European Conference on Educational Research location:Dublin, Ireland date:23-26 september 2016
The starting point of this presentation is the role played by silence in the work of the Italian reform pedagogue Maria Montessori. In the 1912 English translation of her pioneering book The Montessori Method two intriguing positions towards silence can be discerned. On the one hand Montessori considers silence as objectionable as it can be associated with the acoustic reality of an old-fashioned classroom where children are being fixed to their heavy school desks as if they were dead butterflies in an entomological box. On the other hand however Montessori also inserted different exercises in her book where she wants to learn the children how to act quietly and become silent (see for instance the chapter A lesson in silence). Montessori of course was not the first educator to have paid attention to silence. As Hermann Oblinger’s 1968 revealing study Schweigen und Stille in der Erziehung demonstrates, many influential educators have paid attention to the particular value of silence for their educational project (See also Granzer, 2000). The most telling example probably is the case of Pythagoras who once would have said the he rather wanted to die than to speak. The main argument which will be developed in this presentation is that silence has been educationalized meaning that is has become something one needs to master by means of educational processes. If the educationalization of silence of course can be retraced until Ancient times the presentation itself only will focus on the period starting at the end of the eighteenth century and running up till the English translation of the Montessori Method in 1912. As is commonly known today Montessori partly based her insights on some French educational experiences and insights developed in the context of the care for ‘idiots’ and ‘imbeciles’. In this presentation then the question will be asked whether the particular educational soundscapes one can encounter in the book of Montessori also were inspired by the sounds and silences as described by authors like Jean-Marc Itard and Edouard Séguin. Moreover, a comparison will be made between the acoustic influence these authors had on the work of Maria Montessori and their influence on the work of the Brothers of Charity in Gent who also were active in the care for and education of ‘idiots’ and imbeciles’ in the first decades of the twentieth century.