really fitted. [...] But that time is still in the future. At present our teachers cannot more adopt the utter freedom and the reverence for individual differences, which constitute the essence of the "Montessori method," than a cog in a great machine can, of its own volition, begin to turn backwards. And here is the opportunity for us, the mothers, perhaps among the last of the race who will be allowed the inestimable delight and joy of caring for our own little children, a delight and joy of which society, sooner or later, will consider us unworthy on account of our inexpertness, our carelessnes, our absorption in other things, our lack of wise preparation, our lack of abstract good judgment.

The rigidity of schools:
[...] the ugly, hard fact remains [...] that the teacher whose children are not able to "pass" given examinations on given subject, at the end of a given time, is under suspicion, and the principal whose school is full of such teachers is very apt to give way to a successor, chosen by a board of business-men with a cult for efficiency.
I've been reading public-domain books on my phone since it's portable and can be operated one-handed or set down zero-handed. This Fisher book I found while looking up a children's book she wrote, Understood Betsy, which turned up in a Metafilter recommendations thread. I'd rate it "eh", readable but as "orphan girl goes to live at a farm" books go it's no Anne of Green Gables, tone rather too supercilious. I am curious whether there are a lot of books in that genre, or if L.M.M. had read this one.

Speaking of which, Dorothy Dunnett's Crawford is surely a descendent of Stevenson's Master of Ballantrae, is he not? If Dunnett liked the Master's character, found him just too antiheroic to write, and decided to leaven him a bit, I would not be a bit surprised.

Protip! Particularly for older texts (or older printings?), Google often describes their scan of a particular book as "page images" and not "flowing text". Often this is false modesty. For most books described that way, there actually *is* "flowing text", with some recognition errors, but perfectly readable, and much easier than the page images. Just a few books so far really are page images only, sadly including the Century Dictionary and Hardwicke's Science-Gossip.

What are your favorite pre-Mickey-Mouse books?



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