Here comes a definition of child development and ideas relevant to upbringing by Roberto Assagioli.
(Source: Symbols of the Supernormal, Part 2. , Conference of Dr. Roberto Assagioli in 1957. Translated by Jan Kuniholm and Francesco Viglienghi. Original Title: Simboli del Supernormale II)
In the human being we can say that the same developmental symbolism occurs in two stages: first in the child, and then in the ordinary adult. This seems trivial, but it is not at all, and it has been demonstrated to us — I would say in a real and revolutionary sense — by what has been admirably demonstrated and consequently put into practice by Maria Montessori. She says that “the child actively develops the man in himself.” The child joyfully performs the task, when not prevented by a foolish adult, of forming the adult in himself. And this leads to a revolution in education. In the sense that it is no longer the adult who, from the height of his wisdom, grants his more or less questionable treasures to the unsuspecting and stupid child; instead, it is the human seed — just as in the acorn there is the oak, so the potential adult is already in the child. […] the child is actually the soul, it is a spiritual center, only it is enclosed — and must, will and can develop.
Therefore, the adult does not have to educate him, to instruct him: he has only the main duty of not troubling the child, of not obstructing him, and this already represents half if not the most of education. But let us also think of the etymology, which is often very revealing and instructive: to educate would mean e-ducere; that is, to bring out, to develop. As opposed to this, education usually means giving from outside, pouring something into an empty vessel. But Plutarch has already said it: “Man is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be aroused”; just as we are doing now, fire is evidently being stirred up in schools. However, we must be fair that not hindering the natural development of the child constitutes only half of education, but it is not the whole of education, because the child is not the marvelous being dreamed of by Rousseau.
One could say that Rousseau was the great precursor of […], precisely in celebrating the wholesomeness of nature against the artificiality of civilization, but he exaggerated. In fact, the child’s task is not only to become an adult, but to become an adult who is integrated in to the current historical-social human condition. Therefore, the adult must help him to fit into existing life, hoping that he will then change it, and make of it something better than what it is at present. However, apart from this, we can and must help the child in his development, but in a slightly different way than usual; that is, by offering him models and external examples to which he can adapt.
The child needs them, he requires them. And after all, even the adult human being is always looking for a model, an ideal of life, which unfortunately, however, almost always turns out to be an idol such as movie stars, sports champions, or the like — classic examples of modern idolatry. All this, however, confirms this innate need of the human being to imitate or emulate a living model.
Now, this is exactly what the adult does, for example, with a misbehaving child. So the active part of education on the part of the adult should essentially consist in becoming an ideal model for the child. That is very uncomfortable for the adult, because in order to do that he would have to educate himself first, which he doesn’t want to do at all; because he doesn’t have time. He has to earn money, he has to do many other things, and therefore he doesn’t have time to educate himself. Whereas his first duty would be simply to show the child himself what he should become. This is what education should consist of: first of all family education, and then school education. And in a secondary way, and indirectly, also to inform the child and to vividly present the great ideal models to him, the various models of superior men. Because there is not only one model of spiritual being, there are several: there is the hero, there is the sage, there is the artistic genius. And therefore, according to various psychological types and various constitutions and temperaments, there are various ideal models.
Now, in order to discover the true vocation and potential of a child, instead of puzzling over so many psychological texts, a much more effective and clear-cut means would be to present him with a number of different ideal models, and see to which of them his deep nature intimately responds. So I will summarize in two words this work of the educator. It is about making invitations and offering opportunities!
 Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name. Montessori schools are now found worldwide. —Tr.« Back to Glossary Index