Of TIme and Montessori: Kairos and Chronos
Ritual as a Window into Montessori Practice
Teachers often find it difficult to explain this mysterious characteristic of a Montessori classroom. Freedom of movement does not quite explain it. Nor does freedom of choice. Freedom from time comes close.
The Greeks had a name for it-Kairos-- a quality of time without measure. We all know it. The artist and writer know it. We are baffled by it when we ask, "Where did the time go!" after we lose ourselves in a book or in a labor of love. Kairos time returns us to the young child's time without measure, where freedom of movement and freedom of choice-the time-honored icons of Montessori theory-are not hampered by artificial blocks of time, as in traditional school environments.
Measured time, which the Greeks called Chronos, owes its existence to the invention of the chronometer. Heralding the start ofthe Industrial Revolution, it created "wage slaves," factory workers who lost their freedom to Chronos time. Our western educational system took its cue from the factory model, down to the bell and the whistle, sacrificing freedom of movement and freedom of choice on the altar of the timeclock.
Our current Western attitude regards Kairic-dominated cultures with suspicion, if not derision-Latin, for example, in the chorus: "Manana, manana is good enough for me!" We place a high value on the Chronos time which drives our commercial and economic systems.
Mothers in modern industrialized societies were told to feed their infants by the clock-every 3 hours-and warned that feeding "on demand" would spoil the baby. The chronos, rigid feeding schedule replaced mother's free-flowing kairos breast time with bottle, as the caged crib replaced the gentle rocking cradle. Baby lost freedom of movement and freedom of choice in the prison of chronos.
When one of the participants, a Montessorian from Brazil, offered her observation that "the pedagogy of love" was that link, all of my attraction and perplexity converged into a single cluster of research questions: What is a pedagogy of love? What does it look like? How is it constructed, practiced, and fulfilled?
To answer those questions, I turned to a concept that had already figured prominently in my analysis of teachers and teaching in traditional classrooms ... That concept is ritual. From the precise way a child learns to roll and unroll a mat or the intricate choreography of a lesson in handwashing to the larger ceremonies of the Great Lessons or the Birthday Celebration, ritualized activity is among the most distinctive features of Montessori education. In marking time, shaping space, and communicating values central to the culture, these rituals help define the contours of Montessori practice and, in so doing, they illuminate the complexity as well as the unity of the method. They enable us to "see" the pedagogy of love.