Deep Dive on the TOPIC OF INDEPENDENCE: Report to the Executive Study Team


Attending this discussion were:

Kathy Hijazi, St. Catherine’s Montessori, Houston, TX (grades 7-10)

Tom Lepoutre-Postelwaite, Wavecrest Montessori, Santa Cruz, CA (grades 7, 8, some 9th)

Maria Jose Velasquez Patina, HalaKen Montessori, Queretaro, Mexico (grades 7, 8, 9)

Gena Engelfried, Golden Oak Montessori, Haywood, CA (grades 7, 8)

Patricia Pantano, Camino de Paz Montessor, Santa Cruz, NM (grades 7-9, some 10-12)


Independence is a hallmark of Montessori education.  The type of independence to which a human is propelled changes at each plane of development. In adolescence, the conquest of independence relates to society, social structure. The social environment is the stage for valorization and increasing independence.  Independence cannot be attained without some measure of freedom of choice.


Aspects of Independence

Movement refers to navigating in the wider physical and social world, with emphasis on wider circles of transportation (e.g. driving).  It also refers to the development and refinement of skills of a physical nature such as sports or arts (dancing). It involves the opportunities to use one’s hands in concert with learning and is intimately tied to physical independence.

To care for one’s self: health, nutrition, money management, learning work skills and the value of work are all aspects of physical independence. It implies negotiating the wider world in terms of typical, everyday tasks and skills and the value of adaptability.

Being responsible for one’s actions, feelings, the ability to articulate one’s thoughts and feeling are important factors in emotional independence.  Important to emotional independence are self-reflection, an awareness of one’s own value and ability to contribute and the understanding of one’s impact on the community and other individuals. Montessori would refer to this as morality and it reflects the development of the will on an adult level.

Social independence allows the adolescent to navigate personal and professional relationships with grace and courtesy: respect, tolerance.  Free choice of relationships as well as the ability to give or serve are aspects of social independence, as are the ability to negotiate, prioritize and make informed choices.

Thinking independently to create new solutions, ideas or change beliefs are goals of intellectual independence.  It allows the ability to consider many sides of an issue, to embrace one’s creativity and to set goals and make decision.

“Independence, in the case of the adolescents, has to be acquired on a different plane, for theirs is the economic independence in the field of society. Here, too, the principle of “Help me to do it alone!” ought to be applied,” writes Montessori. Economic independence is an initiation into the adult world and unique to the development of the Third Plane. Money is seen as the “materialized abstraction” of the adult world: a manifestation of energy and work, which cycles and circulates.  Money is also a demonstration of our interdependence – from local to global.

Adolescents need experience in facing the issues around the distribution of money.  Key questions among practitioners whose communities earn money are:  do the students work for individual earnings, to put back into the enterprise or to contribute to the community?

The focus of economic independence seems to change from ages 12-15 and 15-18.  Younger students have been observed to be more interested in production – the physical work, actual selling of product and handling of money.  Older students gravitate toward management, accounting, long-term planning, evaluation of sales and marketing.

The foundation of “putting adolescence on the road to independence” is Montessori’s use of production and exchange. As described by her, it is a tie to the land, the cycles of nature and the beginnings of civilization.  Production and exchange gives adolescents the opportunity to demonstrate responsibility through practical experience and natural consequences.  It implies true production or “value-added” production rather than re-sale of others’ items. The work required must be authentic; it must truly be meaningful to the community.  There is also an implication of stewardship of the land and animals.

The group worked to identify key elements in the relationship of economic independence to production/exchange, residential life, freedom of choice and moral development. Work was the foremost element as it is the basis for normalization and valorization.

Work should be an outgrowth of the environment. It must be important, adult-like and not tokenistic or contrived.  It must include a physical component, practical application and work with the hands. It should call for critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Finally, there needs to be an element of choice in work and we seek to find how to balance manual work with society’s expectations of academic work, especially for ages 12-14.

Residential life and/or the building of a true community is another important factor in independence.  Community meetings, seminars, group discussions, journals and work are focal points for consistent, meaningful dialogue and reflection. When students are involved in their own economic enterprises, the need arises to consider moral questions around money, work, production, profit and use of funds. Production  and exchange establishes the adolescent community’s relationship to the wider community and serves as a demonstration of students’ competence in the context of the wider society.

The question of independence, dependence and interdependence arose in the discussion. We seek to cultivate an awareness of these complex relationships of the individual versus the group.  An adolescent who has practiced independent thinking, prioritizing, collaboration and problem solving would have an ability to choose, to self-regulate:  do I choose for me or for the community? When can I be independent? When do I ask for help? How can I help? This aids their development of social consciousness. 

The role of the adult was also considered.  Adolescents need experts, professionals in all fields who can demonstrate society’s expectations of professional standards, quality work and pride in a job well done. The adult role is to question flaws in reasoning, always asking questions.  Side-by-side work is necessary to develop students’ confidence and build positive relationships with trusted adults. Adults need to learn more of how to be “coaches” rather than “teachers.”  Finally, it is important for practitioners to share their mistakes and failures, what didn’t work, as well as those that had positive outcomes.

What are the signs of independence that we seek in a Montessori graduate? It would include an adolescent’s having:

  • A greater sense of self, a deeper confidence, a sense of self-reliance

  • Finding one’s “voice” – an ability to articulate and advocate on behalf of self and others

  • Things on one’s self in the context of a larger community and as a global citizen

  • Seeking knowledge both for agency and for love of learning.

  • Ability to take initiative and to make a contribution

  • Ability to collaborate

  • Understanding of money and how it works

  • Experience in questioning moral and social aspects of money through production and exchange

  • Social equilibrium: ability to navigate social responsibility

  • Ability to take care of one’s own everyday needs: food, money management, job application, permits.

  • Experience of valorization as an outgrowth of work and their own individual process, not external rewards

  • An understanding/realization of one’s own value, strengths, weaknesses and potential.









Brian SensePatricia Pantano