Journey to Diversity

“The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit”

Montessori, M. (2007, p. 120)

As a Dutch national who grew up and went to an international school in Denmark, ended up living in London, married to an Englishman whose mother was Belgian, I would argue that ‘diversity’ has always been a part of my life. My Dutch and Danish heritage have instilled in me a sense of liberalism and a ‘live and let live’ approach to others guided by the Montessorian ground-rule “as long as no-one gets hurt”. ‘Just be nice to each other’ is my life motto.

But it is becoming clear to me that this attitude, whilst a good start, is simply not enough. Recent events (and, who am I kidding, these ‘events’ really aren’t just recent) have stirred in me a sense of awakening. Diamond Blog shared a call to arms on Facebook the other day challenging my ‘live and let live’ approach: “For all the people that keep thinking or saying “why can’t we all just love and support each other!” right now. That’s great but you gotta show that love in some way. Research is love, advocacy is love, having hard conversations is love” (Diamond Blog, 2020).

And those conversations about inequality and differences are hard! Especially with young children who ask difficult questions and say quite challenging things sometimes. How many times have I responded with a hint of disapproval to a child who said that “boys can’t play with dolls” or “you can’t have two mummies, you have to have a mummy and a daddy” or “your skin is dirty, you need to wash”. Forgetting Piaget’s theory that children form mental models (schemas) of the world around them, and that these need to be accommodated when confronted with new situations (Macleod-Brudenell & Kay, 2008), my gut reaction has been to correct the child and move on – because what they were saying felt so uncomfortable to me! Because I didn’t know how to respond. But as Beverly Daniel Tatum highlights in her TedX talk (2017) this only achieves that children learn not to talk about differences and become silent about diversity rather than celebrating it.

I loved watching and listening to Britt Hawthorne speak about anti-bias education at the recent Trillium Montessori Principles to Practice Conference. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this, seek… her… out….! Her respectful approach to understanding children and their perceptions was an eye-opener for me; Britt shares how she responds with curiosity, inviting a conversation rather than shutting a child down when they identify, verbalise and question, possibly quite bluntly, differences (Hawthorne, 2020).

Montessori writes in the Absorbent Mind that “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit” (Montessori, 2007, p. 120). This preparation of the spirit is not always a comfortable experience. Facing one’s own ignorance is never easy, accepting one’s own role in perpetuating bias is challenging. But acknowledgement that inequality exists is an important first step and, as Britt Hawthorne states, “a powerful way of showing respect” (Hawthorne, 2020).

So I am looking forward to Montessori Europe’s webinar tomorrow evening (click here to register and receive Zoom details), in which Stella Louis, Ruth Tesfamariam and Hannah Baynham reflect on their childhood and the impact it has had on their commitment as early childhood practitioners to give all children ‘a voice’, to promote global citizenship and sow seeds of diversity, inclusion and respect. Listening to and learning from others’ experiences is the start of my commitment to developing a mindset in which I endeavour to actively, rather than passively, understand diverse others, not from my own perspective but from their perspective.

Wendelien Bellinger

References

Daniel, B. (2017) Is My Skin Brown Because I Drank Chocolate Milk? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_TFaS3KW6s)

Diamond Montessori Blog (2020) Post, 2 July (https://www.facebook.com/diamondmaterials/)

Hawthorne, B. (2020) Fairness, Equality & Justice – Using Antibias Education to Prepare our Environment (https://www.trilliummontessori.org/p2p/)

Montessori, M. (2007) The Absorbent Mind Amsterdam: Montessori Pierson Publishing Company

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