What does it mean to be free? Is it to do as one pleases, or is it to have the will to act with love and kindness in any set of circumstances? Does personal freedom mean to put ones own desires before those of others, or is the route to freedom found by placing oneself in harmony with life?
The Elementary-aged child is drawn to questions of this kind, and their answers are found through experience. The Montessori environment is explicitly prepared to support the children to see the interdependencies and interconnectedness of all living things. History is often looked at through the prism of gratitude for the work and creativity of those who have gone before us. In studying other cultures the child’s attention is drawn to the diversity of ways people meet the same fundamental needs. In numberless ways, the child’s imagination is directed towards the overlooked harmony that exists in the world around us; from atoms obeying their laws, to the yucca plant and the yucca moth that are entirely dependent on each other. The problems of the world are not overlooked at this age, but are framed as aberrations from an underlying good.
The children also experience these ideas very practically. Most schools have rules forthe children, but rarely are they created by the children. The children decide what kind of place they want the Montessori Elementary to be (generally one where they can work hard and have fun) and then come up with rules or guidelines that will make this possible. They hold each other to account and, in community meetings facilitated by a child, regularly discuss issues that need addressing, or guidelines that need emphasising.
Questions of how to collaborate with each other arise on a daily basis as the children negotiate their working relationships. Over time they come to see that much more can be achieved together, both in what is produced and what is understood. Gradually the self-determined strict rules for cooperation morph into more flexible guidelines until a compassionate personal morality develops; this is how I seek to behave, but I realise that sometimes neither I nor others achieve it.