“Liberating Education” by Marsha Familaro Enright, is the final chapter in Common Ground On Common Core. This chapter discusses the history of education in the U.S. since the time of the Pilgrims, and what education would like in a fully free society and laissez-faire market. Click on the link to read the PDF of this chapter.
For most of man’s existence on Earth, the universe has been anything but benevolent. Famines, floods, and earthquakes have destroyed whole populations. The plague ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages. Even in the nineteenth century, two out of three people died as children. On the frontier, starvation was not that uncommon after a long winter or a drought.And these horrors do not even begin to take account of man’s inhumanity to man.What is my point? That for most of man’s existence, he has had only a tenuous power over his life, physically and politically. Life was full of uncertainties and anxieties, which helped to give rise to religions promising happiness in this life or an afterlife. Religion gave people a much-needed sense of hope.
Power versus a Sense of Power
That largely unchanging situation underwent a revolution after the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the power of reason and the development of technology enabled men to bring about a vast expansion in their power over their lives, and they came to expect that the future would see still further increases. And, in fact that is what happened. In the twentieth century, medical technology lengthened the average life-span from four decades to seven. Today, in the free world, men are able to control much of the impact of natural disasters. From an economic and technological perspective, no one in a capitalist society need go hungry.At the same time, however, the Enlightenment took away religion’s assurance that a benevolent force would look over men in times of helplessness and hopelessness and would compensate them hereafter for their sufferings. We became responsible for our own happiness
What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?
And what has been the upshot? Evidence indicates that for many, man’s increase in power has not brought a sense of efficacy. If we consider those women born before World War I, those born around 1925, and those born in the Fifties (the Baby Boomers), we find that there is a quadrupling in depression from the first group to the second, and a doubling from the second to the third. Why should this be, if people have continued to acquire more control than ever over their lives in the twentieth century?
One reason, I suspect, is the nihilism of modern philosophy: the lack of answers about the meaning of life and human purposes; the moral relativity that says it doesn’t matter what you do; the draining away of the sense that human beings are capable and worthy. I think these ideas have infiltrated the culture to such an extent that they are affecting the psychological outlook of a lot of people. In this respect, you may personally have experienced Ayn Rand‘s ideas as a great antidote. Rand tell us that life has meaning and purpose and that living as a human being can be a noble activity. Through the story of The Fountainhead, Rand gives us one long argument against Dominique’s belief in the triumph of power-lust and toadyism over the true, the rational, and the beautiful.
Rand’s ideas, such as the efficacy of reason and the successful nature of life, certainly help us to be hopeful about our lives. But is there a specific technology of the soul that can increase our hopefulness and thus our motivation and our success? If so, how can we implement it in our daily lives? Are there specific psychological processes that we can adopt? Are there methods we can apply? And are there ways we can make those methods more permanent in our minds? I think there are, and I think the research of psychologist Martin Seligman, at University of Pennsylvania, helps provide some of that technology.
Seligman did some interesting experiments back in the seventies on what he called “learned helplessness.” He worked with two sets of dogs. One he put in a cage that they could not get out of. The other he put in a cage that they could jump out of. And then he shocked both of these sets of dogs. The ones that could escape their cages did so, and got away from the shocks. The ones that could do nothing to escape the shock became passive; after a while, they just lay down and took it.
You cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to.
Then, when he took the dogs who could not escape the shock in the first experiment and put them in a cage where they could get away from the shock, they still did nothing. And when he tried to teach them to get out of the cage, he had to spend a lot of time showing them they could escape. To be accurate, there were always some dogs who did hardly anything once they found themselves trapped, and there were some dogs who had been trapped but quickly learned later to escape. But the results I am talking about were averages.Seligman was fascinated with these results, because he thought the dogs had learned to be helpless, and a sense of helplessness is a key component of depression. So he asked if he could “immunize” dogs from this learned helplessness. He took a group of dogs and let them hear a tone before the shock went off. And he gave these dogs the opportunity to jump out of the cage when they heard the tone. The fascinating result was: these dogs never became passive. When they were put in a cage from which they could not escape, they never stopped trying, and they escaped immediately when they could.
Why? They had acquired a sense of efficacy with regard to the shocks.
Seligman thought this was an interesting model to apply to human beings because of the common feeling in depression that there is nothing that can be done that will make a difference. So, he asked: Could humans likewise be immunized against feelings of helplessness and hopelessness? To test this, Seligman put human beings in situations similar to that of the dogs: The subjects would get shocked, but some did not have control over it and some did. Fascinatingly, he found that some people always tried to get control and some did not. Seligman posited that the difference lay in the way the people explained the cause of their failure: whether they blamed it on themselves or on circumstances.
Out of this, Seligman developed a theory of explanatory styles. According to this theory, there are three dimensions to an explanatory style: the permanence with which you think a cause exists; the pervasiveness of the cause, in other words, how universally true or how limited it is; and whether the cause lies within you or outside. Seligman argues that these explanatory styles give rise to what we conventionally call optimists and pessimists. And he has developed an Attributional Style Questionnaire by which to test people. You can see more information about explanatory styles here.
In terms of the dimensions of these styles, I think the character of Howard Roark from The Fountainhead is a model of the optimistic attributional style. He does not believe that evil is permanent. He does believe that there are people he can reach by persuasion and by demonstrating what is good in his buildings. And he certainly does not think that failure is his fault.
You can pay attention to your possibilities. You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.
But I would like to examine one other aspect of the research in relation to the psychology of hope. In some experiments, people rated optimists and pessimists have been given tests in which they sometimes are and sometimes are not in control of an event, such as a light’s turning on. Pessimists, and depressed people in particular, tend to have a very accurate sense about whether they are actually in control. Optimists, however, consistently overrate their control. If the light does not turn on, they have some explanation for it; if the light does turn on, they think they did it. This suggests that optimists, if they are going to be rational optimists, must guard against a temperamental disposition to over-optimism.
On the other hand, I believe there is clearly a sense in which pessimists are also unrealistic. They may make accurate judgments about when they do and do not have control over an event, but I believe they make inaccurate judgments about when they could and could not get control over an uncontrolled event, because of their belief that their helplessness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. Unfortunately, I do not know of any laboratory experiments that have attempted to test this hypothesis.
The Real and the Possible
This brings me to the heart of my lecture. What can we do to sustain a rational optimism?
I think that fundamentally there is one important fact that offers us two keys. The important fact is that you cannot directly change your emotions but you can change what you pay attention to, at least to a large extent. This enables you to make yourself more alert for opportunity.
Thus, the first key is: You can carefully focus on the facts about your situation and yourself. Is this the way things have to be or is it just the way they happen to be? Is this the way of the world or just the way things are in my immediate surroundings?
The second key is: You can pay attention to your possibilities. Is this something you can change or not? You can take an entrepreneurial attitude towards your life.
Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence.
To me, these are the two elements involved in having a habit of hope. Make it your habit to pay attention to exactly what is the case and what is not; what is good in your life and what is not. And make it a habit to ask: What are my possibilities? Be especially alert to whether there are possibilities for change which you failed to see before.
People can have a lot of limitations when it comes to what we would consider leading a normal life and yet have a very hopeful attitude. That has to do with what they are paying attention to. Are they looking at what they cannot do or at what they can do? Are they looking at what they do not control or at what they do control? In this respect, I think that success is: functioning up to your fullest capacity and being alert to all the facts and possibilities within your personal context. This means recognizing the barriers to your control: Are you a healthy human being or not? Are you living in a relatively free society or a relatively unfree society? In judging your success, you need to take these contexts into account.
To be sure, the conditions of success can be very complex. It is often hard to know what is possible, both positively and negatively. And this is one of the things that optimists and pessimists disagree about the most: the realm of the possible. The optimist says “I’m going to keep looking. I’ve got this idea and I think I can do it.” The pessimist has a million reasons why something isn’t going to work.
To say that is not to declare that the optimistic attitude is always the right one. As much as we want to have control and want to know that we can do things, it may be that we do not know-after all, we cannot know everything. But we can turn that truth around and make it an optimistic statement: “Well, yeah, I don’t know everything and I don’t know for sure I can do it. But I don’t know for sure that I can’t do it. And I know for sure that if I don’t try, nothing’s going to happen.”
Ten Habits of Hope
Following are some suggestions to help you develop a habit of hope:
1. Check your generalizations about the world for an “explanatory style” that is pessimistic, or unjustifiably optimistic.
2. Remember that, ultimately, you are in control of how you act.
3. When trying to determine a course of action, ask: What is the range of the possible? This is the most difficult judgment to make, especially when one is attempting something new. If the range is too restricted by one’s conception of the world, your hopes will be too few and too small, and your imagination and motivation curtailed: you won’t adequately explore the possible. If the range is too unrestricted by facts and reason, your hopes will be impossible and time will be wasted.
4. Do not accept impossibility without overwhelming evidence. For many, many situations, we do not and cannot have complete certainty about the outcome. But that alone is not reason to give up on a course of action. Develop a habit of looking for alternative means of achieving your goals.
5. Be alert to when you do not have control over external events, so that you can think of ways to get control.
6. Once you have a specific goal, identify obstacles to your success and the possibilities of overcoming them. Ask: What is the adversity here? What are my premises? Are they true? Am I making a pessimistic judgment or an unjustifiably optimistic judgment? Do not rule out a judgment just because it sounds pessimistic. Remember that you want to be “rationally optimistic,” not Pollyana-ish.
7. If you find yourself giving up, ask: What is my reason? Am I sure it is a good reason?
8. But ask about the chances of failure, too: What would be the true cost of failure? Can I bear it? Be sure to ask these questions early, before you have invested too much emotion in success.
9. De-catastrophize. Learn to judge the facts of your situation precisely and to take into account the available alternatives rather than leaping to the conclusion that all is lost.
10. Stop ruminating. If you fail, sit down purposefully and learn the lessons of the failure. Decide how to do things better. Then put the failure behind you.
Originally published in 1999 for The Atlas Society.
by Rachel Davison
Oak Farm Montessori School
and Marsha Familaro Enright*
The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute
Teaching Freedom Illustrations
Free Enterprise educators are urged to examine their educational principles and align their classroom practice with their advocacy of liberty by providing a classroom environment that develops the virtues as well as the ideas needed to live in liberty. Such pedagogy has a direct benefit to the educator. When freedom and autonomy are directly experienced, students become more engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners and more often adopt the ideas and values of liberty. Combining empirical evidence from Socratic practice and Montessori education with research on development and optimal learning, the authors suggest ways to create such a classroom culture.
“To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view. But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another. In the latter case, the school
must satisfy all the needs of life. ”
Maria Montessori (1994, p. 5)
I. Schooling Versus Autonomy
When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges.
If young people are schooled in the facts about the overwhelming advantages of a free society, and how to reason well about them, and they study the full range of great ideas, the likelihood that they will be convinced of the ideas underpinning a free society goes up greatly because the facts are on the side of freedom.
Yet, it’s one thing to be lectured to about liberty and the virtues needed for it; it’s another to know how to act in freedom. It’s valuable to know the ideas of liberty, but can you apply them in your life? Where do you learn how? As Aristotle said: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (Book II, Chapter 1)
It’s one thing to believe in the ideas abstractly; it’s another to experience what such a society would be like—and to be motivated to achieve it.
To build a free world, we need people at many levels of society and in many areas—
business, the trades, the arts, medicine, journalists, as well as intellectuals and professors—with the ideas, values, and habits friendly to liberty. This is where a sound, liberal education is essential.
With history as the measure, it’s clear that free society advocates don’t need to be a majority to significantly change the culture. But they need to be a significant, knowledgeable, and active minority. Such a minority made the progress towards full freedom and individual rights possible in Britain; such a minority in the American Colonies was instrumental in achieving independence from Britain.
Unlike the American Colonists, none of us has been raised in a highly self-reliant society of the Enlightenment Era—did we have the chance to develop the habits needed to embody its values? To act in our families, among our friends, in our towns and cities, the way a free person should act? To have the skills and force of personality to implement the changes needed to make our lives better and freer, whatever our professions, associations and interests?
Educators familiar with the facts, history, and ideas of free societies and spontaneous order understand the value of dispersed and localized knowledge and the prosperity and flourishing that results from individuals peacefully collaborating as trading partners.
What they might not have considered is the way in which the classroom is a micro-society in which students learn how to behave in the larger world and whether their classrooms reflect the social relationships, the virtues, and the psychological conditions that sustain and advance the behavior of free people. Educators have the opportunity to craft an experience in which students learn how to behave as self-reliant, independent, self-responsible individuals.
The modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer, discussion leader, knowledge authority, and director of learning. Directed group lessons in traditional grade school and lectures in higher education are favored methodologies of the traditional method of education.
The teaching paradigm encourages an authority to convey the “right” answers to the waiting student-receptacles. Yet, this top-down environment is counter-productive to conveying the ideas, values, and virtues of a free society.
In the traditional teaching model, students are considered passive empty vessels, to be filled with knowledge by the academic authority, rather than active agents in their own learning.
This model is a legacy of the movement to economically mass-educate the populace and is literally based on factory organization, i.e. everyone doing the same thing at the same time for mass production.
How is a young person supposed to learn to be an autonomous individual if he or she is being treated like an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge? What opportunities are students give to learn and practice the skills of a self-reliant, independent, and self-responsible individual?
If we are aiming to foster a society driven by free enterprise, shouldn’t the pedagogy of our classrooms align with those values?
Traditionally, “learning” is measured by the amount of information the instructor has offered which the student is able to reiterate on tests and in papers. How does the instructor know if real understanding has been achieved? Whether the student has deeply incorporated the instructor’s information and ideas into his or her thinking? Whether the student can use this information in his or her life?
Consider the psychological effects of the traditional methods of teaching in which:
- The teacher is the repository of truth.
- The student is taught one line of reasoning given in the lecture or presentation.
- The student is the receiver, not initiator of learning.
In this paradigm:
How does the student learn how to arrive at truth himself?
How does the student learn that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem?
How does the student learn to find subjects of interest to himself, individually, and know how to go about the process of learning new material?
If students have no skills in these processes, how can they grow into autonomous individuals, arriving at their own conclusions and navigating all the choices and opportunities which freedom presents?
“‘Autonomy’ suggests, strictly speaking, that one gives or has given laws to oneself; that one is self-governing; that in essentials one obeys one’s own imperatives.” (Kaufmann, 1980,15).
The conditions of freedom cannot be consistently and sufficiently conveyed in a traditional, lecture-based environment because it does not provide the individual with opportunities to learn how to be a free, autonomous person.
Advocates of reason and freedom understand that the mind cannot be forced to accept truth. Nor does the social pressure of authority or peers result in a real understanding of truth, and certainly not the first-hand comprehension and autonomy of the innovator. Neither does a top-down environment cultivate an independent person’s ability to fight for his or her individual freedom.
To acquire truth, each person must observe and reflect on facts for him- or herself. Each person must compare and contrast, analyze and synthesize those facts, for him- or herself. Each person develops ideas, from those facts within him- or herself. Each person must integrate one set of facts with another, one set of ideas with another, for him- or herself. This is the only way to arrive at truth, since an understanding of truth cannot be transferred directly from one mind to another.
If a classroom structure can serve as the sandbox in which to practice how to live as a free person, then the independence of rational inquiry and the development of rational judgment, need to be incorporated into that sandbox.
Advocates of a free society understand the value and power of the dispersed and localized knowledge of the individual within the structure of a market, the creativity it unleashes and the flourishing that results. In turn, the micro-society of a classroom structure that endeavors to encourage the exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator, mirrors the creative process of the market. This is impossible in a strictly lecture structure, and difficult in many discussion structures.
Free society educators can endeavor to construct a classroom structure parallel to a market with a productive exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator.
Such a classroom offers the student the opportunity to develop and practice the skills of rational independence, creative thinking, collaborative exchange, honesty, objectivity, justice, and honor—all skills and virtues valuable and necessary in a free society.
II. The Principled Pedagogy of Freedom
“The greatest [obstacle for] an attempt to give freedom to the child and to bring its powers to light does not lie in finding a form of education which realizes these aims. It lies rather in overcoming the prejudices which the adult has formed in this regard.”
Maria Montessori (1955, p.48)
Developmental and cognitive research, plus over 100 years of experience using the Montessori philosophy of education argues that optimal learning occurs through freedom within a structured environment, where the following conditions are present (Lillard, 2005, passim):
- The instructor is informed about and alert to the developmental needs of the young adult student,
- Questions are actively encouraged by classroom methodology,
- Instructor’s activities are modified based on the interests of the students, within the limits of the studied material,
- Activities are crafted with optimal learning conditions in mind, ones that engage the needs, attentions, and interests of young adults.
Methodologies rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy encourage individualism and self-reliance, foster individual development, unfettered creative discovery, exploration, and integration of newideas. In support of this claim, researchers have recently identified the unusual number of highly creative people who were Montessori students (Sims, 2011).
Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, French cooking evangelist Julia Child, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are among the many unusually creative and capable people with a Montessori background. Some insist this type of education was instrumental in their radical creativity.
For example, Brin and Page have identified the individually-driven exploration of the Montessori classrooms as a major source of their willingness to try new things and think out of the box again and again. (Goodwin, 2012)
The environment created in a Montessori classroom relates to the well-known facts of spontaneous order: The discovery of truth, the correct identification of life-supporting facts, is not a centralized, top-down procedure. Instead, it results from a complex process of discovery and argument, demonstrated through the history of thought and the progress of civilization.
Socratic practice, short lesson-lectures and self-selected research projects are examples of classroom strategies for higher education which encourage individual autonomy and contribute to fostering attitudes that are receptive to the complex ideas of freedom.
III. Specialized Discussion Methods and Individualism
“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” Maria Montessori (1912, p. 86)
The classroom is a micro-society in which the social order emerges through the exchange of ideas and values, explicit and implicit, and from the way in which participants interact with each other according to the discussion principles.
The term “Socratic Seminar” is used variously. We are using it here to mean a very particular discussion format and methodology in which students are engaged in examining, analyzing, and discussing the material themselves, first-hand. They are synthesizing the information themselves, rather than having it handed to them. It is an active learning environment. Michael Strong’s book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice well describes this particular methodology and its benefits.
Socratic Practice harnesses important and powerful social-psychological elements that encourage a freedom-oriented classroom culture while increasing learning. It is a process of collaborative inquiry which develops fact-based reasoning, objectivity, listening skills, and team work for problem-solving.
Seminars run by the principles of Socratic Practice function as a market of ideas, where reason, combined with the invisible hand of individual self-interest, results in greater knowledge, reasoning, and social skills for all. As a collaborative learning experience, it taps into all the advantages of learning by imitation; it’s an opportunity to see multiple ways to reason on the same materials. Research by the Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning at Vanderbilt University shows meaningful group problem-solving results in superior learning (Jasper Project, 2000).
“One particular thing that I learned at Queen’s [College]—both from faculty and students—was how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose.” Billionaire founder of Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk
This method requires each participant to focus on what exactly is said in the text, and what can be surmised from it; the instructor guides the discussion with incisive questions and by requiring the participants to stick to the facts of the work when arguing their opinions.
- All opinions must be grounded by reference to the work studied, developing the habit of fact-based judgment and objectivity.
- The teacher acts as a facilitator, encouraging the students to use their own minds to find the meaning of the text; the teacher does not act as an authority on the text. The best reasoning is the highest authority.
- The teacher demonstrates and encourages questions and thinking in different ways when approaching the material. The points of view and questions of the different participants demonstrate how material can be approached in a variety of ways. This outcome encourages creativity by illustrating many ways to reason about the same issue. Consequently, not only excellent deductive reasoning, but creative, inductive reasoning is encouraged.
- Participants effectively trade their knowledge and skills by example.
These elements work together to strengthen student reasoning skills and instantiate the value of individual differences. Displays of inordinate knowledge about a subject are irrelevant and discouraged because each discussion member cannot verify them. This reduces non-productive jostling for social position. Reason’s authority is the great equalizer and students come to appreciate each other as helpers in their learning. This results in a psychologically safe environment, which encourages exploration and creativity.
At the end of every Socratic seminar, the instructor guides a “debrief,” a self-reflective discussion in which each participant comments on what went well and what could be improved. The beneficial effects are:
- Significant improvement in the discussions from one session to the next by raising conscious awareness about participant actions and interactions,
- Participants learn to be equally responsible for the quality of the inquiry,
- A culture of equality among peers is established, including the instructor; the instructor and other participants values each individual’s thoughts and reactions, while the best reasoning remains the highest authority; Mastery Learning research on how individuals acquire mastery in knowledge and skills found that the attitude of the teacher seriously affects the students self-image and motivation, (Dweck, 1999, passim),
- The validation of the person of each individual because each person’s participation with rational arguments adds value for the other participants,
- The encouragement of the habit of taking responsibility, giving validation to the virtues of others, and working together in a rational way.
The discussions improve radically from one session to another because of the awareness generated by the debrief, and the expectation of achievement and cooperation. These methods benefit from the strengths of peer-learning and exchange (Brown, et al., 1989, Orr, 1987).
In Socratic Practice, the teacher uses his or her expertise to craft the entire environment of the class:
- Every participant sits in a circle facing all the others as equal intellectual explorers.
- The room is well-lit and comfortable to enhance concentration.
- No phones or outside distractions are allowed.
- Works are chosen and taught in a purposeful order, so that students can discover their meaning and connections themselves and find joy in doing so. They are invited to engage with the material rather than passively receive it.
- Focus is on paying attention to the deepest meaning of the works studied and each other through questions of clarification, i.e. what does the other person mean?
- Solid evidence and reasoning are required for all opinions.
- The instructor takes a limited role and gives feedback in a way that is kind, but honest, encouraging student awareness of each other, and cooperation through self-moderated exchange.
- Students are encouraged and enlightened as to how to respectfully listen by the instructor’s sincere attempts to hear and understand what the other is saying, before replying.
- Students are responsible for their own contributions and encourage contributions from others.
- Reflection at the end of the discussion about what went well in the discussion and what can be improved generates a high level of self-awareness and self-generated improvement in learning from session to session.
Csikszentmihalyi’s research on Flow, the psychology of optimal experience, shows that attention is the most limited cognitive resource (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). But it’s husbanded very well in this type of seminar.
- Every person’s reasoned contribution is valued; being active makes it easier to pay attention,
- The specially selected texts are of deep interest about issues of importance; this makes it highly motivating to pay attention to the discussion.
These skills are enormously practical: a 2014 study by Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems analyzing Census Bureau data of 3 million U.S. residents found “the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.” (Samuelson, 2014)
Lastly, students report that these seminars require the best of them; their best thinking, behavior, and awareness of others.
“You see how much value you have to offer and to add to your own thinking. It’s not a zero sum game like in traditional education where you’re trying to compete with each other and there’s one answer. It’s not “the right answer”; it’s better and better answers. Everyone’s building a mosaic of truth together. We all study one text but there many objective truths in it, you’re benefiting from hearing all these different ways to understand things objectively and truly. And you realize you have something to contribute. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing, but together it fits with what other people are saying.” – Michael Natividad, junior, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
“Be careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori (1937, p. 26)
“Comparing this method to the regular educational system, this unavoidable feeling of frustration comes up: Why, with such a fantastic method, isn’t there a change? The passion in learning that everybody had is proof of this seminar’s effectiveness.” Tobias Mihura, junior, Clarin High School, Buenos Aires
The authors are sure they have not communicated all the ways in which teachers of free enterprise can encourage the values of a free society in the classroom micro-society. We welcome suggestions and wish to learn from the skills of others. But we urge such teachers to reflect on what kind of habits they are encouraging in their students. We hope that we have triggered reflection on how to develop the virtues needed for freedom.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter 1, Moral Virtue http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html
Brown, J.S., Collins. A. & Dugid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, Jan/Feb, 21-42.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Dweck, C.S. (1999).Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press/Tarylor & Francis.
Goodwin, Danny. August 31, 2012. “Maria Montessori Google Doodle: How Montessori Education ‘Programmed’ Google’s Founders.” Search Engine Watch.
Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning. 2000. Vanderbilt University.
Kaufmann, Walter. 1980. Discovering the Mind. New York: McGraw Hill.
Lillard, Angeline. 2005. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Montessori, Maria, translated by Anne Everett George. 1912. The Montessori Method, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method-V.html
Montessori, Maria. 1938. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longsman.
Montessori, Maria. 1989 (1955). The Formation of Man. Oxford: Clio Press. http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/form.html
Montessori, Maria, 1994 (1948). From Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford: Clio Press.
Orr, J. (1987). Talking about Machines. Palo Alto: Xerox PARC.
Samuleson, Scott. March 28, 2014. “Would You Hire Socrates?” The Wall Street Journal.
Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia.” The Wall Street Journal.
Strong, Michael. 1997. The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice. Chapel Hill: New View Publications.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. January, 2014. “Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight.” http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/nchems.pdf
Ms. Enright would like to thank Rachel Davison for initiating the idea of the presentation leading to this paper as well as for her lovely work on the presentation, and K.R. for his encouragement and help with the ideas and vision.
Originally published at the conference site of the Association of Private Enterprise Educators. http://www.etnpconferences.net/apee/apee2014/User/Program.php?TimeSlot=12
By Marsha Familaro Enright
President, The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute,
sponsor of The Great Connections Program
The Economic Stage is Set
In recent decades, the creative destruction of capitalism has changed the face of the U.S. economy, destroying many former giants of industry like TWA and Montgomery Wards, integrating others into colossal conglomerates, like GE. Simultaneously, thousands of new, small businesses grew from the work and talent of retired, outplaced workers. These developments were made possible by the adaptability and creativity of Americans.
Thomas Friedman’s 2005 runaway bestseller about globalization, The World Is Flat, argues that our remarkably cheap, worldwide communications technology is changing the nature of work even further. Internet email, Web sites, satellite links, and the rapidly expanded use of computer technology to automate many functions are unleashing change as fundamental as that of the Gutenberg press.
At root, these changes are empowering individuals around the globe. Most apparent is the ability of millions of people with good technical skills in faraway lands to offer excellent work for half or less of U.S. labor prices. “Global Outsourcing for the Little Guy,” in the Chicago Tribune (5/29/2006) reports on this phenomena. Web site designs that cost thousands of dollars in the U.S. can be created for $750 in India. India’s system of IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and the powerful ambition of its long-impoverished people make their huge population an awesome pool of talent.
Elance.com, a job-bidding Web site also mentioned in the article, empowers individuals and small businesses in the U.S., too. This website especially helps those with the creativity, adaptability, and great collaborative skills that have kept U.S. business in the forefront of innovation—and rich. These key ingredients enable individuals to offer unique skills and products to the market, thereby maintaining a market edge.
“The Gartner Group, the technology consultants, coined a term to describe the trend in the information technology world away from specialization and toward employees who are more adaptable and versatile. The group calls the employees ”Versatilists.” Building employee versatility and finding employees who are already or are willing to become Versatilists “will be the watchword for career planning. “…Versatilists are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing,” says Friedman. These are people who have the ability to master technical knowledge and can easily adapt and move from one area of expertise to another.
The highly adaptable Versatilist can effectively move from a job requiring one skill set to another, like Marcia Loughry, whom Friedman interviewed. As her former functions became outsourced or obsolete, she moved from an Electronic Data Systems (EDS) word-processing job in 1978 to four other jobs, taught herself Novell Netware and acquired other skills and knowledge. Eventually she rose to one of the highest positions at EDS—enterprise architect—all through curiosity, learning, excellent reasoning skills, and a willingness to adapt.
“The deep technical skills around math and science are going to get you in the door, but they are not what are going to keep you there or make you wildly successful. What will keep you there is developing a broader view,” said Loughry.
What fosters a broad view? The ability to continually learn. How can we use education to nurture young people so they will be well prepared for a life of versatility? At root, human developmental needs and psychological tendencies must be respected. Teaching methods honed to fit learning and development can make all the difference.
The Montessori Approach
This is not a new puzzle to those familiar with the Montessori Method. Maria Montessori used almost 50 years of observation and experimentation deeply informed by science to hone her ideas and methods on education. These methods stoke individual curiosity and ingenuity while ensuring that students master basic skills and effectively ingest huge amounts of information.
Although, in the U.S., Montessori schools are known mainly as preschools, many Montessori schools go through 8th grade and some even through high school. In the past 20 years, these schools have grown rapidly throughout the country, due to their superior system for producing knowledgeable, happy, highly motivated, and capable students.
University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Stoll Lillard’s 2005 book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, succinctly explains Montessori’s principles and the research evidence supporting them. The Great Connections’ approach grows out of the application of Montessori principles to the adult level of education.
“When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of education.” Maria Montessori
When it comes to attention and learning, Montessori could have been talking about anyone, not just the child. Without attention, there is no learning. Attentional resources (focus) are limited. They must be used well to efficiently learn the most possible.
Further, the developed ability to concentrate on work and goals and to self-maintain interest and focus allow a person to succeed in long-term projects and purposes. In Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, Jerry Kirkpatrick calls this “Concentrated Attention.”
In his studies on intensely productive and creative people, University of Chicago research psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi found that certain conditions elevate the ability to pay attention, and pay attention deeply for long periods of time. He also recognized that specially designed practices in Montessori classrooms provide these conditions throughout the school day. His research group, including the work of Kevin Rathunde, has found many exceptional outcomes from these Montessori practices.
The use of the Three-Period Lesson is a case in point.
Much scientific research shows that humans learn best if:
1. They are highly motivated to learn the material for some personal end.
2. They are physically engaged.
3. They understand the application of the material to their lives.
The classic Montessori Three-Period Lesson ingeniously engages human attention. With small groups of students, teachers (or “Guides” as we prefer to call them in Montessori) demonstrate learning materials specially designed to focus attention on an important concept, such as rates of change in calculus. Pictures, objects, sounds, and machines make the idea vivid. These Montessori materials engage the student’s whole intellect, sensory, motor, and conceptual, thereby powerfully imprinting memory.
The Guide gathers one to four students ready for the particular lesson, seats them in front of the materials, and then demonstrates their use with as few words as possible. For example, the Guide might use fraction circles to demonstrate the addition of fractions. (see picture below)
These are sets of metal, pie-shaped circles cut into different quantities of wedges with little knobs on each wedge. For example, one circle consists of 4 wedges, another of 12, to demonstrate fourths and twelfths. There are numerous kinds of problems possible with these circles, including all the operations of arithmetic. In the most basic, the child can literally see the relationship of different proportions to each other by taking the wedges out of the circles and putting them back in—in different combinations. Each lesson demonstrates one possible use of the materials.
During the lesson, the Guide speaks little, allowing the student to focus and observe the demonstrated examples carefully. The Guide encourages questions from the student; she also, models curiosity, and triggers discussion with questions of her own when students are not forthcoming. Truly successful teachers are exceptional at listening to students’ questions, surmising what students need to know, and modeling and encouraging thinking.
After the fraction demonstration, the Guide asks the student to explain what to do with the materials to solve the next example and moves the materials according to the student’s instructions. Finally, the Guide asks the student to demonstrate the material, turning student into teacher and thereby requiring a more complete level of understanding for the student’s performance.
After the lesson, the student is free to pursue more problems right then or use these materials later to practice until the material is mastered, at a time when the student feels interested in working on the material (on the principle that one learns best when one is intrinsically motivated). The Guide regularly takes notes while observing the children in her class and if she finds a child avoiding some material, she makes it her job to think of a way to interest the child in the work.
A key to the Montessori Method’s success is ensuring that the amount of material conveyed at one lesson is not overwhelming. More frequent, shorter lessons with follow-up exercises are preferable to one long demonstration. Of course, preparing shorter, pointed lessons is far more taxing to the teacher, but the Montessori Method has systems to make this aspect of teaching less time consuming.
The Three-Period Lesson can be fruitfully adapted to many college-level subjects. In fact, some college classes, such as chemistry, often use a version of the Three-Period Lesson, with the experiment as the final student demonstration. However, as with most excellent methods, the devil is in the details, which is why The Great Connections’ guides are trained in Montessori principles.
Lectures in Their Proper Place
If organized well, lectures can distill a vast amount of information down to a few principles and key examples. A lecture can be an economical introduction to a subject. The best lectures essentialize the subject matter conveyed by the lecture.
However, as a method, lectures are designed to be easy for the teacher, not the student. They allow the teacher to recount his or her knowledge without feedback or interrupting questions and side issues from the listener. Although sometimes necessary, lectures are usually a difficult way to learn because they frequently run counter to human learning tendencies.
For several reasons, students must exert an enormous amount of effort to stay focused on what the speaker says during lectures. A lecture requires the learner to mostly listen and look a little. Unlike learning methods that make learning easy, the lecture usually does not engage the whole mind, including vivid perceptions and imagination, or the body of the student. Listening and looking during a lecture involves little sensory-motor work, which normally helps cement learning in memory.
One of the reasons visual aids such as Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® are preferred for lectures is because they offer sensory stimulation, providing at least some perceptual imagery to associate with the ideas being conveyed. Although, like books, lectures can have illustrations, the student cannot study the illustrations in a lecture as long as he or she wants.
Human interaction usually helps to increase interest as well as physically engage the student, but during a lecture, there is very little interaction between student and teacher. Often the lecture is aimed at a large or general audience and thus cannot address individual student goals, interests and comprehension difficulties.
A student cannot stop the lecture to ask a question or request a further, clarifying explanation or replay what the lecturer said. Once confused, the student may find the rest of the lecture very difficult if not impossible to follow. Consequently, students often miss the important points and substantial content of the lecture.
In a lecture format, the best teachers attempt to address human learning needs by weaving their information into a story. Stories incorporate drama, character, values, passion, meaning, purpose, a climax and resolution. Winston Churchill was a master at this. This method utilizes human tendencies to search for meaning and purpose, to connect knowledge acquired to personal circumstances, and to remember people, places and things more easily than abstract ideas.
Excellent lecturers use plenty of concretes to make the information vivid and connected to real experience and, at least in imagination, to stir perceptual memory and bodily feelings of the listener. Imaginative work and bodily feelings help the student feel much more engaged in the material. Exceptional lecturer MIT physics professor Walter Lewin spends 30 hours and three practice trials developing each of the lectures for his remarkable classes.
The best learners are active learners. They can gain from almost any lecture; they come to a lecture motivated to learn for their own reasons. They expend extra effort in imagining their own examples in order to concretize the ideas they’re hearing. As they listen, they maintain an internal dialogue of questions with the lecturer, noting what they don’t understand and with what they take issue. They also tend to seek answers to their questions after the lecture.
Many teachers recognize that this kind of student is rare and usually has high intelligence, strong intellectual ambition, and great self-motivation. For the most part, traditional education methods do not nurture internal motivation and inherent interest in acquiring knowledge—qualities essential in the new global economy.
A long school career of lectures, drills, memorization, and teaching methods out of tune with learning needs usually turns most students away from enthusiastic learning at school. They are only too often motivated mainly by external rewards of grades, adult approval, superior social position and the acquisition of credentials.
Unfortunately, lectures are so difficult to pay attention to, and psychologically painful for most students, that students work hard to avoid them. During lectures, young students often goof around; consequently, they learn that they are “bad” and “undisciplined.” They are expected to know how to force their attention on boring material.
Older students attempting to pass their courses seek low-energy ways to fulfill requirements while maximizing grades, such as the use of tape recordings, buying others’ lecture notes, or passing multiple choice tests without attending lectures.
These students aren’t inherently bad, they are responding to the high psychological costs of traditional education in a psychologically economical way. They more profitably spend their limited attentional resources elsewhere.
Sadly, they often feel guilt, frustration and anger for failing to live up to the traditional classroom’s expectations, with a nagging disappointment for what they’ve missed—or should have gotten—from education. Many students desperately need help to become “active learners,” interested in the material and in charge of their own education.
These are some of the reasons we at The Great Connections program are so bent on instituting the best learning environment possible. The best methods result not only in superior knowledge but also in the development of highly needed motivation and self-confidence.
What college graduates do with the information they learn will now, more than ever, determine their competitive edge. Consequently it is imperative that education teach how to think, create and integrate. Broad knowledge and capability to learn combined with the ability to deftly integrate new material into one’s repertoire is essential to the adaptable Versatilist. The liberal arts and sciences studied at The Great Connections program is specifically designed to develop these qualities in students, even if they’ve endured a lifetime of lectures.
Developing broad knowledge is directly related to the work of integration. Before valuable information and ideas can be stored in the mind’s subconscious, they have to pass through the conscious mind, which usually can handle only about seven discreet items at any one time (see George A. Miller’s 1956 psychological classic “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information“) If you’ve ever wondered why you need a list to remember what you have to do, here’s the reason, and it’s one of the reasons for our limited attentional resources.
Ideas—abstractions—are the primordial human inventions that circumvent this limitation, because ideas incorporate myriad data into a single audio-visual concrete, a word or symbol. All instances of babies are integrated into the idea of “baby,” and you can apply what you know about babies to any individual baby you encounter. Voila! You’ve saved a lot of time and energy.
Ultimately, the integration of simple ideas, like those of colors or types of animals, into more abstract groupings like “mammal” make the human mind extremely powerful. Imagination and integration work together to produce the torrent that is human creativity. Integration of information into ideas and actions into skills is the psychologically economical way to use our limited conscious resources when thinking and solving problems.
The person who is a master at the careful, fact-based integration of knowledge is a highly effective thinker.
This is the reason the curriculum of The Great Connections emphasizes work on subject matter across domains of knowledge, studying books that integrate philosophy with economics, epistemology with poetry. Further, integration is encouraged by the consistent emphasis on asking students to relate what is learned in one class and course to another.
Integration of knowledge across broad ranges of subjects is a characteristic of creativity—and versatility. Research consistently finds that highly creative people tend to have very broad, as well as deep, interests and knowledge. They apply unconventional information and ideas to problems, integrating information in unusual ways across conventional subject areas.
Famed physicist Richard Feynman is a case in point. Think of his brilliant demonstration of the space shuttle temperature problem, Challenger’s O-Ring: by dropping an O-ring in an ordinary glass of ice water, he simply and directly proved it could not stand up to low temperatures. His demonstration integrated an esoteric, bedeviling engineering problem with a mundane experience.
He was also famous for his wide-ranging interests, which included samba bands and experiments on ants. He put no limits on his curiosity about the world. Feynman’s measured IQ was in the high range—124—but not what IQ test-makers consider genius (135+). Contrary to traditional thought but consistent with research findings, most recognized geniuses do not have IQ’s in the 135+ range. (No one knows how individuals acclaimed as geniuses because of their work, such as DaVinci and Newton, would have scored on the test. Given the findings with current individuals, the results of an actual IQ test on Newton might surprise us!) Measured IQs of people considered to be geniuses are 116 or higher, apparently making an above average IQ a condition—but not a sufficient one—for high creativity. (Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity).
“What I cannot create, I do not understand” Richard Feynman
Unfortunately, IQ tests—and most tests—cannot measure working creativity and intelligence. In other words, they don’t adequately measure how intelligence is put into life’s service by creatively solving problems .
The number of highly creative and successful business people who score average to low on SAT tests, for example, is indicative of the test’s inadequacy in measuring working intelligence.
Besides IQ, other conditions seem to be equally important to the development of creativity, conditions which we can create in educational settings, thereby enabling education to make a significant difference.
For example, the tendency to amass information from close, first-hand observation
is very important. Michael Faraday, pictured here, exhibited this tendency par excellence as a young man: he had no formal education and knew only arithmetic, but discovered the laws of electromagnetism through fascinated observation of and experiments on nature.
A mind that is curious and constantly problem solving is another characteristic of the creative. Take the inventor of VELCRO, George Mestral, for instance. He and his dog became covered with burrs during a walk. Examining how the burrs use microscopic hooks to stick to the loops of his pant fabric, he realized he could make a new type of fastener. A little nature hike turned into a billion-dollar industry.
What’s needed in education to develop creativity?
We cannot change what nature gives our students in terms of basic intelligence. However, we can offer a program that nurtures those abilities and habits of mind that are known to be needed for creativity and productivity such as:
- Develops their objective reasoning skills, not just in science and math, but all domains of knowledge, including such areas as art, history, and literature.
- Not only informs students, but provides them with a broad array of information, ancient and modern.
- Guides them in connecting information and ideas from one domain of knowledge to another (the way highly creative people do), by:
- Teaching through works that are cross-domain, like Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, a work of moral philosophy that founded the study of economics
- Guiding them to draw cross-disciplinary connections by example; pointing out examples of the way in which original thinkers do this.
- Encourages their curiosity by:
- Encouraging their questioning
- Modeling enthusiasm and curiosity in what is being studied
- Encourages their careful observation of the world through:
- Demonstrating careful observation and the relation of any idea to the facts on which it rests
- Questioning the observational/factual basis of their ideas
- A curriculum infused with deep questions about meaning and purpose, which connects knowledge to living by:
- Always asking what any given fact or idea means to human life
- Asking of any knowledge: to whom is this information valuable and how will it be used?
Using the Great Books, our curriculum schools students in timeless ideas, useful in any era or place, by the best thinkers in civilization. These works are extremely influential today. They include works from philosophy to economics, mathematics to literature, history to science and more. Simultaneously, the the Great Books’ authors and their ideas serve as examples of the highest in creative thinking skills.
Properly schooled to think deeply about these works, a student economically recognizes patterns, trends and influences everywhere in culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries.
One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing is an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked. I’m sure you all take for granted the idea that something can actually be one thing yet potentially another—like a baby is potentially an adult human.
However, it took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—how could we think about science and technology, among many other things.
Our students learn about such great ideas as Aristotle’s breakthrough, along with the important fact that so much we take for granted in our great civilization was invented by creative individuals all through the ages. Further, reflecting on concepts that we take for granted raises the students’ analytic thinking skills. This is just one benefit of studying the Great Books.
Knowledge Across Categories
Through use of the Great Books coupled with assignments posed by our teachers, our classes purposefully integrate knowledge from one domain to another and encourage students to find connections between seemingly disparate material, just like creative thinkers such as Feynman and Mestral. Teachers urge students to constantly seek connections among these great ideas and between the ideas and our contemporary world. Unfortunately, most college curriculums and faculties make no attempt to execute these crucial tasks.
Discussing the place that a fact, idea or theory has in human life is a constant aim. Teachers consistently require—and offer–—proof for statements and beliefs and explicit logical arguments. Everyone checks their premises. Facts and truth, however unpleasant, are the standard. By modeling and emphasizing these practices, our faculty encourage our students to have excellent observational skills.
How to deal with unpleasant facts without denying them is also a highly encouraged skill. Teachers who model such thinking teach volumes. Our special teacher training ensures these aims.
Ultimately, students will learn the skills needed to think objectively.
Collaboration and Teamwork
With the special methods we use, an elaboration of Socratic Practice (Collaborative Inquiry methods), students learn to deeply understand others’ points of view and communicate their own clearly. These skills are crucial to successful teamwork in any profession, as well as life in general. Our Advisor Michael Strong is an international expert in this method.
When The Great Connections is implemented as a full time program, students will participate in collaborative research work and business internships throughout the year. Explicitly tied to the curriculum and to individual professions that students want to explore, these internships will greatly enhance teamwork skills.
These activities and more will give students a breadth of experience as well as a breadth of thinking so important to the creative Versatilist.
Lastly, the close, in-person interaction of students and faculty as well as outside experts and special guests in and out of class facilitate development of these skills and further nurture the kind of deep, thoughtful examination of ideas, thinking, purposes and assumptions that are so radically life-changing and empowering.
“First We Must Inspire, Not Just Inform”
By embodying great thinking, respect for independent judgment, and deep appreciation of individual freedom, the faculty model the very values on which the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute is founded.
The student is a “spiritual embryo,” with his or her own innate pattern of growth ready to unfold, delicately and amazingly, given the right psychological and physical environment. The teacher’s role in this unfolding cannot be underestimated.
Maria Montessori said: Teachers “have to conquer minds stirring up the great emotions of life,” to achieve real learning in students. In other words, teachers must tap into students’ deepest desires and values, such as love, joy, and pride, to motivate students. And, although Aristotle’s dicta “All men by nature desire to know” captures the human species’ trait of curiosity, curiosity can be squashed through ridicule or sapped through boredom by teachers—or coaxed into riotous flowering.
Great teachers are often transformative to the student, helping him or her learn to love knowledge and serious work, to acquire heightened reasoning skills, to look at many sides of a problem, to gather information from far-reaching domains in order to find solutions and to be self-reflective and reasonable – all important ingredients to future success.
Famed investor Warren Buffet, who did not want to go to college, said of his time achieving a master’s degree at Columbia University, “But I didn’t go there for a degree, I went for two teachers who were already my heroes.”
These principles necessitate teachers of the highest order: those with the utmost respect for their students, who can teach by example and guidance through difficult material.
While it is possible to be competent in communicating information and in conveying some of these traits long distance, in-person interaction is the most compellingly effective method. We actively seek technology of all kinds to creatively facilitate learning and collaboration and make scholars and public intellectuals from around the world accessible to our students. However, classes are in person with skilled and specially trained teachers.
Let’s examine some ways teachers influence students.
Teachers and Activation Energy
Csikszentmihalyi notes that human beings have limited mental resources and energy when it comes to paying attention (focusing on material), and these should be used wisely. Hence, our program keeps these factors in mind and seeks to facilitate attention.
A small group of people, like concert violinist Rachel Barton Pine, seem to find riveting interests when they are mere toddlers. This kind of person often barrels full speed ahead in what they want to do; but most people are not as definite or enthusiastic about any particular interest. Teachers can make a difference in the subjects in which students become interested and even their choice of profession.
Often, a passionate teacher triggers an individual’s interest in a new subject. A previously unknown, boring, or distasteful field becomes the person’s area of professional interest through their teacher. I’ve seen many a student with no previous interest in, or maybe even a repulsion to, cicadas or worms become enthralled with them after an enthusiastic teacher shows them the interesting parts of the worm or the weird way the cicada flies. The teacher fuels what research psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls “activation energy.”
Many complex and deeply engaging areas of knowledge and skill require an enormous amount of unrewarding work before they become enjoyable. Ballet dancing, mastering physics, or successfully managing employees are a few examples. Initially the learner must expend intense mental energy in order to focus on the learning: this is the “activation energy.” Learning a musical instrument is a good example: the student spends hours practicing physical movements and enduring awful sonic productions before acquiring enough skill to make enjoyable music!
In the early 20th century, Montessori noted the same phenomena and realized its connection to teaching: “I believed that at the start the teaching material had to be associated with the voice of the teacher which called and roused the [students] and induced them to use the material and educate themselves,” Maria Montessori.
A great teacher like the character of Edward James Olmos in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” or Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” helps students through difficult material with contagious excitement and the ability to make it dramatically interesting and well-related to students’ deepest needs and values.
Long-time Montessori teacher Pat Schaefer summed it up, “First: we must inspire, not just inform. Second: It is in relationship that the secret of [human learning] power is released.”
Teachers and Great Questions
On the precipice of full adult life, the college student needs answers to the great questions: “Why am I here?” ”How should I live?” ”How should I deal with other people?” “What should I do with my life?” If the student is not already asking himself these questions, it is his teacher’s job to show him how to ask them and how to find good answers.
Knowing how to pose the right questions can lead to a great awakening with unforeseen, amazing consequences. Forestry Consultant Charles Tomlinson often regaled friends and family with stories of his experience at The University of the South (called “Sewanee”) with “Abbo.” Charles claimed himself a rather complacent product of a middleclass Southern family when he encountered “Abbo,” English Professor Abbott Cotton Martin. Abbo spent considerable hours poking holes in everything Charles took for granted, from football to religion, with some English literature thrown in for good measure. This was Abbo’s stock-in-trade.
Abbo taught Charles to thoroughly question and examine what he thought he knew, as well as his beliefs. But Abbo didn’t just throw students in the water of quandaries, he made himself available to talk all during the week, not just during Sunday office hours. Charles learned to “check his premises” through Abbo’s prodding as well as reading Ayn Rand. The other wonderful teachers at Sewanee helped too. They inspired him to demand more of himself, leading to a long, creatively productive, exciting life.
This included deeply influencing many, many people, including Jaroslav Romanchuk, a major figure in the opposition to Belarus’ authoritarian government.
Active Listening and Independent Judgment
Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)
Inspiration is the fundamental mission of the teacher, because of motivations’ deep importance to learning. Active Listening is a powerful teaching tool which promotes an inspiring relationship between teacher and student. For one thing, Active Listening conveys deep respect for the individual’s independence in thought and value.
“Be “careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori
Active Listening is a key skill enabling teachers to nurture independent judgment. The Active Listener authentically tries to understand what the other person means, empathizing with the other’s point of view by working hard to grasp his or her full context. This means trying to understand the other person’s level of knowledge about a subject, their age, what emotional issues may be affecting their thinking, and the set of ideas they are using to grasp the subject.
Used in teaching, this means the Active Listener asks clarifying questions about the student’s terms, respectfully allowing the student time to finish what he or she is saying before responding and, importantly, conveying an attitude of alert interest in what the student says.
The Active Listener must try to leave aside any personal feelings about the subject and squash the desire to assert and forcefully drive home the rightness of his or her own opinion. These actions only serve to distract a student from deep thinking and learning by bringing in issues of social hierarchy, personal power, and self-worth (i.e., do I know enough, what does the teacher think of me, he’s got more status than I, I should listen to him). These issues elicit powerful, distracting emotions.
Further, the Active Listener tries to sense any motives in the student’s statements beyond the informational. For example, if a student in a class on Freud asks “What if a son is extremely fond and affectionate toward his mother—does that mean he has an Oedipus complex?” The teacher needs to be aware that the student may be feeling anxiety about his love for his mother and respond with gentleness, general reassurance, and kindness.
Active Listening promotes the spread of truth. Only by Active Listening do we end up having a full idea of what the other person means and thereby gain the opportunity to respond with appropriate facts and reasoning.
Independent judgment is the well-spring of real choice, and true individuality and judgment is well-developed through good discussion. Unfortunately, these days teachers sometimes find it difficult to conduct good discussions because students have been led to believe all opinions are equal in value and everyone should open their mouths to babble whatever they wish, no matter how inaccurate or trivial. Resulting from the reign of the Post Modernist attack on objectivity, this belief cripples students’ minds by encouraging them to think that any opinion is acceptable, regardless of foundation, as long as it is theirs.
While stoking their egos by making them feel whatever they think is important, this practice stops them from learning that true, valuable opinion must be grounded in facts and good reasoning.
Postmodernist ideology further deforms a student’s concept of self by equating diversity with group membership. In the Post Modernist schema, one’s diversity depends on race or ethnic background or sexual preference rather than considered, ideological judgment. It promotes a concept of tribal or social diversity rather than true ideological difference.
In contrast, Active Listening in the classroom conveys a deep respect for the independence of the other person’s mind: the Active Listener takes the student’s ideological point of view seriously and tries to respond to it carefully. The aim is full understanding of what the other is saying in the service of arriving at truth. Just imagine the kind of productive political discussions we all might have if we used these principles!
Some people have a rare, natural ability or tendency to listen like this, but since it can be learned, there’s hope for the rest of us. It is also typical of the Montessori teacher, because of his or her deep training in careful observation of students.
“It is a sign of crudity and indigestion to throw up what we have eaten in the same condition it was swallowed down; and the stomach has not performed its office, if it has not altered the figure and shape of what was committed to it for concoction…Let the tutor make his pupil thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon mere authority…To the fragments borrowed from others he will transform and bend together to make a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment. His education, labor,and study aim only at forming that.” Michael Montaigne
Socratic Practice is a formidable method that, when used properly, incorporates Active Listening at its best. Some of you may have been to classes that mimic this style of teaching. In these, a teacher might ask a question like “What is justice?” and then proceed to tell students they’re wrong when they give an answer the teacher doesn’t want. Well, that’s wrong; Socratic questioning is meant to develop the student’s ability to think about a subject, not to test them and catch them when they are wrong or call them on the carpet for the right answer.
Teachers looking for the right answer encourage students to focus on pleasing the teacher, not on thinking for himself or herself. The excellent teacher aims at helping students learn how to find the right answer themselves. They help students use the facts and best theories available while learning to think well.
Teachers skillfully using Socratic Practice often have to spend time rehabilitating students after a lifetime of being told what to learn, what is the “right” answer— or that any answer is right, with no standard of truth. Students often view school as the place to feed back the answer the teacher wants to hear, not learn new knowledge in order to figure out the truth with their own powers.
Consequently, in the beginning of a program using Socratic Practice, the teacher (often called “tutor,” i.e. guide to learning) must work especially hard to shape the learning environment. Just as in any Montessori school, the prepared environment is a key to success in developing the thriving, independent-minded learner.
Physically, the environment must be quiet All participants are required to respect the appointed time of discussion, with no phone calls, text messages, etc. They sit in a circle facing each other. Attention must be on the discussion, and all participants are expected to have read the assigned text.
Psychologically, the tutor shapes the environment by many principles. He or she requires a formal politeness among discussants, to encourage rational, civil discourse. Sometimes participants must address each other by title and last name (e.g., Ms. Smith and Mr. Murphy).
Unless a student starts the discussion with a question about the study material, the tutor leads off with a thoughtful question about the reading—or often a factual question if the material is mathematical or scientific.
At our program, students are given extra, explicit instruction in reasoning skills and logic, to make them more consciously aware of how to reason well, both inductively (e.g., how to make an accurate generalization) and deductively (e.g., how to derive a conclusion from already-given facts and ideas). All these practices serve to develop student reasoning skills.
The tutor must walk a fine line, skillfully encouraging excellent reasoning while being careful not to discourage students from talking because they might have errors in their arguments.
Learning to reason objectively about complex material requires the willingness to entertain possibly incorrect ideas in order to examine them fully, to measure them against the facts, and to analyze their rational foundation.
If a student is too fearful of looking foolish or feeling humiliated when caught in an error, he or she won’t explore complex ideas thoroughly enough to find out if they are true.
On the other hand, students are not allowed to have bull sessions and their opinions are not all equal. Only those opinions arrived at objectively through facts and reasoning are considered worthwhile.
The tutor must skillfully encourage questions and comments evincing an earnest search for truth, while discouraging or disallowing talk in which the student is proving his knowledge or disingenuous agreement with the tutor.
During a seminar on Aristotle’s Politics, if a student who says “Richard McKeon says that Aristotle’s politics….” is deflected from this line of discussion by a question such as “Do you think that is true? What does Aristotle say that makes you think that?” The tutor aims to bring the discussion back to the facts of the text studied, plus the student’s own experience and reasoning. In this way, the tutor encourages observations of the facts, generalizations closely derived from the facts, and conclusions reasoned from the facts.
Our Advisor John Tomasi implemented this method in his hugely successful special program, The Political Theory Project at Brown University. He says: “Kids are sick and tired of being told what to think. They want to make up their own minds. They want to be challenged.” The kind of work done through Socratic Practice discussions of the Great Books does exactly that.
The Habit of Thought
Questions and questioning of a special type are central to great education. The evidence that the methods of Socratic Practice consistently applied increases cognitive skills is clear. Our advisor, Michael Strong, extensively discusses these methods in The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.
Strong established remarkable programs in four high schools around the country. He measured program outcomes with the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, a cognitive skills test correlated with performance on intelligence tests and college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT. Administering this instrument before, during and after a year at school, he found cognitive skill gains ranging, for example, from 30% to 84%. The mean score of one school’s 9th grade group moved from below the national 9th grade mean to above the 12th grade mean in one year, while one inner city student who scored at the 1st percentile on the initial test, scored at the 85th percentile by the end of four months. While more work is needed to fully validate his results, they were consistent from school to school. Any teacher would be proud to so deeply help students learn to think well.
Teachers and Observation
“Our care of the [student] should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” Maria Montessori
To be a good listener, a teacher must be a careful observer. Maria Montessori, the quintessential scientist, incorporated the scientific method into her teacher training program. She urged her teachers to spend time every day sitting back and watching the students work, interact with each other and deal with problems. In this way, teachers learn a great deal about each student, their interests, abilities and difficulties, enabling the teacher to guide him or her well. Observe, empathize, respect—these are the basics of good teaching.
The only way teachers can learn these methods is by intensive questioning and self-reflective experience. Guidance by mentors with great experience, knowledge and skill helps. Such training will be a key component of a special two-month teacher training course and apprenticeship for every teacher at the full-time Great Connections program.
In this course the teacher will both study and practice the programs specific methods, as well as experience the breadth of the ideas and the excitement and challenge of examining the great works used in our curriculum.
Teachers at The Great Connections
The in The Great Connections program are highly educated individuals, consistently willing to engage in discussions of the great questions inside and outside their domains of expertise. An excellent seminar leader asks intriguing, deep questions respectfully, keeps discussion on important topics but lets students diverge from the set topic if it means exploring something important and meaningful to them. Clearly, much art and judgment is involved, which is why extensive training is necessary.
Program focuses attention on human achievement and what makes it possible, both existentially and psychologically. We require our teachers to implement his or her best attributes: commitment to clearly knowing what he or she knows and doesn’t know (the first step on the path of objectivity); passion for learning new material and integrating it with other knowledge; commitment to modeling the highest virtues of the free person, including honesty, responsibility and respect for the rights of others; commitment to the restless pursuit of personal improvement and growth; willingness to submit to careful investigation and evaluation in order to improve. Through embodying these virtues, the teachers inspire students to the highest ends of the free man and woman.
As Scott Buchanan, architect of the Great Books program at St. John’s College, said: “Have you allowed adverse evidence to pile up and force you to conclude that you are not mathematical, not linguistic, not poetic, not scientific, not philosophical? If you have allowed this to happen, you have arbitrarily imposed limits on your intellectual freedom, and you have smothered the fires from which all other freedoms arise.”
The Delicacy of the Young Spirit
Achievement and success in life require the vision of the possible and the ability to weather the actual.
To navigate the stormy waters of life, the difficulties, the disappointments, the setbacks and the failures, students need cognitive skills and plenty of encouragement and emotional fuel. They need great examples of other human beings who have successfully dealt with many difficulties.
As the scientific findings of Positive Psychology have recently identified, knowledge and cognitive skills integrate with emotional habits and character traits. Healthy, successful, happy people tend to have cognitive habits that deeply influence their emotional tone in a positive direction.
Our curriculum teaches the works of the Classics “The best that has been thought and said” as well as modern science and the usually neglected works of the liberty movement. In addition, students do special work on the skills of logic, introspection, and self-knowledge, and the achievements of great human beings. Students are armed with inspiring and invigorating knowledge that help them achieve their goals. We apply philosophical principles as well as recent findings in scientific psychology and neuroscience. And these teachers and other staff are available to help students in many aspects of their lives.
To implement this plan, we seek individuals who are exceptional in their learning, their self-knowledge, in their passionate curiosity, and in their character, who can serve not only as guides but as inspiring examples to the students. To see the complete curriculum plan, see www.rifinst.org.
An earlier version of this article, predicting the outcomes of our curriculum and methodology, was published in 2009 online.
by Marsha Familaro Enright, July 2013 for The Great Connections Seminar
Introspection as Freedom
To be able to make truly free choices, we need to know ourselves, be in control of ourselves, and to protect ourselves from the control and influence of others so that we can make the best, most objective, most life-advancing decisions and take the best actions.
Real freedom starts within ourselves, with understanding our deepest thoughts, feelings, and values. By being masters of ourselves. But this is a difficult task, not least because it is so hard to untangle and identify what goes on inside ourselves – and understand what goes on in others.
Our “inner landscape” is, in some respects, the “final frontier” – one of the most mysterious aspects of the universe.
Unidentified needs, conflicting or unwanted feelings, unexamined ideas and values, and preconceptions can cause extra difficulty in identifying what’s going on inside.
This means authenticity is very important, i.e. knowing what we feel, think, need, and want honestly, without barriers to the truth. Without acknowledging the truth about ourselves, we can’t accurately decide what’s best to do. Real self-knowledge is the gateway to achieving what we want, to achieving happiness in life.
But achieving real self-knowledge can be difficult for a variety of reasons.
Introspection is hard because:
- Internal experience is one integrated sum of undifferentiated feelings, thoughts, memories & images.
- Internal experience is not sensory and doesn’t appear to have many separate entities or objects except for symbols and images, unlike the external world which is filled with objects and entities.
- WHAT is in the mind is easier to identify than HOW it operates; many processes are outside of conscious awareness. And a once-conscious operation can become automatic, too, such as learning to drive a car.
- We use the very tool we’re trying to study; if it’s impaired, it’s like a broken tool trying to fix itself.
Learning how to effectively introspect is an essential skill for achieving self-awareness and authenticity. I hope to give you a few tools from the introspection toolbox that you take away from here and learn to use well. This will be only a bare beginning!
I. Knowledge of the levels of awareness in the mind
II. Understanding of the nature of emotions, their causes, their relationship to the reasoning mind, and how to change them if they are clearly an inaccurate response to the facts (and identifying whether they are inaccurate can be tricky).
III. Awareness of bodily feelings
- As indicators of emotions
- As indicators of needs
IV. Knowledge of human needs – your own and others’ – and their role in inner experience. As a living being, the mind’s function is to serve life. A corollary to this is that almost every action, word, and thought is motivated by a real need, no matter how irrational the action, word, or thought might appear.
- The fulfillment of these needs can be through productive or destructive means; identifying which is which is often very difficult.
- Understanding other people depends on recognizing this principle and trying to identify the real needs they are attempting to fulfill when they appear perplexing.
I. Levels of awareness in the mind
What are these and their relationships? What happens when you’re asleep?
A. The Conscious Mind:
- Is under your control through what you pay attention to.
- Can only hold about 7-12 discrete pieces of information in it at one time. Words and symbols enable humans to consciously manipulate vast amounts of information held in the subconscious by abstracting the information and integrating it into one mental entity.
- Can direct the mind’s entire enterprise through consciously identified and thought-out goals – or can be a servant to unidentified ideas and values.
- Is disrupted by strong emotions that fill attention and distract from thinking.
B. The Subconscious Mind:
- Has no ideas in it at birth (the meaning of the “blank slate”), but accesses our in-born abilities, needs, and tendencies.
- Is a repository for vast amounts of information, skills, memories, values, and experiences we have had.
- Is very logical, given whatever principles we put in it – or accept without examining (which we all do as children, since we don’t have the mental capacity to examine them in childhood).It reveals this logic when we experience conflict; conflict is a clue that we’re holding some contradictory ideas and/or values that need to be examined and resolved.
- Is a never-ending integration process: Given the conditions and rules we put in it, in combination with our inherent needs and tendencies (both universal and individual), it is constantly, logically connecting input to input, to literally “incorporate it” into our minds/brains. This means it is constantly connecting what we think and value in one area of thought/knowledge/interest/experience, etc. with others.
- Produces emotions as a consequence of an automatic evaluation in response to information from the conscious mind.
The reality-oriented logic of subconscious processing can be disrupted by:
- Suppression or repression of emotions.
- Conceptual structures we have accepted which don’t consider one area of information and thinking in relation to another area (matrices of knowledge don’t interlink)
- Lack of cognitive ability/skill to connect ideas.C. The Unconscious Mind:
- Refers to mental processes which are opaque, i.e. completely inaccessible to conscious awareness. For example, other than deciding to remember something, how do we get information, e.g. a word we want, from memory?
- This includes processes that were once conscious, but have become automatized. For example, understanding what someone else is saying.
- Seems to particularly include voluntary physical processes. For example, how do we merely think of what we want to say and we’re able to type the words? Decide to play racquetball and all of our skills and strategy come to bear?
D. Body processes: Those physiological processes that affect the mind, i.e. hormones, electrical activity, circulating levels of nutritive substances. These aren’t strictly part of the mind – and yet they are insofar as they produce the physical substrate of it.
II. Understanding Emotion
What is emotion?
A very succinct definition is: “the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself” (Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, 1969, 64)
Emotion is the result of a combination of the ideas and values which we hold (acquired by conscious choice and thinking, or incidentally accepted) and our inherent needs and tendencies, in response to some event. Since, as mentioned in the above section, emotions are a result of an automatic process originating in the subconscious, they cannot be directly controlled.
At most, they can be suppressed, or, if suppression becomes a habit, repressed.
Suppression and Repression
In a variety of situations, it may be beneficial to suppress an emotion. For example, if a tiger is stalking you, it is beneficial to suppress your desire to scream, turn and run, because this will trigger the tiger to attack. Instead, if you can suppress your fear and think about what to do to protect yourself, you have a better chance of survival.
However, it’s only too often the case that painful, perplexing experiences, especially ones in which we seem to be powerless, lead to a habit of suppressing a feeling. Suppressed too often and an emotion becomes repressed.
That is, the mind automatically suppresses the particular feeling – it becomes an automatic process of the subconscious. And this puts the most of the information leading up to the feeling out of conscious awareness, and therefore conscious control.
Unfortunately, as children, we’re often subjected to situations that are contrary to our needs, irrational, and painful. The only way to psychologically survive in such situations is to suppress our feelings.
For example, if, as a child, you pointed out that something was factually wrong with a story your father recounted, and he typically hit you in response, or told you to “shut up, don’t contradict me” – or merely belittled you with a comment such as “what do you know, you’re just a kid,” or “you’re such a nerdy know-it-all”, what was your response? Hurt, anger, a desire to retaliate? Yet, was it safe to be angry or retaliate? You might be physically punished or you might fear losing his love. So you suppress the feelings of hurt, disappointment, and anger.
When you’ve done this over and over, your emotional response becomes repressed. And you don’t feel as strong and assertive as you could; it undermines your motivations.
Or perhaps you allow yourself to feel anger, and even plot revenge. You turn the situation around and use your fantasy to develop a fictional world, and you become a writer. But you repressed your hurt and now you don’t understand why it’s difficult to feel love also.
That’s because the process of suppression involves the dampening of all feeling. To stop yourself from feeling something – to suppress – you must:
- Ignore some aspect of what you were thinking about
- Tighten your body against the feeling, i.e. hold your breath, squeeze your shoulders, stiffen your muscles.
This affects everything you’re feeling. If this becomes automatic and turns into repression, it becomes much more difficult to be aware of what you are feeling in that situation, and even in many others.
Practices that help identify emotions
Taking the attitude that whatever you are feeling are facts of nature, not within your control and something to accept,is a first step in identifying what you are feeling. In other words, working to have no internal censorship. The most productive practice is to first allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, then analyze it.
To identify why you reacted in a given way and what it means, try to describe the triggers, the quality, and the exact bodily feelings of the emotion you are having. Here are some useful questions:
When did the feeling begin?
What was the last thought I had before it started?
What was I paying attention to when it started?
What was I looking at, imagining, remembering, doing, saying?
What immediately happened to my body after the feeling started?
Where were the feelings in my body? Where were they in my body?
Were they sharp, dull, slight, great – what would be a good way to describe them?
Among other difficulties, you may need to overcome a prejudice as to what is okay to feel – e.g. you shouldn’t be attracted to your brother’s wife; you should want a high powered career, but you love children so much, all you want to do is have babies.
Feelings of conflict and discomfort will bring this kind of thing to your attention. For example, if you want to call a friend but simultaneously are resisting contacting him, you are feeling a conflict. If you want to apply for a job but you never get near the phone to call, you are feeling a conflict.
Lastly, you may not understand something about your own nature and needs. For example, you may have an introverted disposition (this is often inborn), which makes too much interaction with other people overwhelming. But you don’t realize this, so you think there’s something wrong with the fact that you don’t like to go to parties.
A helpful practice is to write down your thoughts about any conflicts you are having in a log or journal every morning, using the above questions for your reflection. That is, make a diary of your feelings and thoughts about the situation. At the end of the week, look over what you wrote and see if you can glean any new understanding from it; see if you can relate them to events during the week.
For example, you stayed up really late and were exhausted on Wednesday, and you see that you felt especially bad about a mistake you made. Or you ran into an old friend on Tuesday and you noticed that you felt out of sorts all day.
III. Awareness of bodily feelings
Being aware of what’s going on in your body is key to identifying what’s going on in your mind. However, highly intelligent, intellectual people often spend a lot of time “in their heads” and not in awareness of the physical world. They tend to be excellent at focusing on something they’re thinking or working on, but often lack in awareness of their environs or what’s going on in their bodies.
Yet such awareness is not only a gateway to much pleasure and value, but to greater awareness of your self, your body, preferences, responses, and needs.
Developing your sensory acuity, noticing the physical details of your surroundings – the smells, sounds, sights, and feels – is beneficial. Furthermore, it aids in emotional awareness and even understanding, as you can more easily connect your emotional reaction to what just happened to you.
For example, you’re in the elevator and a man gets on with you while you’re busy texting a friend. He stands behind, to the left; doesn’t move or say anything. You find yourself getting more and more tense while you continue your text conversation; you arrive at the fifth floor and exit the elevator; a great wave of relief comes over you. You stop texting and reflect on the experience. You realize that when he got on, he had an odd expression on his face, which you couldn’t make out. You weren’t sure if it meant he could be threatening or not, but you were distracted by the texting, so you didn’t think the whole thing through. Instead, your subconscious put two and two together and made you worried. If you were more alert to your body’s reactions, you might have been able to consciously assess the situation better – and protect yourself another time, if someone were indeed threatening.
Increasing your awareness of your body’s reactions, no matter what you’re concentrating on, can expand your ability to understand your emotional reactions. Many physical disciplines like yoga aim to increase your bodily awareness.
IV. Human Needs
A basic principle in understanding human motivation is: what real need does that behavior fulfill?
In understanding perplexing things about yourself or others, this is a crucial question to ask. Combined with an understanding of the most fundamental human needs and tendencies, it can be extremely useful.
For example, going back to the scenario with your father’s inaccurate stories. What need of his could account for his nasty behavior? What did your action make him feel?
The hard part is understanding the range of human needs and how they interact in a given situation. That takes a bit of study and experience. Also, just as people vary on their ability to be aware of their own feelings, they vary on their ability to perceive and analyze others’ emotional expressions and demeanor.
It turns out that humans have the ability to directly, internally imitate the experience of what other people are feeling through “mirror neurons” which reside in the frontal lobes of the brain.
“A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other species including birds.”
Researchers “argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mind skills, while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities. Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.” Wikipedia
There is a raft of evidence that the natural ability to easily be aware of one’s internal states and those of others varies considerably from person to person, and that women tend to be naturally more skilled at grasping their own internal states and those of others. Of course, ultimately, the degree of inborn ability is individual, just like intelligence. Further, just like intelligence, it’s a skill that can be practiced and enhanced through purposeful observation, reflection, and analysis. This ability is highly pertinent to identifying human needs.
The following are sets of ideas about needs and emotions that are useful to consider.
Maria Montessori’s List of The Universal Needs of Humans
- Self-preservation 6. Movement/transportation
- Orientation 7. Logical/quantitative processing
- Order 8. Social connection
- Communication 9. Nurturing
- Imagination 10. Self-perfection
Ten Human Tendencies, which aim to meet the above needs
- Exploration 6. Self-control-discipline
- Orientation 7. Repetition
- Order 8. Perfection
- Ability to abstract ideas 9. Exactness
- Work 10. Communication
(Nathaniel Branden argues the need for self-esteem is fundamental, but it’s not on this list.)
Website with research and personal tests on Authentic Happiness
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the top. While the pyramid has become the de facto way to represent the hierarchy, Maslow himself never used a pyramid to describe these levels in any of his writings on the subject.
The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Maslow also coined the term Metamotivation to describe the motivation of people who go beyond the scope of the basic needs and strive for constant betterment.
The human mind and brain are complex and have parallel processes running at the same time, thus many different motivations from various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy can occur simultaneously. Maslow spoke clearly about these levels and their satisfaction in terms such as “relative,” “general,” and “primarily.” Instead of stating that the individual focuses on a certain need at any given time, Maslow stated that a certain need “dominates” the human organism, and the satisfaction Thus Maslow acknowledged the likelihood that the different levels of motivation could occur at any time in the human mind, but he focused on identifying the basic types of motivation and the order in which they should be met.
Cognition: the awareness and identification of reality.
Emotion: “the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relationship of some aspect of reality to himself” (Branden 1969, 64)
Introspection: the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings, i.e. one’s mental states and physical states in as much as one is aware of the physical through the mind. Introspection is contrasted with external observation. Introspection generally provides a privileged access to our own mental states, not mediated by other sources of knowledge, so that the individual experience of the mind is unique. Introspection can encompass any number of mental states including: sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional and so forth.
Classifying Emotions: Some different systems
Robinson’s criteria contrasting basic emotions
The following table identifies and contrasts the fundamental emotions according to a set of definite criteria according to D. L. Robinson.
Robinson says the three key criteria defining fundamental emotions include theses mental aspects:
- have a strongly motivating subjective quality, like pleasure or pain
- are in response to a real or imagined event or object
- motivate specific types of behaviour or actions
According to Robinson, combinations of these attributes distinguish the emotions from sensations, feelings and moods.
Kind of emotion
|Related to object properties||Interest, curiosity||Alarm, panic|
|Attraction, desire, admiration||Aversion, disgust, revulsion|
|Surprise, amusement||Indifference, familiarity, habituation|
|Event related||Gratitude, thankfulness||Anger, rage|
|Joy, elation, triumph, jubilation||Sorrow, grief|
|Self-appraisal||Pride in achievement, self-confidence, sociability||Embarrassment, shame, guilt, remorse|
|Social||Generosity||Avarice, greed, miserliness, envy, jealousy|
HUMAINE’s proposal for EARL (Emotion Annotation and Representation Language)
The emotion annotation and representation language (EARL) proposed by the Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion (HUMAINE) classifies 48 emotions.
Parrott’s emotions by groups
A tree-structured list of emotions was described in Parrott (2001).
Plutchik’s wheel of emotions
Human feelings (results of emotions)
|Optimism||Anticipation + Joy||Disapproval|
|Love||Joy + Trust||Remorse|
|Submission||Trust + Fear||Contempt|
|Awe||Fear + Surprise||Aggression|
|Disapproval||Surprise + Sadness||Optimism|
|Remorse||Sadness + Disgust||Love|
|Contempt||Disgust + Anger||Submission|
|Aggressiveness||Anger + Anticipation||Awe|
By Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in Free Voices, Spring 2013
One hundred and thirty two years ago last August in Chiaravalle, on the northeast coast of Italy, a baby girl was born who became the founder of a liberation movement: the liberation of children. Her work ignited interest around the world and is controversial to this day.
Maria Montessori was the highly precocious daughter of civil servant Alessandro Montessori and his wife, Renilde Stoppardi. Maria wanted to study engineering but graduated in 1890 at the age of 20 from the Regio Instituto Technico Leonardo da Vinci in physics and mathematics because she had decided to go into medicine instead—a shocking career for a woman in late nineteenth century Italy.
Over the objections of her father and the disapproval of her professors, she applied to the University of Rome where she went on to get a “diploma di licenzi” which qualified her for the medical school. There she, at first, endured shunning and contemptuous disapproval from the all-male students, and was required to dissect cadavers in a room separate from the men, due to the Age’s morals concerning the naked body. Yet, she was still able to win the sought-after Rolli prize of a thousand lire (a considerable sum in that time), and later, the coveted position of assistant at the hospital while only a medical student. The doors of achievement were open enough to this young, intelligent, self-confident woman that she slipped through.
Despite her difficulties, Montessori’s brilliance and perseverance enabled her to triumph, becoming the first woman doctor in Italy. At 26, she was chosen to represent Italy at an international women’s congress in Berlin and electrified her audience with her passionate, extemporaneous speech.
She was a feminist from the start, but so delicately feminine as to disarm, so charismatic as to enchant—without mincing words. To the theories of eminent male thinkers concluding that women were incapable, infantile, physiologically weak, she said “’It is certainly true that men lose their minds over women.’ Attempting to prove the absurdity of the feminist position, they had ended up making themselves ridiculous.”
A reporter commented that she was well-chosen to represent Italy: “The delicacy of a talented young woman combined with the strength of a man—an ideal one doesn’t meet with every day.”
In 1897 she took a position in the Psychiatric Clinic of Rome, working with mentally disabled and autistic children, which set the course of her life. The condition of these children in the asylums of the day were hideous, stuffed into barren rooms with only each other for company. Through her observations of them, she had one of her first pedagogical insights: these poor, deficient children were craving sensory experience. They sought it out through the little stimulation they had, their food, fondling the crumbs, savoring the tastes of their bread.
Improving their condition became her focus. While working in the clinic she studied anthropology and the history of education its theorists of the previous centuries including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Jean Itard, and Edouard Seguin.
Seguin’s dictum “Respect for individuality is the first test of a teacher,” was to be an essential of Montessori’s approach, as were his many materials, used to develop the sensory ability and motor movement in children. Montessori used his materials and created new ones to aid the deficient children.
She joined the newly formed National League for the Education of Retarded Children, and was chosen to go on a lecture tour that galvanized national interest in improving education for the retarded. In describing the changes needed to make life better for these children, she argued that technological progress would liberate women from the need to do menial labor, enabling them to achieve equal rights and the freedom to live as they wished.
Despite being a socialist, here, as in the rest of her life, Montessori recognized the liberating and individualist role of work in the marketplace. Indeed, her vision was for each person to find a professional place in the economy, a place that would valorize the ego of each. In her view, by productive achievement and peaceful exchange, individuals all over the world would be lifted out of poverty and enabled to flourish. Sound familiar?
In 1900 the League opened the Orthophrenic School to train teachers of deficient children, which Montessori directed with Dr. Giuseppe Montesano. She applied her newly-developed methods and materials to these children and the results were astounding: her eight year old deficient children were able to pass the state exam for normal children.
“the boys from the asylums had been able to compete with the normal children only because they had been taught in a different way…While everyone was admiring the progress of my idiots, I was searching for the reasons which could keep the happy healthy children of the common schools on so low a plane that they could be equalled in tests of intelligence by my unfortunate pupils!”
However in 1901, right at the moment of her triumph, she quit the Orthophrenic school and took a leave. Although it’s not certain, it’s likely that her illegitimate pregnancy by Dr. Montesano was the reason. Exactly when her son Mario was born and why Maria didn’t marry Montesano isn’t clear, but the baby was sent to live with a wet nurse in the country. Maria would visit him, but he wouldn’t know who she was. However, at the age of 15, he announced to her “You’re my mother,” and demanded to go with her, which he did. Eventually, he would become her constant companion and successor to her movement, taking her name instead of his father’s.
In 1901 she returned to study pedagogy and anthropology at the University of Rome, and studied Seguin’s methods in more detail, translating his 600 page book. Later, she became a lecturer at the Pedagogic School of the University of Rome where she established scientific pedagogy as a discipline and inspired the young teachers of abnormal children.
Her work brought her to the attention of the Instituto Romano di Beni Stabili, a group of real estate investors who had a complex in the impoverished San Lorenzo district of Rome. Although they had carefully chosen only married couples as tenants, their buildings were being defaced by the unsupervised children who lived there, left at home while their parents worked.
Once again bucking the conventional, Montessori took on the task of educating these children. The owners gave her a small room and free rein, but almost nothing else until she insisted on food, and enlisted Society women in raising funds for furniture and equipment.
And there began the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in January of 1907. Within one year, the wonders that transpired in that house were famed throughout Italy; within five, throughout the world.
So what happened with this group of dirty, disheveled, mostly uncivilized, and completely uneducated children, ages two to six, from illiterate factory-worker families, that brought her such fame?
A transformation through principled freedom, unprecedented in educational history.
Montessori and the Society women brought in toys, dolls, paper and colored pencils—
and the materials she had developed for the deficient children. The room had a few tables and a cabinet, and she found an untrained woman living in the building to watch over them, under Montessori’s guidance and supervision. “I placed no restrictions upon the teacher and imposed no special duties.” “I merely wanted to study the children’s reactions. I asked her not to interfere with them in any way as otherwise I would not be able to observe them.”
Montessori was busy with many other projects; she stopped in once a week and over the course of the month, observed astonishing changes taking place. Leaving the toys aside, the children were drawn to the didactic materials, riveting their attention. They built towers with the cubes, fit the geometric shapes into their frames, and placed wooden cylinders in their holes, over and over, revealing powers of concentration hitherto completely unsuspected in children at all.
Remarkably, the children became healthier, with no change in their diet or exercise. “From timid and wild as they were before, the children became sociable and communicative. They showed different relationships with each other. Their personalities grew and they showed extraordinary understanding, activity, vivacity and confidence. They were happy and joyous.”
Montessori observed one little girl of three completely absorbed in working with the knobbed wooden cylinders, taking them out of their frame, mixing them up, then putting them back in the proper holes. No amount of noise or activity around her got her attention. At one point, Montessori had her lifted onto a table and the children dance around it, “As I lifted the chair she clutched the objects with which she was working and placed them on her knees, but then continued the same task…she repeated the exercise forty-two times. Then she stopped as if coming out of a dream and smiled happily. Her eyes shone brightly and she looked about. She had not even noticed what we had done to disturb her. And now, for no apparent reason, her task was finished. But what was finished and why?”
Unbeknownst to her, Montessori had discovered the phenomenon of optimal experience, now called “Flow.” Given a physical and psychological environment proper to their developmental needs, and the freedom to explore it according to the mysterious inner bio-psychological plan of each individual, the children flourished.
Their self-motivated interest in learning abounded, creating a self-discipline more rigorous than any adult could impose. Their desire for self-mastery knew no bounds. “I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. After I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater.”
Rather than amusement, they were grateful for the lesson; they were frequently in trouble or humiliated because of their runny noses. Once again, Montessori had helped them be independent and self-reliant, civilized individuals. And they took this home with them: the order, beauty, and cleanliness the children learned at school caused them to demand it at home; their poor, uneducated parents began learning from them.
“Help me to do it myself” is the core of the Montessori classroom, where the physical and psychological environment is carefully structured so that the students can have as much freedom as possible to follow their needs. Its purpose is to enable individuals to learn at their own pace; to develop sensory-motor abilities, and knowledge, academic, social, and personal. They learn self-responsibility and how to behave in civil society, respecting property rights and the rights and individuality of others—in short, everything needed to become a successful, well-functioning adult. She recognized that only through the development of this kind of “new man” would we have peace in the world.
“The didactic material, in fact, does not offer to the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the order for that ‘content.’…The mind has formed itself by a special exercise of attention, observing, comparing, and classifying…which leads them to become active and intelligent explorers instead of wandering wayfarers in an unknown land.”
Within a year of opening the Casa dei Bambini, it was famous worldwide. People flocked from Europe, the U.S., China, Japan, New Zealand, South America, and India to see this new “method” for themselves, and many begged to learn it.
By 1911, Montessori schools were established all over the world. Maria quit her position as lecturer at the University of Rome and devoted herself full time to the schools. A book describing her system was published, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicator all’educazione infantile nella Casa dei Bambini and by 1912, an English translation, The Montessori Method, had been prepared through Harvard’s education school. Within six months, it was in second place for the sale of non-fiction books. The international Montessori movement had begun. Despite World War I, by 1916, the book had been translated into English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Catalonian, Polish, Rumanian, Danish, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese.
Soon, she toured all over the United States, hosted by luminaries from John Dewey to Helen Keller. In 1915, a working Montessori classroom was one of the most popular exhibits at the San Francisco Exposition. Children worked on their materials, undisturbed by the marveling crowds around them.
However, the movement was not to last too long in the U.S.: strife was building between various Montessori groups and Maria over who should have control and the final say over the training and credentialing of Montessori teachers, and who was authorized to write about the philosophy. Further, William Heard Kilpatrick, the “million dollar professor” of education at Columbia University and a close associate of progressive theorist John Dewey, had visited the Casa dei Bambini in Rome and written The Montessori System Examined in 1914. He dismissed her system as based on 19th century notions, not in keeping with the “scientific” work of the nascent Behaviorists.
At the top of the pyramid as a teacher of teachers, his criticisms spread throughout Academia. By 1920, American respect for and interest in Montessori was dead. It wasn’t until the ‘50’s when a young parent, Nancy McCormick Rambusch, rediscovered it in Europe and brought it back to the U.S. that it was revived. She was instrumental in establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.
It’s been a grassroots, parent-driven movement ever since.
The power of her method to change the lives of whole families was illustrated during the Spanish Civil War. The Method had been brought to Catalonia in 1916 and flourished there for decades. After Montessori fled Mussolini’s fascist Italy, she was invited to live in Spain. She gave a series of lectures on the Radio Associacio de Catalunya in 1936 to educate the public about the nature of children. Poor people began calling the radio station to thank Dr. Montessori. “It is true what you say. My child does the same things! I used to beat him because I though he was bad. Poor little one: It was I who was bad.”
However, in the midst of this work, the new republic erupted into chaos and the anarchists were burning and slaughtering Catholics and Italians (whose government had been suspected in helping the fascists). As Mario Montessori recounted the events, Maria was alone in her house with her grandchildren, watching the carnage from her veranda when anarchists approached with rifles in their hands, bandoliers of bullets across their chests, shouting and raising their arms in the Communist salute.
“The ‘militianos’ came straight to her door, but they did not ring. They…began to paint something over it with a black, dripping brush. The others, intense, stood watching. Soon it was finished. They all looked up, saw her at the window, raised their hand in salute, and marched away.
“The children and she ran down to see.
“On the wall, in large black letters, was the caption: ‘RESPECT THIS HOUSE. IT HARBORS A FRIEND OF THE CHILDREN.’ Under it was the sign of the hammer and sickle. The Child had paid its debt to its Knight.”
Fortunately, despite World War I, World War II and myriad local conflicts, the Montessori movement continued all over the world. During World War II, Maria and Mario Montessori were interned in India as enemy aliens and this led to a thriving Montessori movement in that country and those surrounding it, including the creation of many Montessori training centers.
She continued opening training centers and giving training sessions, observing schools and children everywhere. Over and over, she was struck by the universality of human nature and the variety of individual development. She used her sharp, scientific observational powers to further understand human needs and development, eventually encompassing adolescents. She called them the Erdkinder, children of the earth. Montessori lectured worldwide from 1916 to her death in 1952, and published many, many books about her method.
Montessori eventually called Amsterdam her home and it is the headquarters of the Association Montessori Internationale and the Laren Montessori Training Center. Mario worked closely with his mother. In 1961, he established the Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani for elementary level training in Bergamo.
Today, in the U.S. there are about 4-5,000 Montessori schools, ranging from simply Children’s Houses (3-6 year olds) all the way to high schools; worldwide, the estimate is 20,000 and growing.
Scientific research on the Method, through Mihalyi Cskiszentmihalyi’s and Angeline Lillard’s work has bolstered its profile. And, there’s been a spate of articles, such as “The Montessori Mafia” in The Wall Street Journal blog, in the past few years regarding the unusual number of former Montessori students who head very innovative companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia.
In the ‘70’s, Montessorian Beatrice Hessen (wife of libertarian historian Robert Hessen), wrote a series of articles about the Method in Ayn Rand’s The Objectivist journal. These, combined with Rand’s article “The Comprachicos,” in which she contrasts the Montessori Method with Progressive Education, introduced thousands of liberty-loving people to Montessori. Many, many stayed and are involved in the movement to this day.
In 2007, the Montessori movement celebrated its 100th anniversary with a grand conference in Rome, over 1,000 representatives from countries all over the world attending. Among other national publications reporting on the anniversary, The Washington Post featured “Montessori, now 100, goes mainstream.”
However, the Montessori Method is rarely included in the national debate on education reform. Movies concerning the dire situation in public schools and the search for alternatives, such as “Waiting for Superman,” glaringly lack any mention. Although there are a number of government-run Montessori schools, and growing, my guess is that two major factors mitigate against Montessori in the public debate:
- Montessori education requires a radical Gestalt-shift in perspective on the nature of education and the role of the teacher, from a top-down, collectivistic, directive approach to a radically individualistic, child-centered approach. The teacher’s role is as observer, expert guide, and servant to the child—not a very acceptable to most traditional teachers.
- The education bureaucracy of government schools clashes impossibly against the radical freedom and individualism of Montessori philosophy and practice.
For additional information on the relationship of Montessori and capitalism, see my review of Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education by Jerry Kirkpatrick
 Kramer, Rita. 1976. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York, Capricorn Books, 80.
 Garlanda, Federico. 1911. The New Italy. New York and London, 153
 Seguin, Edouard. 1866. Idiocy and Its Treatment by the Physiological Method. New York, 33
 Standing, E.M. 1962. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New American Library: New York, 34.
 Ibid., 26.
 Maccheroni, Anna Maria. 1947. A True Romance: Dr. Montessori As I Knew Her. The Darien Press:Edinburgh, 12-13.
 Standing, 26.
 Ibid., 25.
 Montessori, Maria, Letter to Clara, 1896, quoted in Kramer, 115.
 Montessori, Maria. 1914. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Frederick A. Stokes Company: New York, 83
 Later turned into her book The Secret of Childhood.
Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia,” The Wall Street Journal blog, http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/
 Rand, Ayn. 1970. “The Comprachicos,” The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York: Signet, 187-239..
Enright, Marsha Familaro and Doris Cox. Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education.
Montessori, Maria. Works.
Montessori, Maria. Articles and Letters.
|By Marsha Enright|
Winter 2010 — If you’re familiar with two- to five-year-old children, then you understand what Aristotle meant when he said “All men, by nature, desire to know.” Very little will stop the young child from exploring the world and trying to learn—sometimes to the exasperation of parents!
The young child who turns into the restlessly eager-to-learn, -to create, -to achieve adult is the fountainhead of human progress. Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Ayn Rand, Craig Venter, Steve Jobs—these are the people that never lost their two year old’s passionate, internally-generated drive to know and, consequently, change the world.
This is the state-of-mind which education in a Good Society would strive to achieve. These are the type of people who made Renaissance Florence, Enlightenment England, Revolutionary America, and our technology-abundant current culture possible. By nurturing this state of mind, the Good Society would create a self-perpetuating future of rational ideas, science, technology, liberty, and inspiring art in the renaissance of a New Enlightenment.
Before describing the shape of that education, let’s consider what kind of cultural backdrop would support that state of mind.
Upward Striving: The Essence of the New Enlightenment Culture
Reason, achievement, and liberty would be commonly accepted values and revered openly: ironically, this is not as different from today as we might think, but it would be much more consistent, well-justified, and widespread. Achievement in all fields would be honored much more uniformly and that of entrepreneurs and good businesses would be praised often on the nightly news. Capitalism would be celebrated as a boon to mankind.
Unlike today, these three values would be understood as an integrated whole, valued in all endeavors, from poetry to politics. Heroes of reason, liberty, and achievement would be widespread role models, rather than confined to comic books as freaks with supernatural powers. Only a shrinking minority would revere rap stars or leftist academics, like those who strategized the Chicago Way to the White House.
All excellent work would be honored. Individuals would feel proud of whatever they deservedly achieved, whether as a janitor or a jazz violinist. Schools would cater to vastly different educational needs; some for the academic life, some the artistic, some the trades, some for business, athletics, or the military—any productive area of human endeavor. A culture of creativity would surround the developing child.
All education would be private, mostly supported by tuition income with help from a vast array of private philanthropy. Responsibility for educating children would fall clearly to the parents. It would be the norm for parents to value individualism and independence in their progeny. Most parents would know that they should practice objectivity and forbearance in regard to their children. Their responsibility as nurturers would be to help the child develop into an achieving individual, passionate about his work, whatever that might be. Constant, upward striving, i.e. real progress, would be the bellwether of such a society.
(For a taste of these attitudes, read the novels of the early 20th century author Henry Kitchell Webster, such as Calumet K, The King of Khaki,and The Thoroughbred, recently available in paperback.)
Rather than “give my child everything so they won’t have to work as hard as I did,” parents would teach their child the joy of responsibility and work, like Frank Hanna’s father, the investment banker featured in The Acton Institute’s documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur. Instead of taking his two sons to Little League, Frank’s father provided opportunities for the boys to work at various family businesses. This gave the boys the experience of achievement and a taste of making money from it, plus the analytic knowledge to understand how businesses work. After a brief stint as a lawyer, Frank joined his brother in opening their own investment banking firm, reveling in the joy of finding great businesses to capitalize.
Those families with massive wealth would impart the responsibility of wealth and the ethic of achievement to their progeny. Rather than becoming dissolute ne’er-do-wells who don’t know how to live up to the previous generation, such heirs would find their passion and use their wealth to achieve it. Those in the family interested in the family business would become thoughtful stewards of the wealth, like Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, adding to the family’s achievements. I saw a current example on the TV show Undercover Boss in which Dave Rife, head of family-owned White Castle Corporation, expressed his desire to make his grandfather proud by improving the corporation the grandfather started.
To develop flourishing individuals, education would have to be based on the science of fundamental biological and psychological needs. These principles would call for the development of skills such as the habits of first-hand observation and excellent reasoning which enable objective judgment, so important for knowing what is exactly true in order to achieve success. Skill in creativity is equally important in solving problems and finding new solutions in all aspects of life. Further the integration of mind and body, including a great deal of self-knowledge, is crucial to effective functioning and happiness. The ability to effectively interact with other people is also essential to achieving happiness in home and work life. Finally, it’s almost impossible to live well without the ability to effectively put thought into action. These are some of the needs and abilities—important to a well-lived life—which would be nurtured in a great education.
Furthermore, the people who would implement this approach would be committed to individualism. This means that although teachers, parents, and administrators would recognize that there are universal human needs, they would also realize that individuals vary greatly in the particular way they develop and must have their needs met distinctively. For example, a gregarious child must work hard to develop his independence, while an introverted child not interested in or sensitive to others might need to learn more social awareness to work most effectively in the market.
Schooldays in the Good Society
Well, that’s great you say—but what would a school actually look like in a better future?
For one thing, it would not look much like the average grade to graduate schools of today, which are more often factory-like warehouses than exciting, attractive environments in which to explore the world and oneself.
Students would not be confined to the classroom.
Market competition would provide a plethora of choices, one school building more beautiful and luxurious than the next, even for the most inexpensive schools. If you doubt it, just think of how much more attractive Dunkin’ Donuts stores have become since the spread of Starbucks. The buildings would be well-integrated into natural landscapes or cleverly designed in highly urban environments to keep children in touch with nature and natural opportunities to observe and experiment. The layout would make it easier to make physical activity—the connection between body and mind—a regular part of the day.
The typical school in the Good Society would have classrooms filled with beautiful learning materials which would appeal to the students’ senses and would involve movement, shape, and color to cement concepts in memory. These materials would concretize the concepts and information students need while absorbing their attention effortlessly and appealing to their interests.
Each day, students would choose their work from an array of challenging materials from most knowledge areas. Students of several ages would attend the same classroom, providing an environment more representative of adult life than traditional schools, and giving students an opportunity to learn from each other and practice their mastery of knowledge by instructing other students.
Students as young as toddlers might work with others, but they wouldn’t have to. The result? Many would love to work together, giving students the experience of freedom of association and practice in teamwork. Part of the curriculum should consist of instruction in important social skills, from the appropriate way to blow one’s nose to how to express anger to a classmate in a productive fashion. This way of working readies students for a social life in which they can express and enjoy their individuality in a civil manner.
Excited conversation would take place throughout the classroom, as students share in their discoveries and ideas. The environment would be strategically arranged to allow the student freedom to move, work, make many choices throughout the day, and get feedback from reality about the success and the appropriateness of behavior.
Learning materials could be used for multiple problems; once the basic function of the material is mastered, students can discover their own problems and solutions, thereby encouraging creativity.
As befitting a society that values productiveness and rejects the separation of theory and practice, practical knowledge would be highly esteemed in the Good Society. From the age of three, students would have practical responsibilities for shared school property, returning materials to their place for use by the next student, cleaning up after themselves, feeding animals, or greeting visitors. At the upper levels of education, young adolescents would engage in real work, such as growing food, creating saleable products, operating retail businesses, or taking care of farm animals—all integrated with their academic learning. These activities would enable them to explore career opportunities and enjoy the achievement of production and meaningful work during their energetic adolescent years.
Adolescents would study the classics, such as Plato, Aquinas, Bacon, and Shakespeare, for a strong grounding in the liberal arts. The liberal arts would be recognized as essential to a complete education because, by learning philosophy, history, literature, science, mathematics, music, art, and the history of all these subjects, students grasp the way all subjects are related to each other. They also learn what ideas and events created present-day culture. This knowledge would be vital to maintaining a free and just society, because it would help students learn what made freedom and prosperity possible and how to protect it. Furthermore, the liberal arts would provide a broad base of knowledge to each student. This would enable each individual to adapt more easily to market and career changes. Two 20-year studies of top CEOs and scientists substantiate this view. They have found that the vast majority of these high achievers obtain their undergraduate degrees from small liberal arts colleges.
Because knowledge is practical, students would not be confined to the classroom. It would only be the taking-off point for exploring and experiencing the world. Remember Francisco D’Anconia’s education “all over the world” in Atlas Shrugged? On a more limited budget, every child would have such experiences: going out to explore the places in which he lives, learning to shop for himself, camping, and working in local businesses. Their responsibility and independence would grow with their age.
Schools in the Good Society would be motivated to provide the best possible teachers because the inspiring ideas and values in the culture would demand it through market competition. What kind of teachers would be the most effective in aiding a young person’s work to become the best person he or she can be?
Effective teachers would be highly knowledgeable in scientifically proven child psychology and the philosophical principles of a flourishing life. They would be persons of high character and achievement; passionate individuals who love to learn and form excellent role models for students. They would be empathetic and kind, nurturing the young spirit while inspiring it.
Teachers would also be sensitive to the vast differences among individual interests, abilities, and methods of learning. Their role would be to nurture each child into a flourishing adult, whatever form that would take—plumber or physicist, actor or entrepreneur. They would be the child’s advocate and parent educator, helping the parent understand the nature and needs of each individual child.
You may recognize my description of the school in the Good Society as a well-implemented Montessori school.
Like Objectivism, the principles of the Montessori philosophy of education are complex and must be very intelligently understood and practiced in order for their implementation to be consistently successful. I have yet to find anything more excellent for a deep understanding of and fulfillment of the child’s-to-adolescent’s learning needs than a well-implemented and authentically-implemented Montessori school. I believe this philosophy and method of education would be widespread in the Good Society—perhaps its principles would be so well-accepted as to become the common conception of education.
In many respects, the Montessori classroom deeply implements a philosophy of individualism. Yet, the ideas and practices of collectivism often hold sway among many of its teachers, parents, and administrators, undermining the Method’s results. These can be the ideas of radical environmentalism, which mystically values “The Earth” over human life. Or they can be the ideas of altruism which encourage students to dedicate themselves only to charity as the highest of goals. Or they can be an anti-capitalist attitude, which is ignorant of economics and sees all trade as zero-sum.
Rather than these attitudes, the Good Society would encourage a more sensible environmental approach which values clean air and water, and recognizes human time as the scarcest of resources. It would value the creative improvement of human life in whatever form that takes—business, science, art, or charity—and the immeasurable improvements to life possible through free trade.
In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would need to be expanded in various ways, especially to include the values lauded by Ayn Rand, such as an appreciation of capitalistic creativity and achievement.
And that wouldn’t be hard, because the Montessori classroom, materials, and methods already nurture creativity and achievement. Just ask Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, chef Julia Child, and a bevy of other successful entrepreneurs, all of whom were Montessori students. Or ask the thousands of parents and high school teachers who notice the remarkable difference in attitude and action between those of their young people who have attended Montessori schools and those who haven’t. That’s because the Method encourages individual thinking, conceptual development, and an integrated approach to studying subject-matter, while giving the child structured freedom to creatively explore passionate individual interests.
In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would be immeasurably enhanced with the following:
1. Systematic, highly conscious work on reasoning skills;
2. A stronger emphasis on the liberal arts;
3. A study of free market economics and the institutions of liberty;
4. An expansion of the Montessori Method to the college level.
What are some of the ways these changes would be implemented?
1: To develop cognitive skills, the program would have an extra, explicit focus on thinking skills, objective reasoning, and creative thinking, especially for the upper high school or college level. Students would be taught at least these elements of effective thinking, if not more:
• Observation, or paying careful attention to facts and accurately identifying them;
• Inference, or accurately drawing conclusions from information;
• Implication, or accurately drawing a second conclusion from the truth of a first conclusion;
• Induction, or accurately generalizing from knowledge of particular things to general principles;
• Deduction, or accurately identifying specific conclusions from general principles;
• Integration, or making the connections and relationships between thoughts and ideas to a unified body of
• Productive rearrangement of knowledge or creativity;
• Introspection, or the art of effectively identifying the contents and processes of one’s own mind;
• Evaluation or successfully identifying the value for oneself in what is observed and concluded;
• Implementation, or how to successfully use one’s thoughts to achieve one’s ends.
2: Excellent life preparation means being able to participate knowledgeably in civil society—just as the citizens of the early U.S. republic did. Their high rate of excellent literacy made The Federalist Papers the subject of everyday reading and debate; this would be the expected norm in the Good Society. Studying the liberal arts, students would be introduced to important and difficult works such as those of Plato and Aristotle, Bacon, Locke, Bastiat, and Rand at an early age, with intensive study of them in college.
3: Students would learn about the heroes of business and the achievements that made our civilization possible, along with the heroes of science, history, mathematics, and literature. And they would be introduced to the ideas and history of freedom and tyranny early in their school life.
4: Finally, as is done for students at other developmental levels in Montessori schools, the developmental needs of the young adult would be thoroughly considered to craft the teaching methods, setting, activities, and curriculum of college students.
College as it Could and Should Be
So what would college look like? There would be far more exact scientific research and understanding of what human beings need at the college level to develop well, resulting in a plethora of choices. And within an institution, careful scientific observation and experimentation about the best means of learning would be de rigeur, as it is in every authentic Montessori program.
Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business.
According to Michael Novak in The Fire of Invention, by 1852 there were more colleges in Ohio than in the whole of Europe. The sharp differences among the more than 4,400 colleges we have today are being dulled by government oversight of policies, curriculum, and finances. Government loans drive affirmative action policies. The accreditation process, which has been required only since the advent of government funding for college, hampers innovation. According to studies done for the Association of College Trustees and Alumni, accreditation does little to assure and excellent education.
Everything would be run more efficiently with little or no bureaucracy—it would instead be actually responsive to customers. Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business, every college competing to do the best job possible, instead of leaving students alone to get through a mandated course of study.
The current college system is, basically, a certification program for work or graduate school, i.e., “You’re worth X to your employer.” It results in an odd business structure. Students fail to graduate, or take longer than needed. Five years is the current average, no doubt enabled by low-cost government loans which delay the pain of borrowing money until after graduation. Fifty-seven percent take six years to complete the BA! This breaks down as follows: 60% of whites, 49% of Latinos, and only 40% of African Americans graduate within six years.
It’s ironic that our current culture tolerates such high risk in one of life’s biggest purchases, a college education. Where else do we put up with such results, for so much money? Not at Starbucks. Could you imagine “Sorry, even though you’ve paid, you can’t have your coffee”? Richard Vedder (of the Center for College Affordability and Accountibility) and a variety of economists and researchers attribute this failure to the lack of accountability caused by easily obtained government loans.
In the Good Society, colleges would be free from government interference or help. The higher education market would be a hotbed of competition, as it was in the U.S. up to the last 40-50 years. Many more small colleges would arise to give personalized guidance and service, and allow students to more easily know and be connected to their teachers and other students.
Not as many people would attend college. Many would be interested and skilled in non-academic areas such as crafts, the trades, the arts, and business. Their high school education would be so rich and thorough that they would be knowledgeable citizens without college. Further, non-college-level work would be honored for its excellence and importance in our civilization so that people without a college degree would not feel like second-class citizens as they often do today. There would be no government-generated push for “everyone” to attend college, resulting in the current idiocy of BAs for Construction Management and MBAs necessary to run a McDonald’s. Rather, high school education would be far more challenging and deeper than it is today, and there would be a rise in detailed, targeted technical education post-high school.
At the college level, inexpensive education obtained through online information, lectures, and demonstrations would be bolstered by judiciously chosen, close, in-person relationships with caring tutor/professors. Precious in-person time would be spent on productive discussions and deep conversations about their studies with these tutors and with other students. Tutor/professors would be expert guides to learning, not task masters.
Technology would be used for information delivery and rich simulations through which to practice all kinds of skills, from sports, to governance, to running a business. And it would also enable the use of new tools of evaluation such as Experiential Sampling which is now used in the study of “Flow,” i.e., high performance and optimal experience. Experiential Sampling researches individuals’ real-time experiences, i.e., actions, thoughts, and feelings. It could be used to find out more about professorial effectiveness. New tools of psychological evaluation and growth derived from the discoveries of Martin Seligman and other researchers in the psychology of high functioning, happy individuals would also be used to craft better in-class processes.
Colleges would design work, portfolios, and experiences to show employers and other schools their students’ achievements, instead of depending on unvalidated and inconsistent evaluations by professors not trained in human development or even the rudiments of teaching. Instead, professors would be required to learn the principles of learning and teaching and they would have to regularly train and review teaching methods and curriculum.
Rather than study in cloistered academic settings for years and years, colleges would offer creative and collaborative learning programs with businesses and other work settings as the norm, as well as opportunities at job sites. One current example is the relatively new program at the John M. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts which requires its students, starting in freshman year, to work in teams on projects.
Ultimately, the education practices of the Good Society would result in an unimaginable outpouring of excellence, energy, and creativity, far beyond even the imagination of science fiction writers. Because these practices nurture the best within each individual, we can foresee a future of amazing technology, higher human fulfillment, and inspiring art. Peace would be widespread, driven by the shared values of reason, individualism, achievement, and freedom. Let us work our mightiest to see such a society in real life.
Marsha Familaro Enright, formerly a psychotherapist, co-founded in 1990 the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level), of which she is the president and administrator. Enright is currently the president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, and leads development of the College of the United States and its wholly independent scholarship fund. Enright also is a writer for The New Individualist magazine.
Originally published in The New Individualist and at: http://www.atlassociety.org/print/1302
Tom Wolfe, American Iconoclast
by Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in The New Individualist, Fall, 2006
Tom Wolfe is one of the most original, honest and unfettered contemporary observers of American culture alive today. Originator of the New Journalism in the ‘60’s, Wolfe’s fiction-like forays in reporting have kept him at the leading edge of insight for decades. And he’s hilarious! He skewers pomp, pretension and preening evenhandedly–and his fellow members of the press are often well-roasted. His originality with language is phenomenal, his psychological insight and depth remarkable. Best of all, his entirely first-hand view of the world always shines through.
Just as Ayn Rand closely observed and essentialized American culture during the first half of the twentieth century, Wolfe studied our culture “in the field” during the second half and beyond. He ranged all over the country: geographically, culturally, artistically, and intellectually. His books offer the reader vivid accounts about the full range of the “American carnival,” from the outrageous car culture of Southern California (“The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby “) to demolition derbies (“Clean Fun At Riverhead”), to the inner workings of the ultimate in ‘high’ culture snobbery–the New Yorker editorial offices (“Tiny Mummies!”).
From the ‘60’s onward, he seems to be on a mission to discover what makes American culture such a vast array of paradoxes–and in his later works, he eyes philosophy for answers.
Who is this wild man of journalism and fiction? A hugely popular and prolific author, Wolfe is probably best known for his novelesque account of the NASA space program, The Right Stuff (1975), made into a movie of the same name. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia and educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D. American Studies, 1957) universities, Wolfe spent more than ten years as a reporter for such institutions as the Springfield Union, The New York Herald-Tribune, Esquire and The Washington Post. In 1960 as Latin Correspondent at the Post, he won the Washington Newspaper Guild foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.
Along with Jimmy Breslin, Wolfe became one of the original staff writers of New York magazine, which had started as the Herald’s Sunday supplement. While on staff there, he began writing articles for Esquire magazine, many of which later formed his first book, The Kandy-Kolored, Kool-Aid Streamline Baby, published in 1965. These essays birthed the new, colorful, dramatic, story-telling style of writing which was later dubbed “The New Journalism.” The methods of this new style changed the face of reporting forever.
If you want a sample of an hilarious piece of journalism about journalism-and insight into Wolfe-read the essay “The New Journalism” in The New Journalism (1975). To begin with, he aptly summarizes his experience in graduate school, which motivated him to become a journalist in order to have exciting real-life experiences:
“I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has…Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it…No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know…the subject always defeated them…Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic overboil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.” (The New Journalism, 1975, 16)
He then analyzes what made “The New Journalism” new: harnessing methods of the novel to infuse stories about real people and events with drama, local color and psychological depth. This included describing whole scenes of a person’s life-witnessed directly by the journalist-extended dialogue, and shifting points of view. It required the writer to spend considerable time with subjects, questioning them about their thoughts, feelings and motives. “They had to gather all the material the conventional journalist was after-and then keep going. It seemed all-important to be there when dramatic scenes took place, to get the dialogue, the gestures, the facial expressions, the details of the environment. The idea was to give the full objective description, plus something that readers had always had to go to novels and short stories for: namely, the subjective or emotional life of the characters.” (35)
This required that the reporters have “the moxie to talk their way inside of any milieu, even closed societies, and hang on for dear life.” Writers like George Plimpton trained as an amateur with the Detroit Lions football team and turned it into Paper Lion; Hunter Thompson rode with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang before almost being stomped to death by them; Gay Talese chronicled boxing great Joe Louis’ life. This new style was in contradistinction to the “century-old British tradition in which it was understood that the narrator shall assume a calm, cultivated and, in fact, genteel voice. The idea was that the narrator’s own voice should be like the off-white or putty-colored walls that Syrie Maugham popularized in interior decoration…a ‘neutral background’ against which bits of color would stand out. Understatement was the thing.” (32)
And distinguish himself from understatement he did. Wolfe’s works became populated with wholly original turns of phrase that are so on-the-mark, many have migrated into our vocabulary. Tom Wolfe invented terms like “the Me Decade;” “the Right stuff,” and “social x-ray,” but according to the biography on his publisher’s website, his personal favorite is a Southern turn of phrase he introduced to the written word–and the national scene-in 1964-“good ‘ol boy.” He also “found a great many pieces of punctuation and typography lying around dormant when I came along-and I must say I had a good time using them. I figured it was time someone violated what Orwell had called ‘the Geneva conventions of the mind’…a protocol that had kept journalism and non-fiction generally (and novels) in such a tedious bind for so long.”
Using these new writing inventions, Wolfe has spent decades describing wildly-changing, status-seeking American fashions in delicious detail, whether it’s taking a limo four blocks to a party or owning a plantation. From his sharp observations he has crafted pithy characterizations like that of renowned symphony conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and his “radical chic” buddies (another phrase he coined) or fictional Charlie Croker of A Man In Full (1998). He’s wondered at the chasm between the people (the “proles”) and the intellectuals and literati, between the glorious productivity, abundance and creativity of American culture and the Intellectuals’ gloomy, apocalyptic evaluation of that self-same culture-all expressed with his usual, interwoven sarcasm.
The reader can find it in an early essay from a book about ‘60’s culture, The Pump House Gang (1968):
“What struck me throughout America and England was that so many people have found such novel ways of …enjoying, extending their egos way out on the best terms available, namely, their own. It is curious how many serious thinkers–and politicians–resist this rather obvious fact. Sheer ego extension–especially if attempted by all those rancid proles and suburban petty burghers–is a perplexing prospect. Even scary one might say…I was impressed by the profound relief with which intellectuals and politicians discovered poverty in America in 1963, courtesy of Michael Harrington’s book The Other American. And, as I say, it was discovered. Eureka! We have found it again!…When the race riots erupted–and when the war in Vietnam grew into a good-sized hell–intellectuals welcomed all that with a ghastly embrace, too. War! Poverty! Insurrection! Alienation! O Four Horsemen, you have not deserted us entirely. The game can go on.”
And he is still wondering about it in his most recent book of essays, Hooking Up, published in 2000. This bookranges from art to neuroscience, and even a Cato Institute seminar is examined. The title essay “What Life Was Like at the Turn of the Second Millennium: An American’s World” opens with:
“By the year 2000, the term ‘working class’ had fallen into disuse in the United States, and ‘proletariat’ was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink. He spent his vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Barbados, or St. Kitts…Our air-conditioning mechanic had probably never heard of Saint-Simon, but he was fulfilling Saint-Simon’s and the other nineteenth century utopian socialists’ dreams of a day when the ordinary workingman would have the political and personal freedom, the free time and the wherewithal to express himself in any way he saw fit and to unleash his full potential…Americans could boast of a freedom as well as a power unparalleled in the history of the world.
“Our typical burglar-alarm repairman didn’t display one erg of chauvinistic swagger, however. He had been numbed by the aforementioned ‘intellectuals,’ who had spent the preceding eighty years being indignant over what a ‘puritanical,’ ‘repressive,’ ‘bigoted,’ ‘capitalistic,’ and ‘fascist’ nation America was beneath its democratic façade. It made his head hurt. Besides, he was too busy coping with what was known as the ‘sexual revolution.’ If anything, ‘sexual revolution’ was rather a prim term for the lurid carnival actually taking place in the mightiest country on earth in the year 2000…Sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty,” which Wolfe then goes on to describe.
As the reader can see in the foregoing, typical passage, Wolfe does not merely notice blatant contradiction and hypocrisy–he finds them like a homing device finds its target hidden in a dark cultural and intellectual labyrinth and reveals it to the world. Likely this skill, on top of his material success, accounts for the screaming fury of the literati. In “My Three Stooges” Wolfe recounts how his surging fame and success with the novel A Man in Full–which pre-sold 1.2 million copies–motivated the likes of ‘modern’ novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving to denounce him in public as beneath literature. Wolfe chuckled about it on national TV and thanked them for increasing his publicity.
A Man in Full is set in contemporary, dynamically growing Atlanta, teeming with vivid characters and detail about the New South. The bulk of the story revolves around real estate magnate Charles Croker and his attempts to hold onto his empire tooth and nail. The story reveals many strata of Atlantan society, both white and black. However, the reader can see Wolfe’s concern for our contemporary culture in his sympathetic portrait of Conrad Hensley, a young manwhose upbringing by déclassé middle class hippies leaves him lacking in most of the technical and social skills that make survival and success possible. In this story, Wolfe’s recognition of philosophy’s power is most apparent, through the aid a book of the ancient Greek philosopher Epitectus gives to the self-development of the young man. After an excruciating run of events leads Conrad to one of life’s nadirs, he turns it around by incorporating Epitectus’ principles of integrity and courage into his life. Later, the dramatic plot explicitly turns on issues of philosophy as the young man’s life intersects with Charlie Croker’s.
Wolfe’s fictional characters are not heroes on the grand scale of Victor Hugo, but they can be larger than life, and some like Conrad do achieve real values over multiple obstacles through honesty and fortitude. Wolfe admires and honors ingenuity, courage, honesty, hard work, self-responsibility, and science–and competence and achievement over status. In his 1975 The Right Stuff, his admiration shows for the many engineers and scientists who made the Space Program possible. At the same time, he marvels at the status and honor accorded the Astronauts before they had gone on any missions!
His own personal values are most clearly apparent in the subdued tone of his celebratory essay, “Two Boys Who Went West” in Hooking Up. In it he recounts the history and achievements of Robert Noyce, founder of Intel. Noyce is little-known outside of Tech circles but lionized there, a legend in the semi-conductor industry, “a national treasure” as one writer testified in all sincerity. Noyce forged a new corporate culture, the culture of achievement and single-minded work, the entrepreneurial, independent and self-responsible culture of Silicon Valley, through the principles and practices he instituted as head of his young company. Wolfe traces his ideas and values back to Grinnell, Iowa and its 19th century, Dissenting Protestant, individualist roots. Wolfe respectfully reports that at his death, the unreligious Noyce was celebrated by “swarms of people [who] left [a memorial service] with the mournful feeling that some sort of profound–dared they utter the word ‘spiritual’?–force had gone out of the life of the Silicon Valley.”
Apparently, Wolfe deeply resonates with 19th century Dissident Protestant values. In a Brown University interview some years ago, Wolfe revealed this about himself: “Some years ago at a conference a student in the audience asked me why I write. I never asked myself that question in my life. I started free associating. I thought of the Presbyterian catechism for some reason. The first question is who created heaven and earth? The answer is God. The second question is why did he do it? It’s interesting, the answer is “for his own glory.” So I used that as my answer. It was probably a more honest answer than most.
“To me the great joy of writing is discovering. I started out as a journalist. I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.” (Mahdesian interview)
Wolfe comes by his appreciation of modern intellectuals honestly. He drew the ire of the art world with his essays-cum-books on art and architecture, The Painted Word (1975) and From Bauhaus to Our House (1981). In the first, he argues…so to speak…that the fame of modern artists is wholly dependent on the trumpeting of art critics–not on any value or skill of substance might actually possess. When it came out, the art world howled at this characterization and Wolfe–ever the incendiary–fed the fire by appearing on TV in his trademark white Southern Gentleman’s suit, homburg and gloves.
In the second, he perforates the pretensions of Modern Architecture, the sort Ayn Rand describes as the new fashion near the end of The Fountainhead.
“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?
“I doubt it seriously. Every child goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouse…Every new $900,000 summer house in the north woods of Michigan or on the shore of Long Island has so many pipe railings, ramps, hob-tread metal spiral stairways, sheets of industrial plate glass, banks of tungsten-halogen lamps, and white cylindrical shapes, it looks like an insecticide refinery.” (From Bauhaus To Our House, 1981, 1).
The books maps out how plain white walls and glass and steel boxes became the cynosure of architectural style in the wealthiest country that ever existed. He traces this fashion back to economical worker housing designed by Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe after World War I, and fawning American intellectuals me-too-ing European fashion.
Amid the acerbic observations and witty descriptions, I have seen him searching for an answer to the following questions: why does the U.S.-the greatest civilization in history-self-flagellate, and why has it descended into hypocrisy and perversion rivaling the Roman Empire? This paradox peoples much of Wolfe’s work. He sees U.S. culture and events through classic American eyes of common sense, respect for productivity and hard-work, and no-nonsense skewering of hypocrisy. As a self-made man, he appreciates the good fortune of our freedom and individual expression. And he struggles to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values–in other words, a philosophy that supports and realistically grounds the basic American values of common sense, productive creativity, self-respect and the individual pursuit of happiness.
Some feel Wolfe’s approach to events and characters is cynical. I think he strives to present an unvarnished view of American culture, with its warts as well as its gold nuggets. He is a reporter, after all. In his fiction, his characters are not idealized portraits, but neither are they journalistic: his characters are highly stylized examples of human possibilities, extracted from Wolfe’s perspicacious observations. He knows that status is a driving motive among men–he doesn’t like it, because he believes in merit. That’s why he seems to have some admiration for even mixed characters like real estate tycoon Charlie Croker. Charlie has created, he’s produced real wealth. Wolfe lauds him for this and spears him for his craven status seeking. He does not romanticize real people beyond their actual achievements–we see this in The Right Stuff-but he does present real heroes in all their glory, like Bob Noyce and Chuck Yeager (whom Wolfe made famous).
Wolfe shares with Ayn Rand the ability to deeply parody social-climbing antics. He could be describing Kiki Holcombe of The Fountainhead when he scrutinizes the “social x-ray” women of ambitious New York society in his first novel, Bonfire of the Vanities (1975). This book, as his other novels, is replete with detailed accounts of self-aggrandizement and blatant status seeking. In an interview, he declares “My real interest is in the subject of status, which has to do with how people group themselves, rank themselves.” However, unlike Rand, he is not morally affronted by it. As a philosopher, Rand rails against the energy spent social-climbing and presents an alternative-a new, secular ethics and approach to self and others based on achievement and merit, qualities Wolfe clearly admires.
No, Wolfe doesn’t like the status-seeking, but he accurately and incisively reports it–and prods it with his razor wit and clever neologisms. Ever the journalist, Wolfe accepts the constant competition for status as basic to human life, even in such apparently rational groups as scientists and philosophers. I think he can sharpen readers’ eyes to this competition, enabling them to recognize it more often in their own social circles, and in themselves-however rational they may seem. He revels in the creativity and exuberance of American culture, with its open expression of personal values–of ego. He also worries about the descent into decadence and depravity in the past 40 years, and the lack of self-respect characterized by such phenomena as MTV and contemporary fraternity practices. He understands the siren call the current culture has on youth, with the concomitant drowning of personal self as illustrated through the main character in his 2004 novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. He is not a hard and fast traditionalist–how could he be, with his independent views? He seems to be struggling to find some objective grounds, some reasonable formulation of wholesome values. [THIS IS THE POINT WHICH COULD BENEFIT FROM A PERSONAL INTERVIEW, A DISCUSSION OF HIS THOUGHTS ON THESE ISSUES of PHILOSOPHY]
Over the years, I have felt like a detective–finding the clues for Wolfe’s deep love of country in work after work, but never hearing an open admission from him. The clues are there in The Right Stuff, From Bauhaus to Our House, The Painted Word, Hooking Up, and other books. Finally, in an interview this year in the Wall Street Journal, he voices his opinion:
“I also believe in the United States. I think this is the greatest nation that ever existed, still is. It’s really the only really democratic country in the world. Find me one country, just one country in the entire world that would let a foreign people-different culture, different language, and in many cases different color than the majority of the native stock-take over politically an entire metropolitan area in less than one generation. I’m talking about the Cubans in Miami . . .”
“I’m very democratic,” he says after a time. “I think I’m the most democratic writer whom I know personally, though I don’t know all writers of course.” (the precise reporter!)
“I really love this country. I just marvel at how good it is, and obviously it’s the simple principle of freedom. . . . Intellectually this is the system where people tend to experiment more and their experiments are indulged. Whatever we’re doing I think we’ve done it extremely, extremely, extremely well.” Silence. “These are terrible things to be saying if you want to have any standing in the intellectual world.”
Ever the jokester…its one of the things to which some people point, I’m sure, to prove his cynicism. I find it more in the vein of Mark Twain: caustic and always ready to puncture pretensions, even his own. His tone is not deeply serious or ironic in a weighty, European way. He’s led a rebellion against European intellectual domination-at least in journalism. His tone is distinctively American–light-hearted, irreverent and with an intellectual innocence nonetheless–like Mark Twain rather than Dostoevsky. Some might take exception to his style–as many have to Mark Twain-but his trenchant observations communicated through fresh eyes always delight me. I envy all the literary gold a new Wolfe reader will find.
Mahdesian, Linda. “Tom Wolfe, Zeitgeist Czar.” http://www.brown.edu/Administration/George_Street_Journal/v20/v20n24/wolfe.html
Picador Publishers’ Official Tom Wolfe Website. 2006. www.tomwolfe.com/bio.html#.
The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby 1965
The Pump House Gang 1968
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test 1968
Radical-Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers 1970
The Painted Word 1975
Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine 1976
The Right Stuff 1979
In Our Time 1980
From Bauhaus to Our House 1981
The Purple Decades 1982
Bonfire of the Vanities 1987
A Man In Full 1998
Hooking Up 2000
I Am Charlotte Simmons 2004
Written by Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, and edited by Enright, Ayn Rand Explained is now available at Open Court Books, Amazon, on Kindle, and in bookstores everywhere.
Ayn Rand and her ideas are in the news more than ever – 50+ years after her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, was published. What’s driving this rising interest and influence – even politicians like Paul Ryan and Barack Obama talk about her?
Who was this Russian fireball? Why do her ideas speak to the hearts of Americans generation after generation? How are her ideas giving courage to people of all walks of life, from business to art?
Ayn Rand Explained is an engrossing account of the life, work, and influence of Ayn Rand: her career, from youth in Soviet Russia to Hollywood screenwriter and then to ideological guru; her novels and other fiction writings, including the perennial best-sellers, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; her work in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics; her influence on—and personal animosity toward—both conservatism and libertarianism.
Merrill and Enright describe Rand’s early infatuation with Nietzsche, her first fiction writings, the developments behind her record-breaking blockbuster novels of 1943 and 1957, her increasing involvement in politics in the 1950s and 1960s, including her support for the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater.
Rand’s Objectivist movement was first promoted through the Nathaniel Branden Institute, headed by her young protégé and designated heir. The Institute advocated a complete worldview on politics, economics, religion, art, music, epistemology, ethics (“The Virtue of Selfishness”), and sexual relationships. For several years the Institute grew rapidly, though there were ominous signs as some leading members were ‘put on trial’ for their heretical ideas, and ignominiously drummed out of the movement.
In 1969, Branden himself was expelled by Rand, the Institute was shut down, and all members who questioned this ruling were themselves excommunicated and shunned by Rand and her disciples. Branden became a best-selling author of psychotherapy books, with a following of Objectivists who had dissociated from the official organization headed by Rand, and after her death in 1982, by Leonard Peikoff. One of Rand’s inner circle, Alan Greenspan, later went on to get his hands on the steering wheel of the American economy.
Objectivism offers a comprehensive package of beliefs encompassing the ethics of rational egoism and dedication to a consistently rational method of thinking and acting. This includes a rejection of all religion and outright atheism and a view of the arts as expressions of deeply held, mostly subconscious, philosophical views of the world. It also advocates personal freedom from political interference, a moral defense of laissez-faire capitalism, and radically limited government as a protection of the individual, positions deeply aligned with the project of the American Founders.
The last few years have witnessed a resurgence of Objectivism, with a jump in sales of Rand’s novels and the influence of Rand’s ideas in the Tea Party movement and the Republican party. While gaining membership, the Objectivist movement continues to be divided into warring factions, the two major groupings led by the Ayn Rand Institute (Yaron Brook) and the Atlas Society (David Kelley).
Ayn Rand Explained is a completely revised and updated edition of The Ideas of Ayn Rand, by the late Ronald E. Merrill, first published by Open Court in 1991. It includes not only new information about Rand’s rocketing influence, but new stories about her personal relationships, and new analysis of her life and ideas.
Here’s what people are saying about it:
“Ayn Rand is in the news now more than ever—but the media consistently misunderstands her. Read Ayn Rand Explained for a thorough and clear introduction to her ideas!”—JIMMY WALES, founder of Wikipedia
“Ayn Rand Explained takes us on an exciting exploration of Rand’s provocative worldview and expertly traces its huge contemporary impact on politics, economics, art, and culture. Marsha Familaro Enright provides much new information and probing, in-depth analysis. A surprising, intriguing take on a controversial writer.”—CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
“I immensely enjoyed reading Ayn Rand Explained. Packed with fascinating information, much of it new, the book is a real page turner—and a reminder of why Rand’s novels are continuously making their way onto best-seller lists.”—VERONIQUE DE RUGY, Senior Research Fellow, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
“Co-authored by two thoughtful admirers of Rand’s, Ronald Merrill and Marsha Familaro Enright, this modest volume is full of new tidbits about her life, the evolution of her thought, under-recognized aspects of her ideas, the ongoing development of the Objectivist movement, and Rand’s influence on society. An updated revision of late entrepreneur Merrill’s “The Ideas of Ayn Rand”, educator-author Enright adds biographical details, sociological updating, and thoughtful summaries of Rand’s ideas to this little gem.
“Ayn Rand has penetrated our societal conscience. Deceased since 1982, her books continue to be best-sellers, decades after their original appearance. She is known to have inspired VP candidate Paul Ryan; a second movie based on her 1,000+ page magnum opus is currently in theaters; and she is even discussed in a current Rolling Stone magazine interview with the President. Her cultural presence is remarkably polarizing – she seems to inspire either deep-seated admiration or equally passionate resentment. The opinion-less commentator is as rare as the proverbial black swan or an independent voter. Love her or hate her, Rand continues to draw widespread attention for her passionate defense of rationality, self-interest, capitalism and atheism.
“For those interested in what “all the fuss is” about Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism — especially those afraid to commit to her ultralong novels — will find this concise summary of her life, ideas, and influence a godsend. Those who are already familiar with her life and work, but who are looking for a fresh perspective, will find that here, too.
“Enright is responsible for bringing novel material with the brand new first three chapters. They add excellent material on Rand’s life, her thought, and her impact on our society. This is especially helpful given that Merrill’s original book was published in 1991, so updating is welcomed. Also, Enright’s own experiences with the Objectivist movement from the beginning, including personal interactions with Rand herself, add intriguing material, interweaving these up-close observations with the development of the wider movement. The remainder of the book is a thoughtfully edited version of Merrill’s thoughts, intertwined clearly with Enright’s own insights, especially at points of disagreement, which are clearly delineated. It is a model of even-handedness.
“One welcomed aspect of this book, given the subject matter, is its consistent tone of critical admiration of Rand, her life, and her ideas. Too many books are either fawning, sycophantic cheerleading for Rand or harsh, condemning diatribes against her. This supportive volume, with a critical, independent touch where needed, is a welcome addition to the growing literature surrounding this unique Russian immigrant to America.” — William Dale, M.D., Ph.D.
Thoughts from an expert teacher
by Marsha Familaro Enright
Very, very often when I tell people about our project to open a new college program, their first question is: “Will it be online?”
And they have good reasons to expect that it would be: online is vastly cheaper than in-person teaching and it can reach people everywhere in the world. Companies like the Floating University are trying to utilize the best of online resources to game-change higher education. With top lecturers and teachers, they have online tools offering certifications rather than the whole enchilada of a college degree.
Let’s look at a few of the best things online education can do:
- Provide the best lecturer on Shakespeare, or Feynman, or Von Mises, when and where you want to hear him or her.
- Provide the best demonstration of angular momentum at 3 AM when you can’t sleep.
- Teach you how to make a bowtie or what the ancient Romans ate for lunch, just by Googling.
- Connect people who might never have a chance to meet, and help them collaborate.
In other words, the Internet gives you access to an enormous amount of the world’s knowledge about facts, ideas, skills, procedures, and analysis. And it allows you to connect with experts you might never be able to access otherwise, as well as and others all over the world. This is a fabulous resource for learning! And, don’t get me wrong, the RIFI program incorporates all these uses.
But our program requires a significant amount of in-person learning, and some people look askance at this.
Tales from the Front
About six months ago, I mentioned this issue to an applied scientist from a big lab who’s a friend and supporter. She immediately said “Oh, remote learning is never as good as in-person!”
I was a bit surprised because of the usual enthusiasm which technical people have for remote learning: they’re often the most adept at using these resources. So I recently interviewed her to get her story:
About once a month she is either teaching or learning something for her job. She often teaches other scientists, engineers, and technicians how to use the information on the website of their mutual organization—which has facilities all over—and how to explore new ideas for their projects.
Sometimes she teaches on-site but, often, she’s using teleconferencing or video-conferencing with a group of people at another site. During these sessions, they see her presentations, hear her voice, and see her image. If she sees them, it’s not close up, but they can make comments and submit questions.
She finds that the distance teaching never works as well as in-person. And she’s thought a lot about why. “If you go into a restaurant decorated with real plants, there is a different feeling than if the plants are artificial. A different atmosphere. The same thing happens in class.”
So what are some of the differences?
It’s in the Atmosphere
Remotely, “I have no idea what the audience is understanding,” she says. She can’t see them in enough detail in order to notice whether they have questions, are confused—or bored out of their minds. Consequently, she can’t adjust her presentation to suit their needs.
If she could see their faces and their reactions, she might get a sense of how to interact with them. I suggested having shots of their individual faces onscreen while she teaches, but she thinks that would be too difficult to absorb, probably because they would be separate images and because they would lack the detail of the real.
What’s the data she’s likely missing? Information from 3-d body movements, facial expressions, subtle eye movements, tone of voice or even pheromones that would indicate mood and reaction. I also wonder how comprehension is affected because mirror neurons can’t operate.
Mirror neurons identify and respond to others’ emotional expressions, helping us navigate social relationships. It’s the lack of these factors that can make email and online discussion a nightmare of misunderstandings.
Further, she thinks the remote participants feel, “’I can’t learn how interested the lecturer is in ME.’ A good teacher genuinely wants to help you learn something,” and, consequently, conveys excitement, interest and, concern about whether the participants are learning and enjoying what’s being taught.
And this “atmosphere,” these motivations, are essential to encouraging audience questions. Why does this matter?
Because questions, are crucial to good learning. They allow the teacher to find out how the students are understanding the material, and adjust what she conveys to suit them. And they ensure that the students are actively learning, i.e. thinking about the material in relation to their other knowledge. This is how new material is best absorbed and integrated.
Yet, most people are reluctant to ask questions, for a variety of reasons. A common one: they don’t want to appear stupid or draw attention to themselves. Asking a question in front of the whole class is akin to public speaking—and most people fear that worse than death! They’re often concerned about appearing stupid, ignorant, or foolish.
My friend’s experience with in-person classes demonstrates this problem and how it’s even worse with remote learning. In a one-hour in-person class, if the class is very active, she may get a dozen questions. Infrequently, the class engages in a deep conversation. But when she runs the class remotely, she rarely gets any questions whatsoever, and never a deep conversation.
Another example is what happens to her group’s “Zen presentations.” These involve perfectly crafted visuals with no words on them. The pictures have to convey everything the teacher is going to talk about, so the audience can grasp the ideas just by sight. In the presentation, the teacher gives them the words to go with the picture.
Further, the Zen presentations have to have exactly the right pace to be successful—with the teacher conveying casual thoughtfulness and considered responses to the audience. This simply cannot happen through mere audio or even video.
What’s the Relationship?
She’s identified a few of the causes for these problems with remote education:
- There’s a slight time shift, a gap between when she talks and when they hear, causing participants to be unsure of the right time to ask questions; this results in a feeling of formality, making them hesitate to speak up,
- It allows no eye contact, so the participants can’t convey when they might have a question; consequently, the participants don’t know when it is polite to interrupt the speaker,
- The teachers and participants cannot easily share knowledge and interest in the subject, even interest and motivation for the work they are doing together, yet motivation is so important to learning.
As a result, a weak relationship develops between teacher and participants, or participants with each other.
Instead of mutual engagement, learning some new, fascinating information and working well together towards their mutual goals, there is a void, the void of the learning relationship, of the learning and working community in which they should belong.
The importance of the personal relationship becomes very apparent when she compares two different kinds of classes they have at her organization. In one, they learn information and procedures, and rather introverted, scientific and technical types are the participants. They often do this remotely.
But the other kind of class is with extroverted, sociable types who need to work with the engineers, scientists, and technicians. The purpose of the class is to help the more sociable types, administrators and the like, learn how to interact with the technical people. These classes can never be done remotely. There’s simply no way the people can learn what they need except in person.
Maybe When We Have Holodecks?
I think my scientist friend has trenchantly identified some of the basic problems with distance classes of any kind. That doesn’t even address the needs of young people going to college, who are trying to learn not only information but also how to think well and what kind of person they want to become.
However, that’s a discussion for another day, soon.
As far as my friend’s classes, she thinks it would be just as productive to tape her presentations and let participants watch when they like, as to do them remotely.
Alas, until we develop holodecks, those simulated reality rooms in which people meet and interact on “Star Trek,” online education cannot replace the kinds of learning only possible with in-person interaction; the full learning relationship. We’ll talk about that more in the future.
“Joy, feeling ones own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and
capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”
(Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 87)
Do You Love Atlas Shrugged And The Fountainhead? Would you like to Have More of Their Worlds In Your Life?
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