Three of my children are now parents, and they are to varying degrees intrigued with the Montessori philosophy of child rearing. While I didn’t have the patience (or bandwidth!) to research and implement it when we began our family, I commend them for looking into a method so highly esteemed. As a doting granny I can now appreciate what it provides to little ones beginning their lives of discovery, and as a Catholic I see tremendous wisdom at the heart of the construct.
A key to the methodology is “freedom of choice,” which contrary to appearances doesn’t give the child total independence in exercising his will. Rather, it orchestrates his freedom of movement within a carefully circumscribed environment, so that his options are worthy of consideration. It begins with simple things: Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt, eat cereal or yogurt, or read or play in the sandbox? Thus, when the child enters the classroom he is somewhat familiar with his own agency, and can move at his own pace from math manipulatives in one corner of the room to mapping exercises in another. Eventually, as child-initiated projects mesh with instructor-initiated outlines, the scope of his education reflects a healthy philosophy permeated with a sense of order, and a rich camaraderie has been brewing among students of all ages.
This education construct came to mind as so many of us (with moist eyes!) absorbed the news that the horror of Roe was finally behind us. While it’s certainly not the end of abortion in our lifetime, nor is it yet, in the words of ex-Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, “unthinkable,” the Dobbs opinion will make abortion considerably less available as an option to an unwanted pregnancy, especially in the states that have legislation in place to protect the unborn.
To revisit Maria Montessori’s construct, the larger environment in which we all live has been recalibrated. We have before us an opportunity to propose freedom of choice in its proper sense: the ability to consider ethical choices and to choose that which best serves the common good — the mother, the father, the child, and the community. In a joint statement, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore commended the decades of hard work by Pro-Life advocates that included prayer, sacrifice, and advocacy on behalf of the truth about the rights of the unborn. They noted that they have “worked together peacefully to educate and persuade their neighbors about the injustice of abortion, to offer care and counseling to women, and to work for alternatives to abortion, including adoption, foster care, and public policies that truly support families.”
From the simplicity of the classroom to the complexity of the public square, the same principle remains in place. Choices are still available, but only those which will truly allow nascent life to flourish. As the “Catechism” teaches, “There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’” (CCC, 1733, referencing Romans 6:17). Admittedly there is widespread confusion about the nature of freedom, and when a nation founded on such a premise goes astray, the weakest will bear the brunt until we achieve the essential course correction — or perish! Sacred Scripture is clear on this point.
While the Dobbs decision protects some of the innocent, we now must do what we can to guard the rest. Forbearance in the face of demonic fury is key, as we show that we want all people to come to know the God whose image they bear. Freeing those who are immersed in lies has long been our task, and it must continue. Ultimately, to reduce us all to wayward children struggling against the parameters of a healthy philosophy isn’t out of order, for what Maria Montessori prescribed for the classroom is a perfect microcosm of God’s loving order.
Anchor columnist Genevieve Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius. typepad.com.