“We know how in well-led Montessori classes the children often have a remarkable susceptibility to holy and divine things. . . .we often find ourselves with unexpected revelations.” -Maria Montessori, God and the Child, 10
Sami had just finished reading the introduction to our Parts of the Frog booklet. Definition booklets are usually challenging for our five-year-old readers. Some of the vocabulary was new to Sami, but he sailed through the reading with ease. He paused once at the end of the first page, to comment and ask a question.
“This is really interesting,” Sami said. “I’d like to be a scientist when I grow up. Do you think I could be a scientist?” he asked.
“Of course I do.” It was a too-easy response from his teacher, but it was true and honest. “You are interested in the things scientists are interested in.”
“I think so too,” Sami said, thoughtful and sincere. “I don’t believe God would let a little boy like me want to be a scientist if I couldn’t really be one.”
Sami resumed his reading. I continued listening, balancing tears on my eyelids. There are layers of beauty, confidence, faith, and trust in Sami’s comments. I will remember his words, I thought, through the darkest days of December.
“God prods and transforms the adult through the child.” -Maria Montessori, God and the Child, 22
In the two years we have had together, Sami has learned to tie his shoes, add and subtract, and read. In these skills, I have guided him. He was a chronic worrier when we met. We have cultivated the calm confidence he now demonstrates. His comment reminded me, though, that I have learned as much as I have taught. Many of our best teachers would make similar comments, I think. We learn as much as we teach.
Several days after his first wonderings, Sami told one of his friends he thought he would be a scientist. “I want to learn about everything in the world,” he said. “I know I can’t learn everything, but I think I can try.”
Sami’s comments were simple but full expressions of his faith and his curiosity. They were also an absolutely ordinary part of his dialogue with his world. As he was reading about frogs, Sami was thinking about God. He assumes God cares about his learning. Sami’s God pays attention to the desires of a child. For Sami, God is strong and nurturing, present and loving, involved in the work of his hands and the life of his mind.
“We then see in the humble ability to love, which we sometimes look upon as weakness, the true measure of maturity. The means by which the child influences us—the respectful and trusting love – will then be our great power in the educational sphere.” -Maria Montessori, God and the Child, 49
Ours is not a parochial school. Sami is Hindu. His classmates are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. Maria Montessori was a devout Catholic. Her writings on faith quote liberally from the Bible. She refers to specific moments in the life of Christ. Yet, in the classrooms that bear her name and the mark of her genius, expressions of faith from children of different traditions are noteworthy only because they are so normal. Children offer glimpses of their souls as they polish, scrub, read, and calculate.
In the long months of winter, especially when daylight is scarce, conversations with children can be treasures. Even people of great faith struggle as demands to spend time and money challenge our capacity to give. December days sometimes feel spiritually empty and dark.
But most days a healthy child like Sami looks up from work he loves and shares his faith in a way that is both brilliant and, for him, absolutely ordinary. Montessori often reminded adults to cooperate with the normal patterns of human development.
She also believed that “spiritual education is nothing if not simple cooperation with the grace of God” (God and the Child, 36).