Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Beginning of New Ideals & Bertram Hawker

The New Ideals in Education community started in 1914 as the first national conference of the Montessori Society held at East Runton, Norfolk, just along the coast from Cromer. Dr Maria Montessori sent them a supporting telegram, “I associate myself cordially with the Conference in favour of the liberation of the child. Grateful for the recognition of my work.” read out by the Chairman of the opening presentation, Mr B.V.Melville. 50 of the delegates were members of the Society, their names, as for later years, printed in italics in the participant list published in each conference report.

Child in Montessori School run by Bertram Hawker at E. Runton.
There were 250 delegates, many camping, and the conference was held in the grounds, buildings and barn of Rev Bertram Hawker's house,  Runton Old Hall. There were the children and teachers from Hawker's Montessori School exhibiting the method. It had been created with support from the local elementary school teachers and local Board in November 1912. This was the first Montessori School in England, and reflected Hawker's enthusiasm for the method and ideas. Photographs of the school illustrated the first Montessori Handbook published in England. Hawker had given talks on Montessori around the country.

Picture from Dr Montessori's Own Handbook 1914
Hawker had been impressed by visiting Montessori's Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1911, he funded Lillian de Lissa travelling in Europe to research methods of schooling and to be trained by Montessori. She also wrote a report for South Australian government, 'Education in certain European countries' (1915). He also helped fund and support the creation of the  Kindergarten Union of South Australia, chairing their foundation meeting, as a result of being impressed by the work he saw at a special school for young children of families living at Woolloomooloo. It is interesting that the Union, founded and managed by women had to later fight the male dominated power structures of the University to maintain its autonomy over the training of Kindergarten teachers. Lillian de Lissa was opening speaker at the Montessori Conference in 1914.
Hawker earlier had worked in East London, was inspired by the settlement communities, and their work with poor children. He attended nearly all the New Ideals in Education Conferences, only speaking to replace a key speaker, like Edmond Holmes. Holmes had been chief inspector of schools in England. He saw the need for models of excellent practice to be supported, celebrated and shared. This community was inspired by the method and philosophy of Dr Maria Montessori, who believed in observing learning and teaching and basing methods on science. The founders, men and women, were practitioners and others, who saw innovative methods in practice. They would go on to create a growing community founded on innovation, observation and sharing. The common value to all this, as proposed by Percy Nunn, was 'liberating the child in the school'. 

Despite the change in name before the next conference in 1915, and the acceptance of the value statement 'liberating the child', the conferences continued to discuss and share Montessori examples of practice; the New Ideals organising committee and delegates included members of the Montessori Society; and in the published delegates list members of the Montessori Society were continued to be highlighted in italics. This despite the anger of Dr Maria Montessori, who did not want to lose control of her methods and materials, and who ensured the new Montessori Society in England would protect her property rights. 

This history shows there was no animosity towards her ideas, though healthy criticism and promotion of the idea of the ongoing development of methods, and an acceptance that they should contribute to the future of the English school. All the conferences and their reports start with a brief history of the community, always referencing the Montessori Conference at East Runton, as its birth. This does seem to contradict the history as retold by people who are from the modern international Montessori community.

One interesting thought about the relationship with Montessori was the importance of innovation and the practitioner, the scientist, the professor, was not to be elevated above the teacher. Each was to be judged by witnesses and reports of their practice.

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