I’ll never forget the wonder I experienced during my 3-6 training when learning about Montessori education as a means of creating world peace. The idea that our youngest children have the potential to transform humanity when we nurture their spirit and expose them to tools for gaining inner peace and the guidance to resolve conflicts with others, seems so progressive and heartening.
“Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” -Dr. Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
Yet for most of my career, I have been increasingly convinced that the traditional Montessori approach to peace education is missing a vital piece: that without addressing issues of social justice, there can be no real and enduring peace on earth.
Deepening Our Understanding
Like every other area of the Montessori curriculum, earning a Montessori credential provides a starting point for understanding. For instance, learning the 3-6 math curriculum was the genesis for my now deepened understanding the development of the mathematical mind. It has been through authentic experiences in the classroom and a commitment to life-long learning that I have deepened my understanding of all curricular areas. I don’t know one Montessori teacher educator or guide or school leader that would dispute the need for this deepening.
And yet, I continue to hear push-back from a variety of Montessorians for opening our minds and hearts to incorporate a more equitable approach to cultural studies, to adopt an intentional anti bias approach to our school cultures, and to promote the healthy identities of our students by acknowledging and celebrating diversity with authentic, fair representation.
I’ve even been told, “We already have everything in our curriculum our children need.”
And yet, to address peace education, practitioners must lean into a place of discomfort. To unpack deeply rooted biases that affect our children and therefore the potential for world peace. This work of gaining a critical consciousness is an essential part of the transformation of the adult that is worthy to lead a children’s community. You might be wondering what resources to turn to that assist in uncovering your implicit biases and gaining insights about issues of social justice. From my own journey, I can highly recommend the cohort-based learning environment of Embracing Equity founded by Daisy Han, reading the writings of Paolo Friere, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Glenn Singleton, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and tapping into the resources found on the websites Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Additionally, if you use social media , the Facebook groups The Diverse Classroom: Cultivating Anti-Bias and Inclusivity (full disclosure: I’m an admin for this group) and the Montessori for Social Justice group are great places to connect to new people and ideas.
“Knowing what we must do is neither fundamental nor difficult, but to comprehend which presumptions and vain prejudices we must rid ourselves of in order to be able to educate our children is most difficult.” -Dr. Maria Montessori
We can agree then, that if true change is to occur, that we must begin with ourselves. This work of building a critical consciousness, requires us as educators, to emphasize the inner work of unpacking how power structures affect us and our students.
How to Reframe Our Montessori Curriculum
Like many Montessorians around the world, I initially learned about Peace Education in Montessori from the good doctor herself in publications such as The Absorbent Mind and Education for Peace, supplemented through the work of Sonny McFarland’s Nurturing the Light of the Child, and Aline Wolf’s Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms. I was taught a framework for building a peace curriculum based on a four-petaled “Peace Flower”:
The Peace Flower gave many Montessori communities a framework to apply peace into the curriculum set the standard for how peace is approached and implemented. It’s clear we must include awareness of self, the community, the greater community, and nature in our interactions with children and intentionally embedded into our curriculum. And yet, as I’m sure you’re quite aware, there are major inequities children and their families face which result in fewer opportunities to release the child’s potential. We must, as educators, close this equity gap within ourselves and our curriculum.
With a fifth “petal” in our approach to peace education, that of Social Justice, Montessorians increase the potential of our method to be a vehicle of liberation for every child. In every community.
Promoting a Culture of Peace Necessitates Addressing Our Curriculum
Montessori 3-6 curricula worldwide continues to focus on multiculturalism as a way of “bringing the world to the child”; the intention is to celebrate all the diverse ways people meet their needs, and yet, so many depictions of this diversity rely on mostly superficial, stereotypical and touristic depictions of people around the world. Adopting a social justice lens means auditing our classrooms for a “hidden curriculum” that promotes inaccurate impressions of people in the classroom and beyond. It requires us to look at the intersecting identities of our students and families, and those around the world, and committing ourselves to bring authenticity into our cultural studies.
Montessori 6-12 curriculum has relied on a canon of materials that center Western, white, heterosexual stories. As these stories are promoted by guides, it’s clear the work of adopting a more critical lens is imperative to more accurately represent the community of learners and beyond. This paradigm shift requires us to look at whose stories we promote and whose voices we amplify. Can you imagine how this approach has the potential of laying the foundation of critical perspective-taking, and understanding of power differentials necessary for our elementary students to construct their consciousness that leads to future critical action.
Do Montessorians Need a Framework for Peace?
Montessorians are practitioners who care deeply about building an environment that optimally nurtures every child holistically. Because the environment is a key factor in how we transmit knowledge, and the preparation of the environment is where many teachers put their time, Montessori educators have historically focused on materials and the Grace and Courtesy part of the curriculum for peace education. Peace tables for resolving conflicts, cozy corners with fidgets for calming oneself, classroom gardens for seeing the cycles of life, and even the Montessori Silence Game are historically the direction Montessorians have responded to this idea of nurturing a more peaceful human.
The reason the Peace Flower resonated with me, and likely with others, is that it is handy to frame the myriad of directions you can pursue with a clear order, and materials. And yet, it’s clear that peace education isn’t truly about a “peace rose”, or having to do with any material whatsoever. Truly effective peace education comes about when everything we do is infused with peace. Like the many -isms of oppression (sexism, racism, etc.) that are such an inherent part of our culture that we breathe it like smog, our approach to peace cannot rely on materials or even a framework . . . it must become like the glow of the sun, constant and warm, infused into everything we do and have become.
Follow a framework if you need support organizing how to prepare your peaceful environment with equity. And then set it aside as you make room for the experiences that will make a lasting difference: your own critical consciousness.
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12