Montessori, Darwin and Telling The New Story Of Evolution
|Curriculum & Best Practice|
by David Loye
In the beginning there was the Domination System and the Organism. Then the Love System entered life and meaningful Evolution began...
This is the disarming and I hope engaging way my telling of the new story of the new story of evolution begins.
Behind it lies a long unknown connection between the theories of Charles Darwin and Maria Montessori that a startling new reconstruction of Darwin’s theory reveals.
As has long been evident to anyone familiar with standard Darwinism and Montessori their theories as taught throughout the 20th century have been poles apart. Surely nothing could be farther from Montessori’s approach in her original rescuing of Italian slum children than the stereotypical keystone ideas for standard Darwinism of “survival of the fittest” and the supremacy of selfishness, or the idea of “selfish genes” popularized by ostensibly Darwinian sociobiologist Richard Dawkins.
Yet what happens if, at last, we are confronted with the startling but incontestable fact that in The Descent of Man Darwin actually wrote only twice of “survival of the fittest” – once to apologize for actually ever using the term. So what does he write of? 95 times of love! 92 times of moral sensitivity! And 200 times of brain and mind!
Morever, in designating what in contrast to the origin of species advances human evolution, he specifically says natural selection (i.e., survival of the fittest) drops off in importance at our level of emergence and “other agencies” become more important.
And what are these other agencies? Above all, Darwin wrote in hundreds of editions of his book in a majority of the languages of this earth for scientists, educators, and all the rest of us to read – but ignore – for over a century, are “the moral qualities.”
These, Darwin said, are "advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, by our reasoning powers, by instruction, by religion, etc., than through natural selection."
As an educator via classroom but much more so by the books I have written over many years, I personally find this Darwin to be clearly in the tradition articulated by Montessori as well as by Pestalozzi earlier, and by Dewey, Piaget, on up to morally oriented, progressive and holistic educators such as Nel Noddings and Ron Miller in our time.
But while this discovery of the “new” Darwin is startling and encouraging, what we now do with it is a far more important matter. Indeed, it is, I am convinced, a matter bearing on whether our species is to live up to and fulfill its incredible potential, or —as thousands of species have before us and currently — eventually fall by the wayside in evolution.
A vital scientific challenge is to wed the two halves of Darwin’s theory. For that is what now confronts us. On one hand is the vital first half described in Origin of Species for laying a good part of the foundation for evolution. But on the other is the completing half for his theory, this thrilling superstructure in tune with progressive spirituality, progressive philosophy, progressive science, and progressive education over by now thousands of years.
As I develop at length elsewhere, underlying both Darwin and the work and theories of a long stream of great thinkers including cultural evolution theorist Riane Eisler in our time there lies, in basic systems terms, the maturational sequence and interaction of a Domination System and a Love System.
And what is the challenge for education? Most of us have been forced to teach only the destructive Darwinian first half for over a century. But having been unwitting collaborators, what can we do now to make up for this now?
One way is to get behind the effort of the newly formed Darwin Project. With a Council of over 50 American, European, and Asian scientists and educators, our goal is to shift teaching at all levels of education, as well as globally throughout the power of the media, from a disastrous focus solely on Darwin’s first half to the prohuman, prosocial, and clearly progressive emphasis for Darwin’s completion of theory.
Here one of the most effective things the Montessori movement, with its international scope, can help pioneer is the telling of the new story of evolution which weds both halves.
The Great Adventure
The new website for The Darwin Project (www.thedarwinproject.com) outlines the challenge and, in many ways, the prospects for pioneering educators. Specific to the opportunity for the Montessori movement is the “Great Adventure” segment of the website and component “Telling the New Story.”
Going by how Darwin’s perception of the Love System was suppressed for a century, we can begin to see how long it takes to change anything in science if it bumps up against an established paradigm. It is evident then that normally wedding the two halves could take science another century. Going then by how long it takes for what is written in scientific language about anything really new to be translated into and widely published in the everyday language we all use, we may add another fifty years or so. Then of course beyond all that are the schools. Once such a project got this far one must add another forty years or so of committees and school boards to decide whether this odd and controversial new hybrid thing of a theory of human evolution involving so subversive a matter as love, as well as the more serviceable matter of domination, is suitable for the instruction of the young. Then one must add another thirty years for consultants to assess and parcel it out by grade levels for the curricula.
As it is evident we no longer have a century to waste in this way— indeed quite possibly less than a decade—I have gone ahead and wedded the two halves into what, out of now many years involvement in evolution theory and education, into what I believe is as close as presently possible to the full and true story of human evolution.
The aim is to provide teachers with a story line that can be adapted for use anywhere along the line for K-12 into college and graduate studies. The idea is not to set this forth as some inviolable and forever enduring integration of theory and story, but just to get the full story down in one place and for a teacher to read, and think about, and then rework to present at one’s particular grade level.
One would start with the easiest part for the earliest level, then work up by stages, so that by the time students reach college they would possess the whole story and theory from which to launch out on their own.
What follows here is a sampler for the opening of what in its entirety will be available for free downloading from the Darwin Project website by the time this article is published. As you read, please keep in mind this is not the actual telling of the story, which is up to you, but merely the meta-story, or story line for individual shaping.
Telling the New Story
In the beginning there was the Domination System and the Organism. Then the Love System entered life and meaningful Evolution began...
A good place to start is to think of what was mostly taught and thought for a whole century to be the whole picture for the Darwinian theory and story of evolution, then ask ourselves what is the story that now emerges from a melding of the old with the new.
If we look at both Origin and Descent carefully in relation to one another, and also at precisely when they emerged within the pattern of Darwin’s creative life, it is evident we are looking at a perspective on human evolution based on his perception of three primary entities, forces, or—in the most useful term we use in science today— systems at work in the lives of our species over thousands of years.
Out of the creativity of the middle years of his great fame and immense impact on the lives of all of us, there is the Domination System he wrote of in The Origin of Species.
Out of the creativity of his early and final years— as will be detailed in Darwin’s Unfolding Revolution, the key book for this website section also to be available for download— there is the Love System he writes of in The Descent of Man.
And then there is the third, most vital part of all, the major player in this drama on which he actually focused from beginning to end, but which again was very close to also being ignored: the Organism.
There is this life form for every living thing, plant or animal, from the earliest point in the emergence of life on this earth, to all creatures living today from the smallest to the largest.
There is this life form that includes ourselves, as the species with the most advanced brains and greatest capacity to change things around on this earth— therefore the species not only with a clear evolutionary responsibility for the well being of all other life forms as well as for the earth itself, but also the only species capable of recognizing and acting on this responsibility.
This puts the weight on us to approach the question of how we are to tell the new story as more than a matter of entertainment, or of only trying to get the science right. It says squarely—to repeat what certainly bears repeating, as it is all too easy to flinch and turn away—that it is up to us to get clear on this story as a bedrock matter of species survival. And then as parents, teachers, writers, activists, as well as scientists and other scholars concerned about gaining the better life for us all, to as widely and as quickly as possible start telling this story to try to save us from ourselves by speeding up the process of our evolution.
Here we see a basic sketch for the three primary systems I touched on in the two stage-setting lines which head and open our story, to which I will refer to as we move along.
Here is the fiercely self-protective “closed mind” of the Domination System in contrast with the still formative and venturing “open mind” of the Love System—and the wiggly lines of their differing impact on us, as well as the wiggly lines of our impact (or lack of impact) back on them.
I have purposely left this and all successor sketches in their squiggly homespun “natural state,” just as I drew them, in order to give the flavor of something drawn quickly on a blackboard.
My goal is to encourage the teller of the new story to, as much as possible, use the quick, hand drawn pictures many of us naturally resort to.
There is something about how the fact of a hand moving in tandem with a mind can engage others better than the best of professional drawings or slides, which risk the sterile “uptown” polish that signals to some readers “this is dead, finished and 7 intimidating, so skip on.”
The Domination System, the Love System, and the Organism
But one must be careful here. The true story of human evolution—that is, of the evolution of all species up to, reflected within, and including ourselves—does not begin with abstractions such as these or any others at this level of thinking.
Nor does it begin, as in the old theory and the old story, with the grim, foreboding weight of Natural Selection as this large mysterious force external to ourselves.
Why was this the ominous emphasis for the old story? Within this new approach to telling the new story an important reason could be what comes to mind if we look at ourselves in relation to all other life on this planet, over the 100,000 years of our rise as the species homo sapiens sapiens. It would seem that because of our situation on this earth as the chief thinking representative for all other organisms, in the way the mind works, inevitably we were driven to seek large, mysterious ideas to account for the haunting mystery of where we came from, who we really are, and where we may be going.
This certainly seems to be why for centuries before Darwin this space in mind was filled with either the fearful or the comforting idea of God. But with the success of Darwin’s Origin of Species— as scores of ministers discerned and decried at the time—the idea of Natural Selection began to shove God out of that place for the Big Answer.
In further looking at our situation over the past century from the perspective of systems psychology, I am convinced that within the unconscious of the Western educated man and woman the hole in mind this displacement left behind came to be filled with two kinds of patterns for thought that have worked against us.
One is what I identify in the article “Montessori, Darwin, and Human Evolution” in Montessori Leadership as the “bog holes” of PseudoDarwinian Mind—i.e., the powerfully compelling but distorted partial reading of reality rising from Origin of Species or “first-half” Darwinism, such as the governing idea that as all life involves “the war of all against all” or “survival of the fittest.”
This is a complicated matter that many teachers will not want to fool with, nor will most students short of college and graduate school be equipped to deal with it. So I leave it to others to figure out where and how to best fit in this vital aspect of underlying systems dynamics and what can become the stranglehold of paradigm on our minds. This leaves us with the question of what to do with first half Darwinian science’s nightmare creation of Natural Selection as the main or even sole over-riding explanation for evolution.
The history of many centuries and the psychology of the last few has repeatedly shown us that whatever we may find or teach is in the end a small chink of knowledge tossed into the vast boiling pot of much else working within and shaping the minds of our time. So it was I believe that during the 20 th century within the unconscious of the nonscientist as first child, then adult, there also came to exist within the hole for the Big Answer an unsettling picture linked to the powerfully enduring image of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster from earlier.
Here we see Natural Selection as this giant invisible force that strides among us, occasionally reaching down to pick and choose and gobble us up as though we are no more than the food that it may arbitrarily eat now, or let us go for later, as though saving us for desert.
This, I suggest, is a sketch for the psychic bugaboo of Natural Selection in pursuit of Variation that operates today in unconscious mind of millions of us.
It is obviously the connection with no place in the education of the child, which for many vital reasons must be sheltered and protected as long as possible. But by the time the late teen-ager is beginning to contemplate the responsibilities of adulthood, it can become meaningful to that cohort of the particularly bright, caring and courageous upon whom the better future for our species depends.
For then it can become crucial they understand how this gift of misguided modern science came to reinforce the dark earlier gift of regressive religion in the abysmal figure of a vicious deity who must be placated with blood sacrifice—which drives the terrorists and more generally still exists in the unconscious of other millions of us on this planet.
Important this fledgling leadership cohort understand, yes. But most important they are encouraged by the great teacher to go on beyond understand to decide what they personally are going to do about it. . .
And so the new story goes on our website: on and on through first half and second half with my sketches and guesses as to what parts could be best to bring in early in a child’s education, and where it’s best to wait until later, on into graduate school.
As one can see from this sample, this is an idea in much need of thinking through for presentation from the Montessori perspective.
I hope this is enough to encourage creative Montessorians to pursue this new telling of the story of human evolution by going to our Darwin Project website (www.thedarwinproject.com) and downloading the rest of the story, or rather, the story line, and going to work on it.
I hope, too, I have begun to convey how extremely important this pioneering contribution by Montessorians could be to the advance toward the better world that the first woman in Italy to gain her medical degree set in motion, really not so long ago as evolution goes.
Last Updated (Thursday, 16 July 2009 02:02)