The splendid buildings of Corvinus University sit on the banks of the Danube, on the Pest side of the river in Budapest, Hungary. This was the setting for the XIV Montessori Europe Congress on the topic of “Authentic Montessori?” The congress was preceded, on the morning of Friday 18th October, by arranged school visits. Many delegates were able to visit Montessori nurseries or schools, but some were disappointed as they had been allocated visits to other settings. The opening ceremony was addressed by Gudula Meisterjahn-Knebel, the president of Montessori Europe, and by Mariann Stefel, the chair of the Hungarian Montessori Association. Children from local schools performed some traditional melodies and songs and then the first keynote presentation was given by Dr Ralf Girg, the academic director of school research at the University of Regensberg, Germany.
Dr Girg’s interests lie in the integration of Eastern and Western pedagogical perspectives and he is currently directing the multi-national Flexible Learning in Europe (FLEUR) project. He suggested that there are eight essentials for Montessori pedagogy to be co-creative and authentic:
I. Being deeply touched by our pedagogical actions
II. The ability to tell stories about the development of personality and growing identity
III. Children going beyond limits into new and wider horizons
IV. Children learning the interconnectedness of the cosmos (“We must not reduce pedagogy to school materials”)
V. We are schooling and deschooling at the same time (i.e. learning is life.)
VI. Respect for the universal, unique personality
VII. Knowing that love is the inner source of the child and the strongest energy of life
- Challenging the creativity of the ‘new teacher’ (“You can do nothing for me directly.”)
Dr Girg closed his presentation by stressing that he saw authenticity as the teacher working out their own cosmic tasks. His presentation gave us a very different view of Montessori authenticity, from outside the movement. There were some good points made though.
The opening session was followed by a meeting of the National Organisation Council of Montessori Europe (NOCME), a forum for the co-operation of national Montessori bodies to work together. Further details of NOCME’s current project can be found on the website https://www.montessori-europe.com/node/306. In the early evening a reception was held for delegates in the University auditorium; an opportunity to meet up with old friends again and to network.
The first keynote presentation on Saturday morning was by Dr Michael Dorer of Westminster College, Utah, USA. He addressed the central question as to how far we can adapt the Montessori method. What can we add? What can we discard and will it still be Montessori? Dr Dorer’s talk was entitled ‘Montessori Authenticity – the Jenga Paradigm’ and he used Jenga blocks inscribed with various key Montessori features to illustrate how the internal strength of the Montessori approach renders small modifications almost invisible, but it is a slippery slope that eventually leads to disaster.
Dr Vilmos Vass, associate professor of Educational Science at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, was the next keynote speaker. He opened his talk with a video clip of Mozart composing, from the film ‘Amadeus’, and drew a ‘magic triangle’ of Learning, Creativity and Movement, proposing three questions we should ask ourselves:
- What am I learning?
- Why am I learning it?
- How will I use it?
He went on to discuss how self-construction was central to creativity, citing a number of studies. Dr Vass closed his presentation with a playing of the Antwerp train station dance clip from Youtube. His was an entertaining presentation.
After coffee, Dr Sjoerd Karsten, Professor of Policy and Organisation of Vocational Education, Adult Education and Life long Learning at the University of Amsterdam, gave a presentation entitled ‘Making the Value of Montessori more Visible.’ He discussed some studies which indicated that Dutch Montessori schools were not so distinctive from many progressive free schools in terms of the emphasis on non-cognitive skills, the stress on autonomy leading to critical analysis and free will and the collaborative work leading to social responsibility. He noted that a lot of Montessori outcome research was flawed (with the honourable exception of Lillard’s study) and he described some ongoing research at Amsterdam University. We need to do much more to make Montessori more visible.
After lunch in the University restaurant, Montessori Europe held its Annual General Meeting. Two of the board had retired and their successors, Monica Salasa and Kevin Healy were voted in and welcomed. There was then a choice of some 21 workshops, in English, German or Hungarian, on a variety of topics, including ‘Moments of Silence’, ‘Monte-something?’, ‘The Observation Dilemma’ and others, delegates having the possibility of attending 2 workshops each. John Clarkson, the director of MAEL, led 2 workshops on the current research into the different types of Montessori school, and the significance of that. An evening reception was held later in the traditional Kaltenberg restaurant nearby.
Sunday opened with the annual meetings of the three ongoing development groups (on policy, teacher training and schools) and also the Montessori Research Network (MoRe). The Declaration of Budapest was then read out and signed by all delegates and then Dr Wassilios Fthenakis, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Anthropology at the Free University of Bolzano, gave a keynote described as an introductory presentation, in which he proposed that we needed to think in terms of 5 visions expressed through 4 sets of competencies. This talk was less than inspiring and his ideas were critiqued in a panel forum, led by Michael Rubinstein from the Netherlands and comprising all the keynote speakers together with the president of ME.
The closing ceremony followed, with thanks to all concerned, especially to the chair of the Hungarian Montessori Association. Several pieces of Montessori equipment were raffled, the date of the next congress, 10th-12th October 2014 in Lund, Sweden, was announced and all were invited to attend. Finally a troupe of traditional dancers gave a stirring performance of a number of folk dances from Hungary.