There are over four thousand Montessori schools in the US alone, and over 20,000 worldwide. Her first school welcomed children over a hundred years ago. In the US, Montessori schools have thrived for almost seventy years.
So where’s the revolution?
What happened to the revolution?
Oh, no. We forgot to have the revolution.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of a Montessori education is the way in which it prepares children to be successful in very nonMontessori fields. We know about the exceptional academic outcomes. We know about the increased agency and self confidence, the willingness to take risk and the creativity that seems so common among Montessori graduates. We know about their commitment to social justice, to issues of peace and equity, to humane stewardship of the earth and of its inhabitants. We publish proudly the lists of celebrity alumni.
Groundbreaking, certainly. Worthy of acclaim. We are rightly proud of the ways in which Montessori kids are changing the world.
But no revolution.
That the Montessori Method prepares children well for this world does not absolve us of our responsibly to prepare for them a better one.
“Society has built walls and barriers; we must destroy them and show them the horizon.”
We know Montessori’s potential, but how often are we satisfied with the ways in which Montessori is used to edify the walls we already have, to protect barriers.
Should Montessori be used merely as a means of better enabling our children to succeed in the traditional schools to which these children graduate?
It’s a question of survival, some will argue. Until we have enough children who have learned this way, who have had their natural guide protected and who are willing to expect different things of the schools to which they, in turn, send their children, we won’t be able to attract enough children to Montessori today. We have to play nicely with traditional education if we are to keep our doors open.
But, still. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a little bit of a nonviolent revolution.
What does it look like to “destroy” things in a nonviolent revolution? And who in the world would take the advice of the people who had just destroyed their walls and barriers?
We need a little bit of a nonviolent revolution. Speak softly, but make sure you’re not just talking the ones who’ve already committed to the fight. Open your own doors to the ones who think we’re crazy. Invite them in. Let them ask us the hard questions. The what-ifs. The but-what-abouts. Answer them honestly, humbly, and in a spirit of collaboration. Let traditional models steal from us, but while they’re filling their sacks, whisper in their ears about how we might work together to do it all differently.
For generations, Montessorians have gladly kept each other’s company and kept our methods private and, in doing so, kept the walls up. Some of them are the traditional ways of thinking about children and schools and education to which we contribute when we emphasize some parts of children’s development over others. Some of them are the climates of competitiveness and rivalry between and among schools, even between Montessori schools and other Montessori schools, that suggest that any one of us has finally figured out the secret of childhood.
There are no rivals our work in service of the child. There are only those with whom we have not yet found a common voice, to whom we must be just as patient teachers as we are in our own classrooms.
Montessori calls us to destroy, and then to show the horizon. And if we are to take that metaphor all the way through, it means we’re on the same side of the wall. We won’t be able to show anyone the horizon if they’re under the rubble of the walls we just destroyed. But if we’re pushing together, from the same side, the view promises to be spectacular.
*A response to Chapter 21: Character Building- A Conquest, Not a Defense. The Absorbent Mind. M. Montessori