“The whole of mankind is one and only one, one race, one class, and one society.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
Montessorians live by our heroic founder’s words. I once observed a legit, Montessori turf war occur at a school I worked at. Instead of the Bloods and the Crips, it was the AMIs and the AMSs. We rep our “colors” but can always find common ground with the life-giving words of Maria Montessori. Her words can diffuse any conflict, settling the souls of any Montessori groups in opposition, leading us to that peaceful stream of reconciliation. More than 100 years later, Montessori continues to be a system of education defined by its pedagogy of peace while elevating the whole child. We hear it all the time; we boast it in our Montessori professions. Although Dr. Montessori’s jewel of education continues to inspire educators and families across all color lines, it remains exclusive, for the most part, to a specific demographic of white, upper class citizens. And as it maintains its identity of peace, peace is not sufficient in the 21st century. I’d argue that the 20th century created countless moments of peace (in contrast to the continuous moments of unrest carried over from the same century and those before), but peace creates a false sense of personal accomplishment and inevitably slams the door on the growth and development of mankind. To honor our matriarch’s movement, we have a responsibility to help it evolve, reaching the ends of the earth while creating Montessori disciples of ALL children (and families), shifting our focus from peace to equity.
Entering this second decade of the 21st century requires a countercultural lens. Media–especially social media–has polarized our thought processes, conditioning us to carry an “us VS them” mentality. Either you agree with me 100% or you’re the scum of the earth, don’t exist, canceled or whatever other term you’d like to throw in the pot. While some find solace in refusing to engage in the toxic culture we call society, the crippled majority (myself included at times) has no hope for the middle ground needed to rescue us. Why? Because we are microscopic (minded, that is)– to ourselves, our home, our family, our school, our community–rather than telescopic to the whole global community: “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one unity.” … her words, not mine.
We Montessorians pride ourselves in being the exception to the rule! Our iconic (only to us) triad of the symbiotic relationship among the child, the adult and the environment sets us apart from traditional education right out the gate. Our equilateral, even-balanced, 60-60-60 degree triangle has lost its shape, shifting to a right triangle. That’s 30 degrees for the adult, carrying our excellent teacher education preparation but lacking a wider, perspective of the global child (and family); 60 degrees for an environment that often looks pristine and checks all the boxes but, again misses the mark of representation of and for all students and families; and most discouragingly, 90 degrees for the child, struggling to find equitable resources to meet her whole interests and developmental needs. She’s not learning how to be a member of a world community. Rather, she has to choose and/or fit into the dominant community, who is in it for itself as the superior race, superior class, and superior society. We’re doing the child a disservice… but we don’t have to.
It would be negligent to avoid mentioning 2020. Two years later, as I reference the pivotal year, I’m more often than not met with an eye roll that says, “Oh no! Now she’s going to dig up the racial or political past.” For me, this year, teetering with joys and anguishing heartbreaks, was a catalyst to my personal and professional (or cosmic) evolution. Working as a Montessori educator in predominantly white, upper class communities, I felt immune to the perpetuating racial disease that was swiftly worsening. I continued to climb a ladder that I blindly thought would lead me to “the top.” I couldn’t wait to absorb some of the children’s tuitions that were slowly approaching the $2K/month mark–that’s literally more expensive than some state university tuitions. I was well on my way to the next wrung, and blindly my last–though nowhere close to the top–so long as I didn’t speak about the elephant in the room: [my] race. As a light-skinned, fair-haired, soft-eyed, Black woman, I kept the peace when I avoided talks about race (be it mine or any other minority). The occasional heroes and holidays were acceptable, each group getting 1-2 days of recognition a year. My increasing years in Montessori education created a blinding cruise control that came to a screeching halt that summer. Yet another loss of life at the hands of those who were supposed to protect it. I had had enough! What followed was a painful evaluation of my racial identity which led to fear, disgust, pride, confusion, and essentially every emotion in the book. Surely, I could carry this awakening to my Montessori community, walking together to elevate mankind. No, I couldn’t. The more I spoke, the more uncomfortable my Montessori family became. As I leaned on my Microscopic Minority Montessorians (trademark pending) for support, it became apparent to me that the same oppression that exists in the outside world is just as strong in the system of education that I foolishly thought stood apart. WWMD (What Would Maria Do?)–horrible 90s reference to obnoxious bracelets worn by Christians like myself (What Would Jesus Do?). Lest we forget who the Casa dei Bambini served: underprivileged, lower class, forgotten children of the slums.
There’s hope…for us all. I watched more evidence of the injustices of this world paralyze some while igniting others. I was ignited! I see Dr. Montessori’s original work fading into the homogenous-ness of a system of traditional education that is one-size-fits all. That’s not what Maria Montessori would do. So eloquently spoken, we can gather her melodical quotations of peace, resurrecting our prized jewel of Montessori education by delivering a global curriculum for and by ALL. Our first step begins with ourselves. Remember that grace and courtesy we model to the children? A double dose is prescribed to the adult. The difference between the paralyzed and ignited individual is shame. The paralyzed are held captive to their shame, nurturing fear, anger and ultimately self-destruction. On the other hand, the ignited recognize the fallacy of all humanity, offering forgiveness while seeking avenues to uplift humankind. Do you see the difference? As a proud, Black Montessorian, surrounded by countless other oppressed voices in education, I caution you to see the injustices of this world. Feel the feels associated with them. But clear those obstacles of shame (as there will be many). Knowing that our past sins (and those of our ancestors) don’t have to define our present and future is a gateway to our journey from peace to equity.