Montessori Monday: Peace Education and Purposeful Activity
“You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”
-Mahatma Ghandi, to students at the Montessori Training College, London, 1931
Long before conflict resolution was something we thought should be taught in schools, Montessori educators incorporated Peace Education activities throughout the prepared environment. Montessori herself lectured on the ways in which this method might preserve the inherent peacefulness of children and protect them from replicating the mistakes of adults that led to conflict and war. Indeed, as her work and career progressed, Montessori emphasized less the remarkable academic growth she observed in children in her classrooms, and instead encouraged teachers to focus on the ways in which this model would change the future of our society.
As this week is a holiday week for most Montessori schools, we’ll use it to dive a little more deeply into Montessori’s Peace Education model, beginning with the structures of purposeful activity in the prepared environment.
Montessorians believe that purposeful work is the expression of the Tendencies of Humans, those essential qualities that motivate natural human development. The eleven tendencies, orientation, order, exploration, communication, activity, manipulation, repetition, exactness, abstraction and perfection, When these tendencies are satisfied, children (and adults!) are peaceful, focused and motivated. Their natural state is respected and they are able to contribute to their communities in peaceful, focus and motivated ways. If you look at the materials available to learners, regardless of the developmental stage, they match these human tendencies. They allow learners to understand their place in society and their relationships with others. They are orderly and precise. The allow for open exploration and repetition. They build children’s ability to communicate. They lead, through mastery, to exactness. They allow manipulation of the material itself and active engagement. They develop the abstract mind and, through their self-correcting nature, allow the child to continually perfect his or her work.
Through engagement with materials that share these common features, Montessori learners remain focused, motivated and peaceful. You can see it in the joyful buzz of the Montessori classroom, in which learners choose their own lessons, in the ways in which learners chat with each other without losing focus on their own work, in how they help each other, demonstrate patience, and respect each other’s space and attention. Purposeful activity is the outcome of a classroom that protects children’s intrinsic nature and follows their human tendencies. Children see themselves as active agents who can influence how their community operates, and they maintain that sense of agency outside of the classroom. They experience, through the design of the materials, their own responsibility for each other and the ways in which their own efforts are frustrated if others don’t reciprocate that responsibility. They learn to be patient, waiting for the lessons they seek to be available. They learn to be accountable, returning materials to the shelf in a condition appropriate for a new learner to engage. They learn to be resourceful, supported by real tools that allow their desire to be helpful to be enacted in truly useful ways. They maintain the peacefulness with which they were born and expand the focus and motivation that will allow them to change the world. Step one in the peaceful revolution: prepare an environment within which children’s natural peacefulness is the norm, and let it flourish.