Introduction and Definition of Cosmic Education
Dr. Montessori’s own words best describe the method of education in the elementary which she called the Cosmic Plan. To understand cosmic education one has to know Dr. Montessori’s ideas on educating children in the broad field of ecology. In her day this was a new science, the dangers of pollution prompt modern man to study it more closely. Thus the modern child has a greater need for awareness of his natural world and the role man plays in preserving it or destroying it.
“The Cosmic theory recognizes in all creation a unifying plan upon which depend not only the different forms of living beings, but also the evolution of the earth itself. This idea, although it includes the foundation of evolutionary theory, differs upon the causes and finality of the progressive changes of the species. The progress of life through its struggles is not due to change. Life progresses according to a cosmic plan and the purpose of life is not to achieve perfection along an unlimited line of progress but to exercise influence and achieve a definite aim upon the environment.” 1
In her study of the development of man she identified the key period in which the child seeks to understanding his position in society and the world of nature. During this period an important acquisition of culture and intellectual achievement takes place, and under the right conditions the species as a whole benefits. Together the needs of mankind are met by the children of this era. Upon their healthy growth relies the preservation of Nature and the upliftment of culture. It is then keenly important to expose children of this age to a holistic overview so they might develop their role as a healthy and constructive member of society. This Montessori described as each child’s cosmic task, to fulfill his potential in the work of bettering mankind.
“A cosmic task is that which contributes to keeping nature in a harmonious state of purity. Each kind works for the whole and upon the work of each depends the possibility of life for the whole. These cosmic tasks have been widely distributed among all the behavior which urges it irresistibly to some task which is useful for the community.” 2
Dr. Montessori goes on to say in this lecture that man must have a definite part in this contribution to creation. That this cosmic task must be explored and chosen for each individual of the human species is critical to the survival of life, for humans makes more impact then whole species of other living creatures.
All of nature but man is fulfilling its cosmic task as predetermined by instinct and the natural order. Man alone holds will power and imagination enough to go beyond his natural position and live in a “supernatural” environment completely man-made.
This creates a unique responsibility and opportunity for educators. We must now educate for the human potential. We must provide the conditions under which the child can exercise his free will and gain practice in making choices, which is the process of developing the moral character of the man the child will be. The child’s work is to actualize his social awareness and integrate his full personality. Interests are developed but can not be forced, a genuine model must be put forth without imposing the interests or needs of the adult.
Content of Cosmic Education
“In the universal syllabus of studies to which the new generations must apply themselves, all of the items of culture must be concerned as different aspects of the knowledge of the world and the cosmos. Astronomy, geography, geology, biology, physics, chemistry are all but details of the whole. It is their relationship to one another that urges interest from a centre towards its ramifications. The cosmic construction must be the core of the study of history and sociology. How can we appreciate humanity if we do not consider first all of its merits, its creative efforts, its obedience to cosmic laws that have unconsciously urged society towards an effective union that today unites the whole of humanity in one vital aspect?” 3
It is necessary that the child understands that every man is dependent on others and each must make a contribution to the existence of all. Each individual’s adaptation to society takes the highest form in what special contribution he can make to his fellow man. This is no new idea, for Aristotle challenged his students by telling them that: Where the world’s needs and your talents intersect, there lies your vocation. The special content of cosmic education is the means by which children gain an admiration towards their culture. Our goal is to inspire pride and a sense of privilege in belonging to humanity. This sentiment is aroused in the child by showing him the interrelatedness of all things, especially in the world of man. “No object must be made use of without the thought that some unknown man produced it.” 4
Cosmic Education for the Child 6 to 12 Years of Age
Based on observation and the psychological characteristics of the child from 6 to 12 years old, cosmic education appeals to the curiosity of the child. It stimulates his intellect, and provides a context for socialization and moral development. This method goes beyond the senses and gives aid to the imagination. It is appropriate because the timing is right to meet the insatiable need for knowledge on this plane of development.
By using history as the core of cosmic education, the child sees the unfolding of all life from creation to the modern day. He studies the vastness of space as well as a drop of water, finding his position in it. He travels through time with his imagination and walks the sands of ancient Egypt to the mountains of the moon. He’s there when man discovers fire and rolls the first wheel. He studies current events and compares them. All of which brings an understanding of the great order of nature and ecology.
Order is the Base for Cosmic Education
It is in the awareness and study of the intrinsic order of Nature that the child discovers the harmony of interrelatedness. Cosmic education brings this awareness to the child’s attention. He realizes the universal relationship of all things.
” This is a different approach from the one usually found in schools. The idea, as mentioned above, is to try to awaken the imagination of the child, to give it a vision of the order of things. The inner order of the personality must be constructed through experiences in the structured world. Thus the child must have a coherent picture, on the broadest possible scale, of the ambience in which he is growing. Chaos will never stimulate it to real participation.” 5
Outcome of Cosmic Education
The outcome of cosmic education is the safety that the child finds in the knowledge which helps him adapt to society and find a stable place for his own personality within it. By allowing freedom of activity the child activates his sense of independence to the extent that he can look beyond his own needs and see those of others and the world around him. He ponders the cosmic task of all things with enough imagination to explore his part in the universal order . He discovers that knowledge unlocks the keys to the universe and his mind expands. He learns to respect and admire the achievements of others, both around him and in history. All of this leads to a naturally well developed child attune to his culture and the ecology of life.
“The common intelligence we all share has, for all practical purposes, no limits. Man can go on finding new possibilities forever. It is to this common intelligence, a dynamic communal entity that is created by the individual personalities forming the community, that cosmic education is directed. The progress, or lack of it, of the human community is determined by the concerted efforts of the individuals in it. If we merely add to ad hoc happenings and crises, our progress will be poor and our actions will be shortsighted. If we are inspired by vision and creative imagination, our progress can be great and our actions future oriented. Cosmic education seeks to offer the young, at the appropriate sensitive period, the stimulation and help they need to develop their minds, their vision, and their creative power, whatever the level or range of their personal contributions.” 6
Role of the Adult
The adult acts as a dynamic link between the child and specially designed materials and presentations which provide opportunities for him to explore and order knowledge thereby orienting and adapting his personality to the wider world. By allowing freedom of activity and choice within a balanced curriculum the child gains a vision of the vast scope of human knowledge. The adult must be careful to time and guide her charges with respect to their individual needs and interests.
Mario Montessori Jr. warns that “Generally, in elementary education one finds an endeavor to teach facts as clearly as possible, starting with the most simple and elementary and proceeding to the complex and abstract. The students find this boring and must force themselves to learn by an act of will. To arouse their interest they must first be shown the interrelation of all things in the world- the different aspects of knowledge that can be studied, how they can be studied, how they relate to each other or how they come about.” 6
Our task as teachers is to avoid the pitfall of teaching things, and educate the human potential.
Cosmic Education is a preparation for the individual who must live in society. We must be adapted to live, but this can come without conformity, with freedom to make choices. This is only possible with knowledge, and cosmic education is based on helping children realize their human potential.
“It is then not so important what facts one teaches the student, because very often these facts become obsolete by the time they can be used. It is more important to help him to develop his potentialities so that he can rely on his own ability to cope with the unexpected and solve whatever problems crop up. In other words, he must be helped to be independent in his own world and to develop the vision that will help him as an adult to maintain his environment in such a way that the unending, creative, and gigantic cosmic task of man can continue.” 7
1. Maria Montessori, (1946) Cosmic Education. Lecture at the First All-Indian Montessori Conference in Pilani, India. Published in The Child, Society and the World, Oxford, England: Clio Press, (1989) p 106
2. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 107
3. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 111
4. Maria Montessori, op. cit. p 112
5. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. (1976) Education for Human Development. New York: Schocken. p 103
6. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. op cit. p 106
7. Mario M. Montessori, Jr. op cit.