In developing a disciplined, orderly classroom, Dr. Montessori appealed — explicitly or implicitly — to self-discipline, self-interest, and objectivity.
In The Montessori Method, Dr. Maria Montessori wrote:
Anyone who has watched them setting the table must have passed from one surprise to another. Little four-year-old waiters take the knives and forks and spoons and distribute them to the different places; they carry trays holding as many as five water-glasses, and finally they go from table to table, carrying big tureens full of hot soup. …
Remembering the usual condition of four-year-old children, who cry, who break whatever they touch, who need to be waited on, everyone is deeply moved by the sight I have just described, which evidently results from the development of energies latent in the depths of the human soul. I have often seen the spectators at this banquet of little ones, moved to tears.
But such discipline could never be obtained by commands, by sermonizings, in short, through any of the disciplinary devices universally known. Not only were the actions of those children set in an orderly condition, but their very lives were deepened and enlarged. In fact, such discipline is on the same plane with school-exercises extraordinary for the age of the children; and it certainly does not depend upon the teacher but upon a sort of miracle, occurring in the inner life of each child.
To obtain such discipline it is quite useless to count on reprimands or spoken exhortations. Such means might perhaps at the beginning have an appearance of efficacy; but very soon, the instant that real discipline appears, all of this falls miserably to the earth, an illusion confronted with reality — “night gives way to day.”
The first dawning of real discipline comes through work. At a given moment it happens that a child becomes keenly interested in a piece of work, showing it by the expression of his face, by his intense attention, by his perseverance in the same exercise. That child has set foot on the road leading to discipline.
Once the habit of work is formed, we must supervise it with scrupulous accuracy, graduating the exercises as experience has taught us [past experience with her prior students — MG]. In our effort to establish discipline, we must rigorously apply the principles of the method [the Montessori Method of analyzing skills and ideas into a sequence of parts, and developing materials to teach the parts to children one step at a time until the children learn the skill or idea — MG]. It is not to be obtained through words; no man learns self-discipline “through hearing another man speak.” The phenomenon of discipline needs as preparation a series of complete actions, such as are presupposed in the genuine application of a really educative method. Discipline is reached always by indirect means. The end is obtained, not by attacking the mistake and fighting it, but by developing activity in spontaneous work.
The method which is the subject of this book contains in every part an exercise for the will-power, when the child completes co-ordinated actions directed towards a given end, when he achieves something he set out to do, when he repeats patiently his exercises, he is training his positive will-power.
(pp. 348-350, 364, The Montessori Method by Dr. Maria Montessori, trans. Anne E. George, (c) 1964 Schocken Books, New York (and (c) 1988 Random House), ISBN 0-8052-0922-0)
Note also that she allowed students to do a lot of individual work, to work in solitude; the students were not forced to do “group work;” the students gained self-esteem through work and success; the students got along with each other when their individuality was respected and developed; students would be benevolent and caring because, for one thing, they knew from their own hard work and success what those meant to other people, and they each knew from their own work how important hard work and learning was.