By Andy Lulka, December 2020

My favourite aspect of education is the expansion of perspectives, and my favourite element of Montessori professional development is supporting adults in shifting paradigms around education and childhood. Curating the Montessori Everywhere Challenge Pavilion with Barbara Isaacs, whose work in this area I have long admired, was a dream come true – an opportunity to really challenge Montessorians all over the world to dig deep into long-held assumptions and enter into a living of questions.

The topics for the panels were based on Montessori’s triad: the child, the adult and the environment, with the fourth panel representing the connective lines and the space in the centre of the triangle. We called the fourth panel Community, and it did what we hoped it would – connected all the other panels and created a fertile space where we usually see emptiness, neutrality, or just nothing to really think about.

The community panel was designed to challenge Montessorians to think about peace education and social development as being entwined with social justice ideals and the individual development of the child as well as the adult. We tasked our panelists with expounding on this idea:

Montessori is not just about independence – it is about empowering the child to find their path in society, which happens within their communities, at school and at home.

Our panelists rose beyond the occasion, asking us to shed the notion that the lenses through which we interpret Montessori are neutral in any way, and challenging us to see the hidden narratives that allow us to pretend neutrality exists.

In all the panels, we wanted to ensure we were amplifying voices not typically heard on global Montessori platforms, and that there was a diversity of identities and perspectives within each panel. That alone goes a long way to challenging the dominant perspectives we tend to perceive as neutral. We were especially intentional with regards to the diversification of voices for the Community panel, going so far as to actively avoid potential panelists who embody dominant Montessori or cultural ideologies, and to seek out people whose daily work involves working towards intersectionally inclusive Montessori environments.

When Tatenda says “we cannot separate community from life” I hear a call to remember that the end goal of Montessori education is not actually a normalization, but peace through justice. When Sid affirms that “fundamentally community is about connection and care” I hear that we need to focus on the cultivation of relational ways of being. When Koren likens community to “knowing what it means to be at peace within a group of people” I hear the tremendous importance of understanding both differentiation and belonging as a constant tension between our uniqueness and our connectedness. And when Regina speaks of adolescents learning “who they are in a more conscious way and how they interact with each other” I hear hope and inspiration for adults who were not given the opportunity to do this important work.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists talk about the importance of understanding the power imbalances and injustices inherent in our social systems, and how we fit into them as teachers. They call for us to understand how colonisation affects our very way of thinking, and to balance out the universal ways in which it has impacted marginalised people with the very localised ways in which those impacts emerge in our spaces and in our time.  The panelists also remind us that Montessori is, in many ways, an articulation and expression of ancient ways of being with children, and that Dr. Montessori herself was an individual of her time and place, as are those who interpret her work.

What rises to the top of the mass of thoughts and emotional responses I experience when watching this panel is that it is up to us to do this work. It is up to us to engage with the deep spiritual preparation of the adult, which includes understanding our impact and our role, and seeking out the places where we are ignorant or biased. If we do not do that work, then we cannot reach that place of peace – of wholeness, of caring, of curiosity and, yes, community.

And it all synthesises for me in Montessori-specific jargon: the goal of Montessori
education is peace through justice, and it comes about through the ability of the adult to prepare a responsive environment (keeping in mind that environment includes ourselves and the child’s many communities) that supports a combination of normalisation, valorisation and social cohesion. It is these three processes, ongoing throughout our lives, that make us less exploitable, and better able to find solutions to ever increasingly complex problems within the sphere of our influence.

I invite you to ponder some of the questions we posed to the panel:

  • What does  “community” mean to you, and how does that understanding guide you in creating community guidelines in collaboration?
  • Dr. Montessori taught us that there is no adult who was not made by the children we once were. How did your life, your experiences, physical and social environments shape the person you are now?
  • In “the Four Planes of Development” Dr. Montessori says “peace cannot exist without justice.” How do you understand the relationship between peace education, liberation, and social justice?
  • And a bonus question: what did the panel, and this post, and this series of webinars bring up for you that you most want to learn more about?

I can hardly wait to hear your thoughts at the next Montessori Europe webinar which takes place on Tuesday 8 December at 18.00 GMT / 19.00 CET. Register now.

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