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Montessori, Waldorf and alternative pedagogies

2022-09-18 | Critique of ideology
Montessori, Waldorf and alternative pedagogies

In Spain, Montessori schools are growing like never before and the toy industry finds in the method a new mine. In France, so far this year, 142 non-subsidized schools have been created, including 46 Montessori and 3 Waldorf. In addition, there are 5 "democratic" schools - that is, schools where the pupils control their learning - and 96 "alternative" schools: replicas with more or less variations of Montessori and Waldorf principles. The numbers are almost 80% higher than in the previous year. This is not an exclusively European phenomenon. The USA already experienced a boom of "alternative pedagogy" before the pandemic and everything points to the fact that it is now doubling, as in the EU.

It is clearly a movement of the petty bourgeoisie, but the size of the demand is still surprising because we are not exactly talking about free services. In France, tuition at an alternative center does not go below €6,500 per year. In large US cities such as Boston, annual tuition for a Montessori day care center can cost more than $30,000 per year. And if we take a look online at the accessories and toys for household use we will see that they are not cheap either. The price ranges from 68€ for a Waldorf rainbow to 250€ for classic Montessori slides for the nursery.

Are these methods really that great for child development? Have the classes with higher incomes discovered a revolutionary pedagogy and organized a private system to provide it for their own children, while leaving the rest of the children out in the cold? In reality, neither Montessori nor Waldorf are anything new. That is why we can trace the reasons for their present growth to their original alignments, values and contexts.

The hidden history of Montessori

María Montessori

María Montessori in class

Montessori was born in the same intellectual environment and with the same objectives as Italian Futurism. The constant affirmation of the individuality and originality of the child, the individualistic essentialism of the philosophy of the creator for whom the child is the teacher and teaching discovers but does not implant, could not but converge with the logic of the Futurists.

This also applies to the Montessori conception of the machine and its relationship with toys. For Montessori the toy is a machine on which, under the supervision of the teacher, the child works on his own learning. It is not surprising that the first futurist text on childhood, Ricostruzione futurista dell'universo, drew more from Maria Montessori than from Marinetti and served as a prologue to the first futurist production of objects: toys/machine for the method.

For this same reason, neither does the connection of the founder herself and her first schools with fascism and its main leader, Mussolini, come as a surprise. Nowadays this connection is either hidden or represented as an accident, by making it seem as though the founder was only instrumentally related to the Italian fascist regime. That is, that making it seem as though she merely accepted, upon her return to Italy in 1926, membership in the fascist party.

But even if we leave Maria Montessori's rapturous correspondence to Mussolini aside, and close our eyes to the role that the Montessori schools placed in enforcing racial purity laws, there is one indisputable fact: the system and its schools were originally the "National Montessori Works", i.e. they took the institutional form characteristic of the fascist state at the express will of the dictator, who complied with Maria Montessori's entreatries by bringing her back to Italy and converting her project into one of the emblems of the regime.

That is, the question is not so much whether Mrs. Montessori was a fascist, which she was, but why the educational reform that she proposed - and that today her contemporary followers carry out in their private schools - was considered by Mussolini himself as the most fascist of the reforms that his regime proposed.

A clue is provided by the first president and enthusiast of the Opera Montessori: Giovanni Gentile, Minister of Education and first sword of the regime's intelligentsia. Gentile, like the Futurists, believed in what was then called elitism, that is, in the existence of natural, original and unique leaders, the best as opposed to the masses and the mediocrity that industrial society multiplied. These noble aristocrats of character and action would come to be discovered, by the Montessorian method. Maria Montessori always shared this perspective.

For this reason, in 1929, the State created the Real School of the Montessori Method and entrusted her with "the organization and management of this important school, from which the teachers destined to spread the Method in Italy should emerge". Fascism saw in the new pedagogy the way to consolidate, by training and selection of character and ability, the natural leaders of the petty bourgeoisie almost from the cradle as the ruling class of the nation. It is the old dream of reconstitution of the nation from the patriotic leadership of the petty bourgeoisie over the oppressed classes, that is, the people. It is the discourse which is the essence of petty-bourgeois revolutionarism whose expression in decadent capitalism is precisely fascism.

When Gentile was replaced by Bodrero at the head of the Ministry of Education and the Obra Nazionale Montessori, the typical cat fight between bureaucratic factions typical of any fascist organization began between Maria Montessori and the new minister. It will end in defeat, with the departure of the pedagogue from the country in protest against the marginalization of her favorites. The little battle, in reality banal, is precipitated after Montessori's speech before the League of Nations in 1934. It is a speech that Bodrero later used in order to attack the author as a pacifist.

Bodrero's reproach was not relevant in itself, it was a pure ideological cover for a power struggle in which it was convenient at a given moment to erode the untainted fascist profile of the rival. It is furthermore precisely for that reason that it is particularly interesting from our point of view. Because ridiculously, Bodrero can only find one doctrinal impurity: the enunciation of a distant harmonist-pacifist utopia that would one day be reached through education in the method at a time when Italy was preparing itself and its population for the conquest of the colonies that had been denied to it until then.

Precisely in that discourse the Montessorian harmonist utopia is explicitly constructed from the affirmation of the Nietzschean elitism so dear to all fascism. The extension of the method would end up producing, according to the author, the appearance of...

A better type of man, a man endowed with superior characteristics that make him appear to belong to a new race: the superman of whom Nietzsche had a brilliant presentiment.

The occultist background of Waldorf


If the Montessori method was born in the boiling flask of the Italian petty bourgeoisie from which Futurism and Fascism would emerge, the Waldorf method, and in general the thought of Rudolf Steiner, would be born from the mystical-occultist cauldron of the German petty bourgeoisie in which the naturalistic mysticism of Nazism would be engendered.

The historian George L. Mosse, related very well how theosophical circles and doctrine gave shape decades before Hitler's rise to power to some of the most characteristic delusions of Nazi ideology. In this spiritualist and pedantic world, Steiner will not be a minor figure. Incorporated into the Theosophical Society since 1902, Steiner, who became one of its best known spokesmen, would organize its most resounding split: Anthroposophy.

The original causes of the split remain significant.

The founder of Theosophy, Helena Blavatsky, theorized the esoteric concept of root races, an obsolete and problematic idea proposing that the evolution of races takes place through several cycles, concluding with the birth of the Aryan race, which Blavatsky believed to be the last and most important.

Blavatsky also taught that the extinction of indigenous peoples by European colonialism was a matter of "karmic necessity." Theosophy claimed to have been the result of the teachings of a coterie of otherworldly beings secretly directing human events; Blavatsky claimed to be interpreting these teachings to her followers as special divine wisdom, which Steiner, who quickly rose through the ranks of Theosophy, would transform into anthroposophy.

Steiner devoted ten years of his life to theosophy, becoming one of its best-known spokesmen. However, after being unwilling to accept a brown-skinned Hindu man as the next theosophical "spiritual teacher," Steiner broke ranks. Even as a young man, what had separated Steiner from Blavatsky and the other Indian-oriented theosophists was his insistence on the superiority of European esoteric traditions and distinctive ethnocentrism, an idea that would become central to anthroposophy.

Anthroposophy and all its products - biodynamic agriculture, Weleda cosmetics and homeopathy, etc. - mix spiritual racism, karmic obsession and superstition in a variegated way... but always discreet and camouflaged from the outside. Especially in its two flagships: the Waldorf schools - which are actually called Waldorf-Steiner - and the ethical Triodos bank, dedicated to financing the expansion of related businesses, primarily run by members of the Steinerian organization.

Thus, German public opinion discovered during the Covid pandemic a large pool of petty bourgeoisie refusing to vaccinate themselves or their children because Steiner preached that vaccines can negatively affect your reincarnation.

Likewise hundreds of parents whose children have been victims of bullying and abuse in Waldorf schools would discover that this was a problem endemic to the Steinerian method because the schools, in the end, must respect the karma of the bullied child, i.e., not prevent their suffering in order for them to purge previous lives. Interestingly then, many of them go on to understand that Waldorf technophobia has no real pedagogical basis, but with the Steinerian idea that demons live in electricity and can possess children who operate with it.

Steiner died in 1925, but his organization continued to this day to uphold the idea of progressive reincarnation through races, that there are karmic drawbacks of vaccination, and that electricity poses a demonic danger to children. All of this is accompanied by its relationship with Nazism. It is a relationship that has been exhaustively documented by historians. They point out....

...the remarkable level of Nazi support for Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture and other anthroposophical initiatives, even as Nazi officials attempted to suppress occult tendencies.

And once again the question is not whether the Waldorf method is Nazi but what exactly did Nazism see in Waldorf pedagogy. Why did it nurture it and even try to distance it from the occult superstitions of its creator -something impossible, and never desired by anthroposophists?

And the answer is the same as with Montessori: to find and configure as the ruling class of the regime the children - for the Steinerians, karmically predestined - to lead the Nazi dream of a patriotic dictatorship of the petty bourgeoisie.

What lies beneath the alternative pedagogies?

Waldorf school

Waldorf schools

As we have seen, Futurism, Fascism and the Montessori method are three siblings of the same mother, the Italian revolutionary and nationalist petty bourgeoisie which tries to leap over the bourgeoisie and its values (which they cannot but reproduce parodically or tragically) to become an impossible ruling class substitute for the bourgeoisie. And if we add a few tons of mystical superstition, the Waldorf method represents the same thing in the intellectually backward world of the German petty bourgeoisie at the turn of the century.

Both pedagogical methods express the petty bourgeoisie's eagerness to constitute itself as the leading class of society while at the same time emphasizing what they believe distinguishes them from both the bourgeoisie and the workers. The result is a mixture of late and decadent romanticism (the exaltation of the child's originality and extreme individuality), essentialist identitarianism and inevitable class hypocrisy.

In the light of both, it is worth analyzing the educationalism of the pedagogical movements of the sixties onwards. Practically all of them present, from pedagogies inspired by these two original models, the idea that alternative education will form a generation that will turn social change into a sort of children's messianism.

This children's messianism connects and revives the other current of the base of the petty bourgeoisie of the years in which fascism was gestated: juvenalism, which now also revives under the banner of catastrophist environmentalism.

Add all of the above and we have a good portrait of the driving forces behind the discourses that present alternative pedagogies as a way to achieve the full development of children without the need to change the social relations that surround them. The petty bourgeoisie distinguish themselves and ideologically exacerbate the effects of the growing income gap that separates them from the workers. They thus affirm their will to dominate and their utopian-reactionary dreams of becoming the ruling class, that is, of taking in their hands the reins and the profits of our exploitation.