Dr. Maria Montessori said:
The vision of the teacher should be at once precise like that of the scientist, and spiritual like that of the saint. The preparation for science and the preparation for sanctity should form a new soul, for the attitude of the teacher should be at once positive, scientific and spiritual.
Positive and scientific, because she has an exact task to perform, and it is necessary that she should put herself into immediate relation with the truth by means of rigorous observation, that she should strip off all illusions, all the idle creations of the fancy, that she should distinguish truth from falsehood unerringly, that, in fact, she should follow the example of the scientist, who takes account of every minute particle of matter, every elementary and embryonic form of life, but eliminates all optical delusions, all the confusion which impurities and foreign substances might introduce into the search for truth. To achieve such an attitude long practice is necessary, and a wide observation of life under the guidance of the biological sciences.
I would therefore initiate teachers into the observation of the most simple forms of living things, with all those aids which science gives; I would make them microscopists; I would give them a knowledge of the cultivation of plants and train them to observe their physiology; I would direct their observation to insects, and would make them study the general laws of biology. And I would not have them concerned with theory alone, but would encourage them to work independently in laboratories and in the bosom of free Nature.
This complex programme of observation must not exclude the physical aspects of the child. Thus the direct and immediate preparation for a higher task should be the knowledge of the physical needs of the child, from birth to the age when psychical life is beginning to develop in his organization and becomes susceptible to treatment. By this I do not mean merely a theoretical course of anatomy, physiology and hygiene; but a “practice” among little children, which aims at following their development closely, and foresees all their physical needs. The teacher, in other words, should prepare herself according to the methods of the biological sciences, entering with simplicity and objectivity into the very domain in which students of the natural sciences and of medicine are initiated, when they make their first experiments in the laboratory, before penetrating into the more profound problems of life related to their special study. In like manner those young men who in our universities are destined to study vast and complex sciences, must in the beginning undertake the quiet and restful work of preparing an infusion, or the section of a rose-stalk, and thus experience, as they observe through the microscope, that emotion born of wonder, which awakens the consciousness and attracts it to the mysteries of life with a passionate enthusiasm. It was thus that we, accustomed hitherto to read in school only ponderous and arid printed books, felt that the book of Nature was opening before our spirit, infinite in its possibilities of creation and of miracle, and responding to all our latent and uncomprehended aspirations. (pp. 107-109, The Advanced Montessori Method – I (formerly Spontaneous Activity in Education) by Dr. Maria Montessori, trans.s Florence Simmonds and Lily Hutchinson, Clio Press, Oxford, (c) 1991 Montessori-Pierson Estates, ISBN 1-85109-114-9.)
Whether one takes “spiritual like that of the saint” and “possibilities of creation and of miracle” literally, or disagrees with their religious or philosophic aspects but can see the meaning behind them in terms of human life, human values, human reason, this idea of Dr. Montessori is right on.
But many teachers already believe and follow some form of the “spiritual like that of the saint” sentiment.
What we need are more teachers who grasp that teaching is a thinking profession, an intellectual profession. We need more who take serious and live up to the statements that “the vision of the teacher should be…precise like that of the scientist” and that the teacher “should put herself into immediate relation with the truth by means of rigorous observation…[and] should follow the example of the scientist.”
Amen. And thank you, Dr. Montessori.