Since it has been … necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions…. All things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity. The idea helps the mind of the child to become focused, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge. He is satisfied having found the universal centre of himself with all things.
– Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential
In a world that seems determined to fracture itself into smaller and smaller groups whose main goal in self-interest, Maria Montessori’s vision of cosmic education has never been more important. Indeed, it fits quite nicely with another goal of Montessori education—peacemaking. We no longer seek to carve out a place of our own in the world, no matter the cost, but instead we look for connections between the world and ourselves, no matter how big or small.
Cosmic education, while it sounds rather “woo,” is anything but. It is actually good, common sense pedagogy! Maria Montessori used the word not in reference to the cosmos, but to the Greek word kosmikos, meaning order. Cosmic education is how children begin to find order in the seemingly chaotic universe around them. Small children exist in a universe that centers around them. Eventually their world grows, and the concept of cosmic education can help assure that the child themselves also grows and develop beyond their own self-interest, finding their own place in the grand order of the universe.
At its most simple, cosmic education is about making connections. As we learn to care for ourselves, for one another, and for our environments, we are connecting out actions to the greater world. This often leads a child to an interest in social justice and fairness. I believe it is important to tap into those interests in a developmentally appropriate way rather than trying to shield the child from what can seem like “grown up problems.”
We want our children to complete cosmic tasks—meaningful work that contributes to the betterment of the world. This can be anything from learning to pour a glass of water in a way that does not waste resources, to standing in protest against injustice. Cosmic education is making the world a better place.
I have been struggling a bit with my children and my home as of late. As I return to work, I am finding the children resistant to doing their part at home to keep our family running smoothly. I find myself having difficulty seeing the big picture, focusing instead on the tiny fragments. I am hoping to engage in a practice of being aware of cosmic education over the next few weeks, and seeing if that not only brings us back to center, but helps us to remember how we are all part of one another, and how every act, done or undone, affects the family as a whole.
No one part of learning and living and growing is a stand-alone component. As a child grows and evolves, they see the connectedness of each of us to another. They are able to look beyond the moment and see the repercussions of one small act on the whole of the universe. They move from whole to part and, after they have deconstructed, learn to make everything whole again. They parse and they heal. And in this way, they fulfill Maria Montessori’s words: The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.