Sunday, August 12, 2007

doctrines we have known and not loved

I took some psychology classes in college, and I couldn't believe the absurdity of much of it, Freud in particular. (Penis envy, what a larf! I do think it would be lovely to pee standing up with out having to squat and worry about peeing on my shoes, but that's the end of it. I can remember seeing my first penis as a child, and rather than becoming consumed with envy, I recoiled with disgust at the wormy, snakelike object. "Eww!" My own body seemed so much superior and tidy).

Every now and then I am amazed by people who accept psychological theory as gospel. (I should clarify that I'm not claiming all psychology is ridiculous; I certainly do not mean to disparage "talk therapy" or group therapy, which obviously help so many people. I'm just dissing the more outre beliefs).

As an urban mommy, I'm certainly exposed to so many people who speak the word "Montessori" with such reverence, but after I read Dr. Maria Montessori's book, "The Montessori Method", I was not enthralled. My theory is there would not be such a fetish for Montessori schools and methods if the founder had been named Lipschitz or Snodgrass. Montessori, oh how it trips off the tongue.

Dr. Montessori's ideas did splendidly with her charges, poor orphans in wartorn Italy, but in my opinion, some of these ideas don't translate well to the modern day. (N.B.: I'm sure there are wonderful Montessori schools with delightful teachers where the children revel; my point is just that some of her ideas strike me as wacky and I find it annoying that people speak her name in such reverence while often being unacquainted with the actual philosophy). For example, Dr. Montessori felt that the best way to teach children about measuring was to weigh them every single day and have them record their weights on charts to be posted publicly. I'm terrified by the idea of my daughters developing an eating disorder, and the idea of getting a child so focused on her weight disturbs me (I wonder if anyone actually follows this stricture of Dr. Montessori's nowadays. A lot of Montessori schools vie for authenticity and for being most in the original spirit, so perhaps some do).

Constantly weighing children in a public way seems wrongheaded, but not wacky like some psychiatric concepts. The Sober Husband's father was a Freudian psychiatrist, and he had at least one extremely wacky idea (his most famous work involved giving LSD to dying people, which seemed to both cheer them up and effectively prepare them for death, and you won't find me dissing that). The idea the SH's husband had which I will diss is that there would be no sibling rivalry if everyone knew their place in the family. The father was the final authority and most important member, and his word was law. Next came the Eldest Son (the Sober Husband won this roll of the genetic dice, lucky for him). When the father wasn't about, the Eldest Son/Sober Husband was the next authority figure. The big loser in all of this was my brother-in-law, just a year younger than the Sober Husband. In any disagreement, big or little, the parents always automatically took the Sober Husband's side. "He's your older brother; you have to do as he says", they would say to my poor brother-in-law (as a youngest child, I automatically feel the pain of my poor brother-in-law). My deceased father-in-law felt that this would preclude any sibling rivalry, and my mother-in-law went along with it. It never bothered her to constantly quash my brother-in-law, but it did bother her once she had her first daughter, who as a girl was automatically a lower class than her brothers. Of course, far from quashing sibling rivalry, it gave my poor brother-in-law a lot of legitimate room for resentment of his older brother.

I asked my mother-in-law about all of this once, and she didn't have much to say. "He said it was Freudian, so I accepted it, but later I read Freud, and I didn't see it in there." My husband, the golden Eldest Son, felt it was all gravy for him, but as a parent, he would never impose this system on our children.

This weekend I read a fascinating memoir, Stephen Eliot's "Not the Thing I Was", which retells Eliot's childhood locked up at famed Freudian Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, a sort of asylum for insane children based at the University of Chicago. This book was fascinating in many ways. Like the author, I do not wish to dismiss Dr. Bettelheim's work as a whole, he obviously helped a lot of people, BUT some of his ideas were obviously crazy but nonetheless were treated as gospel by his staff and devotees. The one which stands out the most as insane is Dr. B's rule outlawing deodorant. Dr. B. felt that giving his adolescent charges permission to use deodorant would symbolize that his staff felt his young patients smelled bad, and therefore because it was important for the staff to be loving and accepting, they had to forbid deodorants. The author went to some trouble as a 17 year-old boy to smuggle in and hide a contraband deodorant when he was granted permission to leave the asylum to attend high school.

This really seems to say it all. There is a reality, which is that hormonal teenagers sweat and have a natural tendency to smell bad, but that reality has to be ignored for the sake of theory. Hold your nose and keep parroting doctrine!

15 comments:

hughman said...

having been through several courses of therapy myself, i don't think it's all easily catigorized. mine have neither been Freaudian or otherwise. but maybe that's just me. i've been careful about who i've hired and have had 2 great therapists. i owe much to both of them. i'm still a fucking mess but it has nothing to do with them.

Silliyak said...

My theory involves some family somewhere that is well adjusted, but feels so out of place and different that they are uncomfortable anyway. Growing up with a mentally ill parent I always envied the family's in the early reading books (The Greens and the Whites?) who seemed so content and happy.
H, we're all bozo's on this bus. Ain't it grand?

the Drunken Housewife said...

I only want to diss the crazy stuff here, not the sensible stuff which is so helpful to everyone.

So much evidence is coming out now showing the biological foundation for mental illnesses, and I think the interplay between brain and mind is fascinating.

hokgardner said...

We have a friend who raved about her children's Montessori school and repeatedly dissed our friendly little co-op nursery school. I pondered actually listening to her advice and checking out her school until she informed me that parents are never allowed to visit the children during the school day because it interupts the flow of learning. As if I'd send my preschooler someplace where I wasn't allowed to visit! I decided there and then I didn't need to look for a school that had any sort of philosophy other than loving the kids and letting them play.

Epiphany said...

My mother, who is a child psychologist and professor of child development, uses the Reggio Emilia method at her school:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Emilia_approach

Several of the leaders from Reggio Emilia are coming to her school next week to work with my mom's preschool, and they are also planning to send many of the teachers to Italy to study there as well. I know they've gotten some really good results with this method.

the Drunken Housewife said...

hokgardener, I'm with you... AND there's increasing amounts of research showing that Just Plain Play is incredibly important in a child's social, intellectual, emotional and physical growth. My girls have gone to co-op preschools where the whole point was to just plain play (and while playing, learn to interact with other kids and grown-ups).

the Drunken Housewife said...

'Piph, I left out Reggio-Emilia because I have no diss with it. (In fact, when Montessori adherents -- who invariably have never read Dr. M) start going on about Montessori, I say politely, "I'm more of a fan of the Reggio-Emilia school."). My understanding of Reggio-Emilia is that it's play-centered and about an emergent curriculum, meaning that you watch what the kids are drawn to doing and then you help them explore their interests. What's not to love about that?

Epiphany said...

If for some reason you find yourself in the Reno airport soon, check out the photography exhibit that the preschoolers did! First, they lookeda at various pictures, and critiqued them. Then they were given a camera, and allowed to only take five pictures. In the process, they learned about things like composition and contrast. They had some really beautiful photographs!

Chaos Control said...

My child attends Montessori pre-school - and what I've learned, sadly, is that no two Montessori schools are alike. The Montessori way of teaching has evolved over time - as have the methods of teaching - but the idea remains the same in that children learn through discovery.

Our school does, in fact, encourage kids to pick whatever activity (art, blocks, books, etc) to play with and then works with them to explore those interests. And they have lots and lots of play time where they just run around outside playing with water, on the swings, in the garden, etc.

My kid has learned about weights without ever weighing himself.

I can - and do - drop by the school any time I want. Announced or unannounced. And I can stay all day, if I want. It's encouraged.

I'm not one of those people who would ever dare to suggest that my child is getting a better pre-school education than anyone elses - Montessori or not. It works fabulously for me and my family.

I know your post was not simply about the subject of Montessori teachings, but I felt compelled to share my experience with it - for whatever that's worth!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Chaos Control, thank you for sharing the good things about your preschool without getting defensive. I appreciate it. I don't mean to attack all Montessori schools en masse; I'm just picking on a few oddball beliefs and on the habit some people have of adopting a belief system without questioning the odder aspects of it.

Melissa said...

No deoderant! Clearly the insane were running the asylum--There was one girl (16) at the two-week ballet workshop who eschewed deoderant (and also, frequent showers.) New kid. The 20 minute ride to and from was filled with discussions of this (one day my daughter came home physically ill from being near her) and strategies to change her, etc. I finally went to the director, who of course made one of those group announcements that only succeeds in reaching the paranoid and insecure ones, not the truly stinky.

The thought of doing that on purpose would send my daughter into a horror movie scream fit.

Eileen said...

Forgot to mention that the Dr. in Dr. Montessori is an MD not a Ph.D. She was the first female physician in Italy. Her work with the parents and children of her first "school" regarding health, hygiene and nutrition was based on her training as a physician.

Eileen said...

The comment that starts "Forgot to mention" makes no sense since what I wrote two hours ago didn't end up published. So...

Each family has to do research and then choose what is best for them. I am not criticizing your blog, which I think performs a service of encouraging people to think and question. I do want to correct some factual errors, however, that might have you looking at Montessori in a different light.

The first Montessori school opened in Rome on January 6, 1097. This was not only pre-WWII but pre-WWI. The Montessori schools were closed in Italy starting in 1934 and stayed closed throughout WWII because of Dr. Montessori's opposition to Mussolini and by extension to Hitler and their policies. Dr. Montessori spent most of her life after 1934 in exile from Italy.

Dr. Montessori was very active in both the Women's Movements and the Peace Movements and was nominated three times for the Nobel peace Prize.

There were approximately 100 Montessori schools in the US in 1913.

In the US today there are public and private Montessori Schools. There are Montessori schools that are also religious schools. There are Montesseroi schools for special needs children (deaf, autistic).

Montessori schools have been set up around the world in hospitals, refugee camps, castles (Princes William and Harry), the White House (Woodrow Wilson's administration, private homes, etc.

Some Montessori graduates include Julia Child, Jackie Kennedy, the founders of Google and the Founder of Amazon.

The weighing of children was not an academic activity. The children in the first Montessori School came from poor, working class families (they weren't orphans)who lived in basically a tenement. Dr. Montessori as a Physician worked with the families to improve the heatlth, hygiene and nutrition of these children. Dr. Montessori was the first female physician in Italy.

When I was 16 I told a young man that I wanted 12 children and I wanted them all to go to Montessori. I had read something which has struck a cord in me that drew me to Montessori. Forty two years later that young man is still with me. We have been married nearly 37 years. I don't do pregnancy and delivery well, though, so we have two daughters, two sons-in-law and a delightful granddaughter. Our daughters attended Montessori for pre-school and kindergarten. Our granddaughter begins Montessori pre-school next month.

After 7 years as a Montessori parent I took Montessori teacher training. I am now trained on pre-school, kindergarten (3-6, lower elementary(6-9) and upper elementary (9-12). I own and operate a Montessori school that enrolls toddlers through middle school. I am now teaching children of children I taught.

I hope that this information may interest you enough to look a little further into the Montessori method. Montessori, I believe, is for evey child but it is not for every parent and that can make it not right for the child. Not every Montessori school, even a truly good and authentic one, is right for every child, either.

I urge you to do your research (look into Reggio Emilia from Italy and Waldorf/Steiner from Germany, too), visit schools and follow your heart.

A wonderful biography of Maria Montessori was written by Rita Kramer and published as part of the Radcliffe Biography Series on Women.

Cheers to all of us who do the most important job in the world, raising and educating children.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Eileen, thank you for taking the time to write out your opinions. I appreciate it!

I do maintain, however, that Dr Montessori intended children to weight themselves daily as part of learning to measure. She wrote it herself in her book I read. Her thinking was that this would accustom the children to thinking about weights and charts by using something very familiar to themselves. That idea was most likely just fabulous with the group of kids she worked with back then, but in today's society, it scares me with my concerns about anorexia and other eating disorders.

I'm glad you're happy with your preschool experience. We've been very happy with our own parent-cooperative preschools as well (but all the work i have to do, oy gevalt). cheers, the DH

hughman said...

i was raised without parental support and skipped first and second grade to emerge too young in third grade. after that, despite the accolades i received, i was basically on my own. and look how i turned out!!!!

ok, maybe not.

the point is all parental guidance is what it is. our parents drank and smoked while they were pregnant. (or mine did) we were exposed to sun without screen and charcoaled meat. we end up however we do.

from what i've read, you have done an exemplary job of being a mother, DH. but in the long run, you just have to let go and realize your kids will be the way they are.