How to educate a new generation? Briefly, one can answer: We need to change ourselves; that is, it is necessary for the educator to be attuned to the new times.
By Roberto Assagioli, February 3, 1930, lecture followed by Discussion. From the Assagioli Archive in Florence, Doc. #23689 and 23780. Original Title: Nuovi Problemi Educativi nella Vita Moderna. Translated and edited with notes by Jan Kuniholm[i]
- Abstract by Roberto Assagioli: Civilization has changed in important ways, and young people are different from those of the past. They are more aware, intelligent, and independent. How do we educate them? We must change ourselves and be attuned to the times. There is a greater psychological distance between modern adults and young people and revolutionary educational methods are needed. They have begun with educational reform in Italy and with the Montessori Method, which is based upon understanding the personality of the student. This method requires very skilled teachers and coordination with family life. Children must be given freedom, but that is limited by the rights of others. The greatest work in modern education is that adults must work on themselves. A discussion follows the essay, with questions about freedom and responsibility for children, and honesty and lack of hypocrisy in teachers.
Dr. ASSAGIOLI: We set out to examine the changes required by the new characteristics of modern life.
We note that the structure of our civilization has changed: the present era is the age of the machine, of speed and the thirst for adventure. On the economic side, conditions have also changed profoundly: there is an economic pressure that affects everyone. Money has become more important. Even people who by their nature would not be so inclined have to deal with the financial problem.
Corresponding to these changes in the social order are changes in the psychological order.
Young people, the children of today, are different from those of before, even of only 15 or 20 years ago. There is a new spirit of independence both physically and intellectually. Today’s boys and girls have much more independence, and almost total autonomy of movement in life. Intellectually, children are not only more aware and intelligent, but they are also more independent. The authority of the adult, as such, has collapsed: the modern child does not respect authority, but wants to know why things are done. Another aspect of independence is financial: many young ladies, even if not forced by necessity, want to have a degree and a profession that gives them the possibility of independence from the family. In America many children of millionaires want to start earning a living by working as their fathers did.
This intellectual, moral and practical independence raises serious problems. Dogmas and traditions are no longer accepted as such: young people are led to form their own spiritual foundation.
Thus the problem arises: How to educate such a generation? Briefly, one can answer: We need to change ourselves; that is, it is necessary for the educator to be attuned to the new times, otherwise the new generation may get out of hand. We must try to understand them with sympathy and love; then it will not be so difficult for us to support and guide them constructively and not merely repressively.
Similar discords have always occurred, but now they are accentuated and multiplied by the accelerated pace of modern life, so that not infrequently there is a psychological distance of more than half a century between parents and children. The only way to settle such conflicts is for us adults to allow the new spirit to penetrate into ourselves, renewing ourselves inwardly. Now the problem arises of how to implement these policies in concrete educational practice. Concerning schools, we need to be frankly revolutionary: to recognize and affirm that the current schools no longer respond to the new times.
A beginning of this revolution occurred with the “Gentile reform.”[i] Another great advance is the Montessori Method,[ii] which is based precisely on understanding the soul of the young person and respecting the personality of the student. The only objection that can be made to this method is that it requires very skilled teachers. It is up to us to make every effort to prepare them. The most important step to be taken is then to introduce the new type of education and the informative principles of the Montessori Method in middle schools. Middle schools are currently the worst, and in them children have less freedom than in the modern type of elementary school. This is the most urgent practical problem.
Another fundamental problem is that of education in the family. The family has the task of complementing and assisting the work of the school. For children educated according to the Montessori Method, it is necessary for parents to know and conform to the Method, so that the child does not find less understanding and less freedom at home than at school.
On the other hand, however, one must not overdo it: the adult must not perform an act of complete dedication, must not surrender to his or her children, but must try to collaborate with them. In America in some families the child has become the despotic master of the home. This is not fair to adults, and moreover is likely to bring disillusionment to the child himself when he or she becomes an adult.
The child’s freedom must be limited by objective recognition of the rights of other family members. This will eliminate unnecessary sentimentality, but not true feeling. In the mothers of the last century it could be seen that authoritarianism, possessive affection and weakness often came together. This new clearer and simpler approach to mutual relations eliminates many conflicts and rebellions in the children, and bitterness in the parents; it creates a better understanding and fosters true affection for each other.
A kind of paradox, which is in harmony with the Montessori Method, will therefore apply as a conclusion: namely, that the greatest work [in educating a child] must be done by the adult on himself. When this has been done, one no longer works on the pupil, but with the pupil, and the work becomes easier. Let us educate ourselves to educate, and let us become younger and younger for the sake of the young.
Thus we will come to give fresh proof of the spiritual law — so beautiful and consoling — that in doing good to others we cannot help but benefit ourselves as well.
* * *
(questions and comments are reported by the transcriber,
but Dr. Assagioli’s answers are verbatim)
Prof. BARALT – appreciates the opinions about education expressed in the lecture and explains that few people have a true and exact concept of education. Few also know the meaning of the word “culture.” Culture means both physical culture [of the body] and the culture of higher faculties. The Montessori Method is hope in education, but there are dangers and it needs to be studied a lot.
Mr. BELLAVITA – wonders if the Montessori Method does not give too much freedom to children.
Dr. ASSAGIOLI – The challenge of this and of every modern method of education lies precisely in this: of giving neither too much nor too little freedom. Exaggerated freedom can do much harm to the student himself. In granting it one must study each individual specifically.
Mr. CRAIG – Montessori intends the child should be made to believe that he is completely free. The student’s energies must be controlled and corrected without his noticing it.
Dr. ASSAGIOLI – The change lies in considering the child and not the teacher as the center of educational action, unlike before. The teacher must learn not to impose his own personality, to s’effacer.[iii]
Mr. LLOYD – Children now are less afraid than they used to be and therefore have less of a rebellious spirit. Once they were rebellious and their weakness made them hypocritical and false, now they are much more sincere.
Mr. ARMANI – Even in the past there were good methods of education, and in the Montessori Method there are many ideas that had already been implemented.
Dr. ASSAGIOLI – It is true that in the past there were good methods (the past is not to be despised) but there was a totally different approach, and the education of that time was tuned to the conditions of that time, and to a great extent it is no longer needed now. We especially criticize the intellectualistic and positivistic methods of the 19th century as they were [used], and all the more so if they are applied today.
Mr. OSTI – What was contrary to our modern ideas arose from the materialism prevailing in in the nineteenth century .
Ms. SCIALOIA – One should not scold one’s children too much for things that they can later learn on their own in life. One must always make an assessment of the things to be corrected. Giving unnecessary reproaches only serves to alienate children from ourselves; instead, one must keep them close without ever burdening them with our words. Many adults want to take out their nervousness on their children.
Mr. ARMANI – One should not expect gratitude from one’s children.
Dr. ASSAGIOLI – It is a fact that where there is no gratitude it cannot necessarily be created. But mothers must avoid giving too much without demanding anything, because then selfishness can be created. Excessive maternal sacrifice can be harmful.
Ms. SCIALOIA – To win the esteem of children, one must always tell them the truth in everything (she explains the method she has successfully used in educating her children in the most difficult and delicate matters).
Mr. CALVARI – Children often rebel against the rules of society and etiquette because they see the hypocrisy that is often in them. With this they give us a lesson in sincerity. The child’s spontaneity must not be coerced; the child feels life in a much more immediate way than we do.
We must never make the child do things that we would not do. The child senses what is false in society. Adults have a duty to always be consistent because the child is very logical, more logical than we are. A mother who is very authoritarian one moment and too condescending another is not respected. So we always come back to the idea that it would be good — to solve the problem of education — to establish schools for adults first. However, sincerity alone is not enough, we also need wisdom: we cannot expect the child to be better than we are.
Mr. GRASSI – Gives news about the Parent Teacher Association, and Parents and Teachers magazine.[iv]
Dr. ASSAGIOLI – A good corrective against the danger of the excessive freedom of young people is to give them a corresponding responsibility. This develops a sense of dignity in them and makes them better. And it is right that to the honor of independence is connected the burden of responsibility to themselves and to others.
[i] The Gentile Reform of 1923 was a reform of the Italian educational system through a series of normative acts, by the neo-idealist philosopherGiovanni Gentile, minister of education in Benito Mussolini’s first cabinet and author of several works on education. The reform raised the age of compulsory education, introduced new learning institutes, introduced instruction in philosophy and other changes. —Ed.
[ii] The Montessori Method is a unique form of early education developed by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952). The program is presented in several books in English, including The Montessori Method. —Ed.
[iii] French for “fade away” or to make oneself disappear, or efface oneself. —Tr.
[iv] The PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is a American organization that was founded in 1897 as a voice for children, a resource for parents, and an advocate for public education. —Ed.
[i] Editor’s interpolation are shown in [brackets]. —Ed.