In our last webinar of this academic year, we will consider Marlene Barron’s article, ‘Maria Montessori and the Postmodern World’, from the Summer 2002 Summer issue of Montessori Life, in which she reflected on Montessori education for a post-modern world. At the time of its publication, I was so excited by its content and was very keen to share it with the readers of the Montessori International magazine. The students and staff at MCI were also very fortunate hearing Marlene give a presentation a year later.
Last week I re-read the article, and was stunned by the deep relevance of its content twenty years on. Originally, I was excited by the classroom-based research at her West Side Montessori School, which encouraged teachers to consider the use of open-ended materials, inclusion of fiction in the classrooms and the importance of engaging with parents. The classroom research was based on observations of children and subsequent analysis of these observations by the school team, considering different theoretic approaches as well as sharing learning from observations of the same child. Marlene highlighted the importance of these analyses in the context of “why did the child undertake the activity” and what was being learned. The children’s emotional responses to the material were also noted as was discussion about what does the “child think about what she or he has done?” Furthermore, the children were permitted to leave incomplete work on the table or on a mat having decided to take a break and return to it later. They indicated their wish to return by placing their name next to the activity.
All these aspects of practice continue to resonate with me, and, over the years, I have also seen glimpses of them mirrored in students’ work as they engaged in action research in their classrooms and were encouraged to change their practice based on their learning. What I totally missed on the first reading was Marlene’s reflection of what it means to educate children for the 21st Century and democracy; in those days I was still basking in the freedom of living in the UK. How life has changed in the last twenty years! When discussing post-modern influences, Marlene speaks of the role technology has played in our jobs and communications, she also comments on the speed with which technology changes – something we have all experienced. She highlights the speed of access to information which bombards us with multifaceted points of views and points out this has also influenced decision making, which has become non-hierarchical and more democratic. For all or us the world is no longer linear and predictable. She discusses the challenges of unravelling fundamental truths and how to share all this with children.
This is where we need to start examining “our own adult values and beliefs – our own prejudices arising out of personal histories”. She encourages us to reflect on the purpose of education and consider how we prepare children for democracy – and begin conversations with children “about ideas, issues, differences, values and processes”. She also urges us as Montessori teachers to have “ongoing conversations which enable us to explore and question our practice. This invitation is, for me, the Marlene legacy – we have much to explore, question and challenge how we prepare the children of today for a life filled with caring, curiosity and commitment to each other and their communities.
Join us for our Musings Celebration on Tuesday 5 July at 19.00 (BST), as we pause to remember Marlene Barron and consider her excellent article: ‘Maria Montessori and the Post Modern World’, as we reflect on the role of Montessori education in the 21st Century. Register here.