We Do It For the Community
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”
? Maria Montessori
There has been much speculation ,during this time of worldwide crisis, that the ideal of American individualism is a problem. Many Americans, raised to believe that the individual need or desire trumps the needs of the community, have found themselves in a situation which requires altruism, and for them to change their behavior for the good fo the group. This is often seen as weakness by the American populace.
Individualism, competition, survival of the fittest…these are ideals that many American hold dear. The idea of the lone wolf, the cowboy, the innovator, separate for the group. Dance to your own drummer, do your own thing, you do you…etc. These sayings are an integral part of our identity as Americans. Even from a young age, we are singled out for our answers, our idea, and our high grades. We are given awards, rankings, prizes, medals and individual recognition.
But when faced with a global or national crisis, and the idea of having to put the good of the group over the desire fo the individual is in contrast to the messages that we have received from birth. In order to make a cultural paradigm shift, we should look at the education of young children. The Montessori method of developmental, child- centered, education provides an excellent alternative to traditional, competition based education, particularly for children ages 0–12.
As Montessori teachers ,we are trained to help the children see their classroom community as they do their family. With multi-age grouping, we have older “siblings” who help younger “siblings”. We have the ability to meet children where they are because we have a wide variety of individual and small group lessons that honor the fact that children do not have the same needs or interests at the same time. The children relate to each other as members of a collective community, where all are valued and have a responsibility. Children are not ranked or graded. They do not get prizes or awards. They simply learn and grow together.
Montessori children also receive daily grace and courtesy lessons on how to resolve a conflict, how to ask a question, how to listen attentively, how to say no to a friend graciously and how to welcome a guest or visitor. Just as you would not rank your children, and give them prizes for being the “best” in your family community, we do not do that in a Montessori classroom.
As a parent of two daughters who were raised for 9 years in Montessori school before transitioning to traditional school environments, I see some of the skills they have learned and how their personalities have been shaped and defined by the community based environment. They have both thrived during the pandemic, and have easily adapted to using masks and following social protocols to keep each other safe. For them , it was a no brainer.. “Mom, of course I’ll wear a mask to my friend’s house…I have to keep her family safe…and I have to keep you guys safe.” There was no question that they would wear masks to protect their community.
As self directed learners from preschool age, my Montessori educated daughters have always put time and effort into their academic work. Because they are accustomed to working independently on projects that interest them, without receiving grades as motivation, they have continued that through this pandemic, and have adapted to online classes easily. Although they would much prefer to be in a classroom with their peers, their Montessori background has taught them to be flexible, intrinsically motivated and self guided.
Because Montessori education shapes and molds resilient, adaptable, self-guided, collective minded children, they grow into young adults who understand the value of a caring community and how we all have an innate responsibility to love another…not to step on one another to get ahead, but how to grow and move forward together, hand in hand.
When we educate children on importance of the community, give them agency over what and how they learn and practice lessons and provide them with the opportunity to practice daily social grace and courtesy from a very young age, we set them up to be strong, confident and caring members of society. Thus, as valued members of the human global community, they understand the need to protect each other, to listen to each other, to tolerate each other and to humbly accept criticism. As valued members of the extended family of people of the Earth, they understand that they have the power to shape the world they are entering through hard work, grace and courtesy, and the to put the good of the community above personal gain.
“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men. Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” -Maria Montessori
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