Thoughts on Education: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

General News, OMS News, School Wide | Comments Off on Thoughts on Education: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

In the middle of the twentieth century, a few scientists began to discover that humans have a third drive (the first two are those of satisfying biological needs and response to rewards and punishments). That third drive is the need to satisfy internal motivations for what we do.

The three essential components of a system in which we take advantage of our ‘default setting’ in our personal lives, business and education are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

It is interesting to note that Maria Montessori described children driven by intrinsic motivations in her first Children’s House at the beginning of the twentieth century. She also noticed how much more children were capable of learning and doing when allowed to follow their own autonomous desire toward activities to build skills; oddly, they were drawn to the very skills one needs for success in adult life! The Montessori method of education is characterized by emphasizing self-directed activity on the part of the child.

“It was a spontaneous self-discipline coming from within. These transformed children moved about their little world in a quiet and orderly manner, each getting on with his own business.

They selected their materials for work; settled down at their tables and got on with their affairs, without disturbing their companions; and afterwards quietly replaced the materials when finished with [them].

Their bodily movements became more harmonious; their very expressions serene and joyful. Everything about them betokened a heightened interest in life, and with it a new form of dignity. They looked – as indeed they had become – independent personalities with power to choose and to carry out their own acts” (E.M. Standing. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work).

“Montessori students ‘taste’ their own work. Montessori education places the seat of responsibility with the child, with all the personal rewards, the health and the power this brings. The source [of education] should be the student’s will to interact with the world.” (Eisler, Montessori Madness).

These behavioural patterns are not fixed traits. They are proclivities that emerge from circumstance, experience and context. Type 1 (intrinsic) behaviour, because it arises in part from universal human needs, does not depend on age, gender, or nationality. The science demonstrates that once people learn the fundamental practices and attitudes and can exercise them in supportive settings, their motivation and their ultimate performance soar! (Daniel Pink, Drive).

Adapted from Elizabeth Stephankiw



Gregory Dixon

School Director

(613) 521-5185