What is ‘Cosmic Education’?
Montessori’s particular view of the child’s needs and tendencies inform ‘Cosmic Education’, as she had a particular view of life, nature, human nature and the cosmos. She planned education as an ‘aid to development’, enabling children to adapt to their physical and social environment.
Adaption is explained in AMI Communications 1978 No. 2 – ‘Explanations of Certain Leading Concepts’, as being the process by which a “child adapts…by building a psychosomatic structure [that] enables him to enjoy a maximum happiness within the conditions he [is in]…Positive adaptation is to find your happiness, spiritually and physically in the conditions which have become yours ” (abridged)
Montessori’s world view contains a special view of four key concepts
- The Cosmos – an orderly whole with complex parts
- Life – evolving from simple, unicellular forms to complex multi cellular forms and later ones with multiple organs
- Nature – the environment which evolves with life, in which all aspects contribute to the whole
- Humans – a new energy, with intelligence, imagination and the hand which makes us distinct from other species
In AMI Communications 1974 humans are described as able to perform action and work upon the Earth, transforming it to satisfy their needs, bringing about changes such as producing and removing species, changing and spreading habitats, moving minerals and constructing buildings. Montessori sees the combination of the intelligence and the hand within the context of the environment as opening the possibility of self actualisation. The additions (physical and spiritual) that man contributes to the globe are known as the Supranatura by Montessori and it is the self-actualised adults work (Cosmic Task) to contribute Supranatura which is in harmony with the laws of nature. The process of Self-actualisation is more likely if opportunities are given in the early years when behaviours and attitudes are formed in a localised reality through the Absorbent Mind (the first plane) and a reasoning mind (in the second plane). The Child’s unrecognised comic task is to build the man; his self actualisation by firstly adapting to the conditions and then to transmit culture (Civilisation). He is inspired, driven, guided and directed to do this by his tendencies to fulfil his needs or states of being.
Montessori saw each individual from conception as having a task is to continue, collectively the work of creation and to manifest endless latent possibilities of new forms of creation (the supranatura). The term ‘Cosmic Education’ was first used in London 1935, Montessori went on to formulate her ideas further while interned in India, her discovery grew out of practical work with children from all cultures and guides how we present the work, which is to show how the child, humanity and the universe relate to each other.
Montessori presents the universe as an ordered system to the mind of the prepared (second phase) child, using their sensitivities towards reason and the imagination. ‘Kosmos’ coming from the Greek indicating ‘the universe as an ordered system’, knowing this ordered system the children are invited to participate in the Cosmic Plan – the idea that the unfolding of the universe is directed towards a goal.
To share the Cosmic Plan with children we present a wide overview, looking back to how it started and asking, ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’ questions about the relentless experimentation of creation with shape, form and colour which she believed went beyond mere Darwinism survival. The children’s attention is drawn to how creatures have reproduced with great variety (e.g. multicellular organisms, hard coating of shells, internal structures – bones, lungs, uterus – and flowering plants). At first glance man’s goal might appear to be the satisfaction of immediate, physical needs, but she also sees it as part of a greater plan, taking the view of the Ecologist or Geologist rather than the Biologist. While the Great Stories follow the pattern of the Genesis story and certainly in no way conflict, the story can be adapted to the culture of the children. The anthropomorphised figure of ‘God’ can be presented the focus remains on the action of the ‘agents of creation’ rather than the ‘creator’, however the force is framed.
Presentation of the Cosmos to Children
We begin presenting Cosmic Education explicitly through the first Great Story, ‘God with No Hands’, of course the idea that the child is part of the environment, is expected to contribute and is shown how is evident throughout Casa with the Practical Life and social aspects of the environment.
At Elementary we can help the child understand how Agents of Creation (individuals of each species and elements of the physical environment) go beyond survival by giving example of what Montessori saw as behaviour guided by love. Bees engaging in pollination and the leaf in respiration go beyond meeting their immediate physical needs and in doing so meet the needs of ‘unknown others’ in the present and future. (abridged from AMI Communications 1972, No.1 p.17). While most creatures, and certainly all particles, carry out their Cosmic Task quite unwittingly humans must be educated to become conscious, to choose to contribute and be able to contribute. Humans can go further, once the plan is known they can use their individuals skills towards the conscious fulfilment of the Cosmic Task .
When the children realise that all the particles in the universe follow physical laws and that life was created to solve a problem and contribute to the environment’s needs a question dawns on them about how they, as children can contribute to universal order and harmony. Compared to adult society children might feel powerless, but they recognise they can contribute more than speechless creatures with no hands, intellect or imagination.
Fundamental aspects of non-human creative agents;
- work creatively
- obey natural laws absolutely, this obedience is in a positive form, with a place for experimentation with diversity in strategies to fulfil the Plan, it is a flow with the cosmic forces towards a goal and not an imposed obedience
- adapt to local conditions (physical and psychic)
- satisfy their own needs while working towards Cosmic Plan for the good of the whole
they are unconscious (unaware of self and their relationship to the Cosmos and the task they fulfil) if they are conscious at all it is only with regard to the satisfaction of their own immediate physical needs
- they derive function and importance through their contribution to the Cosmic Plan (the individual of the whole is more important than the life of an individual.
- they have no moral or spiritual ties, a creature seeking out its niche in darkness is no less worthy than one who lives in the light, a scavenger is equal to a herbivore as both roles are essential in maintaining the harmony
- The Cosmic Task is revealed through instinct
Fundamental aspects of human creative agents;
Only humans have moral and spiritual aspects, judging their Cosmic Task as pleasant or unpleasant, its significance and worth. Humans have a conscious choice over their lifestyle and actions and so need to bring awareness to their unique capacity to imagine the long term effects of their actions and so conscious education in favour of grace and balance. Human inventions are held to be equally important in that knowledge itself serves the Cosmic Plan, the use it is put to will either help with the unfolding of the Cosmic Plan or add disharmony and discomfort to all.
Humans are presented to children as having a very special place in the Cosmos the role of humans is presented as a positive one in this phase, helping the child to continue to adapt, in ‘The Child, Society and World’ Montessori describes humans as a creature who ‘overcame physical limitations, building all powerful human intelligence, penetrating secrets of life, becoming a cosmic agent able to change the world’ (p.108). She sees humans as only just beginning to contribute to their Cosmic Task. This could be another reason why negative aspects of human history are be omitted, as Montessori sees the Cosmic Plan as an evolving expression of the best possibilities as humans negative passages in human history shed no light on the Cosmic Plan, so we focus on the actions of humans that have driven the cosmic plan forwards. Later the child will discover the darker sides of human history but at the elementary level we try to present the child with a full impression of the ordered whole that is the cosmic plan.
Montessori sees humans as having great potential to contribute positively to the cosmic plan. ‘Certainly man has become conscious of much of what he was unconscious in the beginning but he is not yet aware that to continue to exist he must arrive at what he works at now only intuitively, to make one nation that includes the whole of humanity’
(abridged from AMI Communications 1976, p.17)