If there is one time in life when all men have the same ideas, when they all speak the same language, it is the time of birth. No matter to what race they belong, in which part of the world they are born, newborns are all alike. If we wish to achieve peace and mutual understanding, we must start at the moment of birth, the moment when all men are alike.
(Maria Montessori – The 1946 London Lectures)
Montessori, in all her writings, speaks at length about heredity and adaptation. Heredity being the characteristics that all living creatures bring into the world with them at birth, and adaptation being those powers that certain living creatures have to not only adapt to the world, but also to impact on and evolve the world.
Unlike other animals, human babies are born into the world incomplete.
Like all other animals, however, human babies are born into the world equal.
At birth, all human babies have the same potential and the same opportunities. We are unable to walk, but we have the potential for movement. We are unable to talk, but we have the potential for language and communication. We even have the potential for all speech sounds, in every language. We are unable to formulate cognitive thought, but we have the potential of immense intellect and imagination. We are unable to act on the world, yet we have the potential to change it.
At birth we are all the same.
We are born ‘inert, unintelligent, and unsympathetic’ (Montessori, 2012), in order that we may adapt to our time, our place and our culture. So that we may continue to evolve ourselves, and the world we live in. By virtue of this, however, we are born to the mercies of the people and the environments that host our entry into the world.
At birth we are the same, we have an inherent equal potential to develop.
Depending however on where, and to whom we are born, we face either using or losing our equality through no fault of our own.
Consider what Montessori said in 1946 about the child:
In the past everything was done for the adult. All the works of civilisation were done for and by the adult. Therefore, the child remained outside of society; he was not considered to be a citizen. The laws of social justice did not consider the child. Democracy, the democracy for which we have fought yet another war, the democracy which governs the world, does not exist for the child. Have you ever heard anyone say – in any part of the world – that the child must benefit from this democracy, from this justice? Civilisation is made for the adult. When social groups fight, when wars are won, people speak of rights – the rights of men, better conditions, a better life – but it is a better life for the adult they speak of, not a better life for the child. No thought was ever given to the child.
How sad is the state of our world that very little has changed for the child since 1946?
The world as we know it is governed by adults who by virtue of their own lives and years of constructing their own personalities have become the men or women they are today. So, if we are to change society, and if we are to harness the power of equality that we come into the world with, we need to work to change the world through the child.
If we touch children, we touch humanity. We must educate adults to realise that we can only better humanity through the child . We must realise that the child is the builder of the man.
On Human Rights Day, please join us in giving thought to Montessori’s words above, and to making a difference, no matter how small, to the equal human rights of children.
– Susanne van Niekerk –
Montessori, M. (2012) The 1946 London Lectures Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company