PEACE ACTIVIST - MARIA MONTESSORI
Maria Montessori as a medical doctor, educator and visionary. She opened her first school, the Casa dei Bambini (House of the Children), in Rome in 1907. In the next two decades, Dr. Montessori's methods achieved worldwide currency, in part through the publication of The Montessori Method (1912) and Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook (1914). In the early 1930s, the changed political climate in her native Italy - namely 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 led Maria Montessori to advocate publicly for peace, and thus make 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 Educazione e Pace (1949), translated 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, and in recent years as well.
Committed to a nonpolitical platform, and a focus on the innate and positive forces of the human mind and spirit, she rejected the view of peace as the condition achieved by avoiding war and with nonviolent resolution of political conflict. "Inherent in the very meaning of the word peace is the positive notion of constructive social reform," she wrote, adding that "society at present does not adequately prepare man for civic life," and that "establishing a lasting peace is the work of education." Far in advance of today's catchphrase "globalization," Dr. Montessori noted that scientific advances had so linked world cultures that our universal social connections were made clear, and she set forth strategies for a "universal, collective effort to build the foundation for peace."
Dr. Montessori's assessment of her contemporary world and the means to achieve a state of peace, like her educational philosophy, are holistic and rooted in her belief in the spiritual and intellectual powers of the child. Dr. Montessori's method respected the intelligence and gifts of the small child, serving her/him with a prepared environment and materials that engaged the senses in the learning process. Self-direction, control of self, other & the environment, joy of learning, and an understanding of connectedness with nature & community resulted, leading, Dr. Montessori believed, to a new social order capable of directing man's technological advances to constructive uses. This would replace accepted educational practices that rewarded competition, discouraged cooperation and independent thinking, and ignored the creativity and deeply moral qualities of the child; a status quo that she believed led to a warring society, one incapable of utilizing its own scientific and technological advances.
Dr. Montessori's peace initiatives have been continued by organizations such as the Montessori Peace Task Force, the Montessori Peace Institute and the American Montessori Society Peace Committee. These national and international groups promote peace education within the Montessori curriculum, connections between schools, and global peace initiatives.
GLOBAL AWARENESS OF PEACE
How does Madrone Montessori School educate for peace? Dr. Montessori herself noted that education in reaction to violence would not in itself yield a peaceful society. The peace curriculum at Madrone Montessori School, developed and coordinated by Educational Director Krista Campbell, is enacted through a range of academic studies as well as the development of peacemaking skills, beginning with the youngest Cedar Room group and culminating in the Lavender Room. It permits the student to study the history and science of the natural world, the beliefs and traditions of diverse world cultures, and to learn about and finally place herself/himself within society as an active, contributing individual. All of these endeavors are guided by the school's all-encompassing guidelines: reverence for self, reverence for others; reverence for the environment; and responsibility for one's actions and words.
At the younger level, the child places herself/himself in the natural and human world through the presentation of geographic materials, cultural and scientific study. Globes and maps are studied, as are peoples, animals and plants of the world. These studies engender understanding and respect of different places, needs and beliefs, and are approached through art, music, history and science, and through practices of recycling and bird feeding. Young children contribute to the peaceful classroom by keeping materials orderly, respecting others' work spaces, controlling movement and sound, and participating in the group circle, both as listener and speaker. The tools for expressing emotions respectfully and resolving conflict peacefully are introduced at the primary level, and one may see two three-year-olds, with the help of a teacher, talking through differences.
At the older level, students look beyond the globe to speculate on the beginnings of life and the universe. Time is studied and students construct timelines of life on earth and of their own lives. Biological and physical studies are pursued with greater specificity, as are studies of civilizations through time, and the fundamental needs and beliefs of diverse peoples. Great peacemakers are studied, and the contemporary world is acknowledged as a place of diversity, conflict and possible peace in which the student may play an active role. Again, the integrated curriculum brings music and science, history and art, geography and physical education to bear on questions of creation, physical and biological processes, the needs and beliefs of human societies, and the place of the student herself in this cosmos.
Dr. Montessori identified the 3-6 year old period as one of sensitivity to social morals, and older students continue to learn social graces and effective means of communicating information and emotions. Students begin the year by creating a classroom charter, the ground rules for the peaceful classroom. The classroom community is served by daily tasks (cleaning, caring for plants and animals), the mentoring of younger students, and service projects that extend the concept of community to the school and beyond. Here is an macro view of Maria Montessori and her life through time.
From the perspective of the peaceful classroom, students from primary through adolescence view a global vision of peace. Most importantly, they learn through academics and social interaction, that they are a part of that vision, and that their contributions are essential.
CELEBRATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
In the course of the academic year, a series of gatherings, celebrations and projects bring the entire school together to sing for peace, to celebrate extraordinary efforts for peace and human rights, and to affirm a collective commitment of respect for our natural and living environment.
Our classrooms incorporates Sonnie McFarland’s book Honoring The Light of the Child, and activities that nurture peaceful living skills in young children. Each classroom embraces a peace shelf equipped with a variety of work that emphasizes all subjects including peace.
Throughout the year we celebrate and reflect honoring our love light and others. We celebrate with music, food, art and culture - bringing to life other experiences of peace. We celebrate over 50 different celebrations a year. These celebrations may include discussion of geographical location, religious aspects, living conditions, rituals, traditions, fairy tales, stories, artifacts, and more.