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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Error Is your Ally

Chapters 17, 18, 19 from Montessori Madness

 Here are some excerpts from chapter 24 of The Absorbent Mind. These are, as you will see from your reading, the basis of the ideas for the three chapters on error in Montessori Madness. There are a few things that you can note and keep in mind as you go through the material. 
  1. This is a core principle in the system (i.e. a Montessori based system of learning)
  2. If you think about the system as cyclical this would come very early in any cycle. 
  3. If you can not "get this" then the rest of the steps become incrementally more difficult.

Supposing we study the phenomenon of error in itself; it becomes apparent that everyone makes mistakes. This is one of life's realities, and to admit it is already to have taken a great step forward. If we are to tread the narrow path of truth and keep our hold upon reality, we have to agree that all of us can err; otherwise we should all be perfect. So it is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has.

 So we come to a scientific principle which is also a path to perfection. We call it"the control of error." Whatever is done in school, by teachers, children or others, there are bound to be mistakes. So we need this rule as a part of school life: namely, that what matters is not so much correction in itself as that each individual should become aware of his own errors. Each should have a means of checking, so that he can tell if he is right or not.....if--at first--I treated my own mistakes as unimportant, I have now become interested in them.

 ...., unless I can correct myself, I shall have to seek the help of someone else, who may not know any better than I do. How much better it is if I can recognize my own mistakes, and then correct them! If anything is likely to make the character indecisive, it is the inability to control matters without having to seek advice. This begets a discouraging sense of inferiority and a lack of confidence in one's self.
......what science and practical life both need must surely be accepted from the start as necessary in education.

This is the possibility of  "recognizing one's own mistakes." We must provide this as well as instruction and materials on which to work. The power to make progress comes in later measure from having freedom and an assured path along which to go; but to this must also be added some way of knowing if, and when, we have left the path. If this principle is realized, both in school and in daily life, then it does not matter whether teachers and mothers are perfect or not.

  From all this awareness of mistakes, there springs up a kind of brotherhood. Errors divide men, but their correction is a means of union. it becomes a matter of general interest to correct errors wherever they may be found. The error itself becomes interesting. It becomes a link, and is certainly a bond of fellowship between human beings. It helps especially to bring harmony between children and adults. To detect some small error in a grown up person does not produce lack of respect in the child or loss of dignity in the grownup. The error becomes impersonal and is then amenable to control.

 In this way, small things lead to great. - The Absorbent Mind Chapter 24 

1 comment:

  1. So, here we have a sort of chicken and egg situation. I am making the case that self reflection leads to self direction leads to self responsibility is the core intent of the Montessori system. At the same time, I am not convinced that you can be an expert or a proficient self reflector if you have conditioned the common fear of mistakes/error that society is clearly working hard to cultivate in every human being. I particularly find this sentence interesting:

    "Errors divide men, but their correction is a means of union."

    Have you ever been involved in a conversation with yourself? If you look at that phenomenon from this perspective particularly in the context of a situation in which you took some action that produced some result which could have been labeled as 'an error' and allow for the possibility that you already have assumed that you are more than one person, this suggestion here, i.e. the suggestion to view error/mistakes in a different light allows for you to become less divided with yourself.

    I am sure that you can see how it gets then a bit complicated but with some consideration, it should become clearer. When error is anathema, you are divided not only from others but from yourself. When you shift focus to define error/mistake as the difference between what was and what might have been i.e. make this observation a bit more impersonal, your focus shifts to what actually happened (something that you can then take action on in a future occurrence of a similar situation) rather than the randomly labeled outcome or how you feel about that outcome or how you feel about how someone else might be thinking about that outcome, which is now unchangeable.

    Example: I have been thinking about this in terms of music. My belief is that an expert musician (I am not) can make the distinction between a b sharp and a b flat. Does not matter if the sound comes from a flute, a violin, a piano or any other note producing device. If you can make that distinction, you can take some action to produce one or the other. If not, well, do you get the idea? This is a matter of developing a very fine skill in terms of making distinctions. When you have that skill, you have the foundation for accelerated learning growth.