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Peace in the Montessori tradition

Last week, in honour of Remembrance Day, I began a conversation about peace in the Montessori tradition. Last weekend we all watched with horror as new waves of terrorism attacked Paris and brought the reality of large scale terror attacks, in our apparently secure Western world, an imminent possibility for us all. As a school we needed to go back to the core of our ethos in order to process, as a community, this existential shift in our reality.

Through the course of 2015 our school examined the core of what we do and our very belief system to come up with our mission. Our mission statement reads:

“To inspire our students to be lifelong independent learners, develop their sense of wonder and promote them as peacemakers and leaders.”

 To promote them as peacemakers. At the very core of what we do is a call to our educators to inspire our children to be the peacemakers of our future.

This idea came from the life and works of Maria Montessori herself. Montessori’s schools were already established throughout Italy when Mussolini came to power in the early 1930s. The rise of fascism, made her work difficult, and in 1934, Dr Montessori’s refusal to politicize her work and schools resulted in the shutdown of all Montessori schools and her departure from the country.

World unrest and her own exile (in India) led Maria Montessori to advocate publicly for peace. This period of horrific war and totalitarianism crystallised, for Dr Montessori, the clear the connection between her teaching methods and a social and world order generated by respect, cooperation and the intelligent activities of citizens. In a series of speeches, conferences and other activities, conducted in India and Western Europe, Dr Montessori spoke about educational reform and the benefits to a world society. A number of her lectures were published as Education and Peace (1972). Her work, embraced by a worldwide community of educators, politicians and academics, earned her nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951.

She wrote in Education and Peace, “Peace is a goal that can only be attained through common accord, and the means to achieve this unity for peace are twofold:  first, an immediate effort to resolve conflicts without recourse to violence—in other words, to prevent war—and second, a long-term effort to establish a lasting peace among men” (Montessori, 1949, p. 27).    

Citizens are less likely to be manipulated and mislead into a war when they have developed a habit of informed reflection. It was the infamous Nazi, Goering, who while awaiting the Nuremberg trials in 1946, expressed this point: "Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?....Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" (http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.asp).  Consciously developing the habit of critical and independent thought can protect men and women from such propaganda (Duckworth, 2008).  

Dr Montessori’s methodology focused on the development of the whole child and prized creative and critical thinking skills, as well as relational skills, which are so critical in men and women who will be both inspired and equipped to build lasting peace.  We are relying on our children for the protection of our planet, our race, our future. 

For young children, we present them with a history of our planet (starting with its very inception and the history of the evolution of our planet, and all of the various plant and animal life that evolved over millions of years to pave the way for the human race). We do this to instill within them an appreciation of its beauty, its vastness, its splendor. Young children do not need to learn about the horrors of the world, they need first to feel safe, to feel love, to feel wonder as they grow and develop their sense of safety and resilience. They do not need to see horrific images, nor watch the news, nor hear it. However, we do raise them to question, to challenge, to converse. Our children are not made “to be seen and not heard”. We teach them to respectfully challenge ideas; we teach them to think critically.

Somewhere in the second half of the Second Plane of Development (6-12 years of age) a child begins to be ready to look at human history with an introduction to politics and social justice issues. By the time they are in the Third Plane of Development (teenagers), they become really fascinated by this topic, and it is important to embrace that. Peace education begins with conversation. We need to talk with our teens. We need to help them process what is happening. We need them to learn about the horrors inflicted on our beautiful planet by our own race, and we need them to spend time thinking about their future - this is the path to developing leaders and peacemakers amongst our children.

The following article may help you with some tips about how to assist your children to process horrific world news events:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/explaining-the-news-to-our-kids?utm_source=November+2015+-+Paris+Attacks&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly#

Yours with hope for peace,

Raquel Charet

Principal