Posted in Montessori Philosophy, What is the Method?

Why Are We Afraid to Brave the Wilderness?


Recently, I was asked to give “Braving the Wilderness” a read. Being a Brené Brown fan, I dug right in. And after just a few chapters, I put it down on my coffee table.

Somehow, I just can’t seem to escape it.

“You need to step out, by yourself, and do it.“

But we avoid that, don’t we? We make a bigger deal of doing something than anyone else ever would.

If we are being true to ourselves, though, this message gets louder. It’s in our face all the time.

Ok. Fine. I’ll write the blog.


So there it was. Plain as day. In a self-help book for middle-aged women who are trying to discover themselves.

40 pages in, this is what made me put the book down:

“We all must find our own way,” Brené quoted Joseph Campbell (The Hero Cycle guy). “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path.”



While this probably evokes some New-Agey sentiments, for me, all I saw was Montessori. And since I was surely the only one who would think of Montessori here, to go ahead and blog about it really felt like a step into the Wilderness.

But I can’t escape it. This Montessori filter through which I see the world has given me a different perspective on everything in my view. And since new ideas are the ones that spark change, I must choose to discuss this if I want to change the face of Education.

I must take a step on my path and say that we must have the courage to redefine what Education is. In the 21st Century, it can no longer be about the highly-mechanized concept known as “school.” Education must be about the person.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Maria Montessori, at the turn of the 20th Century, came to the very same conclusion. Something that many people don’t know about the Montessori Method is that underneath all the curriculum and materials, it is about the the person.

Namely, the formation of the personality.

Since our personality is largely determined by the time we are 6 years old, my question at page 40 was: What is it that has caused us to be afraid to make a path? Why do we need to read a book like this?


Good question.

When you create a new path, there is so much uncertainty. So many directions to go. Most people don’t want to risk failing or having naysaysers say “I told you so.” Naturally, that is scary. Compounding that, we have so many more choices than ever before, and according to Barry Schwartz in his Ted Talk The Paradox of Choice, humans can only handle 4-6 choices before they experience anxiety.

So how do we choose which step to take?

Well, if we allow someone else to make the choices for us, then we don’t have to decide. It lifts the responsibility and accountability off of us.

AKA Take this safe path that has already been created and things will be fine.

While this seems the easier route, often we find ourselves resentful. We discover that what we are doing is not “us.” We have to live up to someone else’s expectations. Do everything that we are told to do. But it’s still never enough. This also leads to anxiety, but even more so, depression and regret. And this scenario is all too common now, especially in our children and young adults.

In The Discovery of the Child (originally published in 1909), Maria Montessori discussed the frustration, helplessness and anger that results. “He who is served instead of being helped is in a certain sense deprived of his independence,” she warns.

In other words: In allowing someone else to carve our path, we become completely dependent. And when we are confronted with choice, we are paralyzed. We can’t take a step. We don’t know how to choose for ourselves. And in doing so, we never fulfill our human potential.

man at peak
Think of how different this world would be if we all could fulfill our potential!

Knowing this is the result, we have to ask ourselves how we can change the current adult experience for the future generations.

We can start with being mindful of when we are doing too much for our children and hindering their ability to become self-sufficient. When we make all the choices for them during this critical stage of development, we are creating dependency.

We also have to consider their formal education.

And this is why I thought of Montessori when I read the quote:

One of the core principles of the Montessori classroom is that children are guided towards personal independence. Teachers help them “just enough” so they can successfully do everything for themselves.

Initially, they work with various materials to progressively increase their focus and concentration. In addition, the materials are self-correcting, meaning the child can successfully complete the work with little teacher assistance. These two things, coupled together, allow for the child to gradually work more independently.

Another feature of Montessori is that the child sets the pace for his/her education. The children are free to choose which materials to work with (as long as they have been shown how to use them) and how long they work with them. Once the work is mastered, the teacher gives a new lesson to the child.

Through this process, children are instilled with confidence. They can make choices and successfully complete work without being dependent on the adult.  When the children eventually become an adult, they can decisively navigate the world and subsequently, carving a new path will be a natural process.

And when the Wilderness calls, they will be ready.


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