There is a level of transparency that teachers can create with their students that allows for real and meaningful relationships to develop – a way of being with children that offers Truth a seat at circle. This is no small invitation, for such a guest asks for consistency in practice and humility in spirit.
Montessori educators strive to build spaces that allow children to discover themselves unencumbered by the druthers and opinions of the adults around them. It is the structure inherent to a Montessori classroom, the integrated curricula, the specialized materials, and a holistic view of human development that speaks to the children – not necessarily the beliefs of the guides present in the environment.
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This year, on Constitution Day and later on Veterans Day, I was moved and troubled by our practice of one of the most hallowed habits of an American public school: the Pledge of Allegiance. Each day, from classroom to classroom, students stand and face the flag with a right hand over their heart and recite the Pledge along with children’s voices coming over the PA.
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one Nation under God,
with liberty and justice for all."
In my observations, often the children’s corporate recitation is out of sync with the guiding tempo. In some classrooms, children mumble or mouth half of the words. In others, children visit with their neighbors during the fifteen seconds or so needed to say the Pledge.
As professional educators, if we witness confusion, lack of enthusiasm, or disrespect following a lesson we know to first look inwardly to examine our own teaching practices: Was it the right time? Was it the correct group of children? Was the content appropriate and resonant? Was the material delivered in a way that suited the learners?
In the case of my witnessing children reciting the Pledge I wonder if we need to add an additional question to our meditation:
Should we be doing it at all?
There are routines and patterns that schools develop to create a sense of community and purpose. These are built to be in line with the institution’s grounding philosophy, so to underscore and emphasize what is held as important and meaningful and real. In Montessori classrooms we scaffold our practices - from walking on line, to the gathering of materials, to working with others – in a way that allows for the personal integration of a practice. These routines become held dear because the children can feel their importance – for themselves and for the care of the community.
I recognize that in the lives of public school children the Pledge is a mandated daily activity. I believe, however, that we need to think clearly about how to frame this part of our day; in fact, to create teachable moments using it as a centerpiece: word study, history of the Pledge and the changes to its text over time, nationalism vs. patriotism, civil rights, etc.
In reciting the Pledge:
- What is the educational aim?
- How else might we practice our patriotism?
- In what other ways could we be demonstrating good citizenship?
When it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance, I believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with teaching kids to recite a promise, the meaning of which they do not fully understand.
I believe that in having children participate in the Pledge without an attached frame of reference we are modeling for them that it is okay to just do, and not think about why. I worry that we are engendering a practice of not asking questions, of following directions without disobedience – of being seen but not heard. True learning, of course, happens when we stop and look twice – when what we thought we understood is laid open for further review.
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Authentic Montessori programs work tirelessly to integrate Peace Education into the children’s day, as well as the running of the school; it is part and parcel of what such schools stand for, it is who they are. We need to remember that this is a curriculum of action. It is much more that creating a feeling. It is about fostering an outward way of being grounded in a powerful sense of oneself and one’s connection to the universe.
Our job, as peacemakers, is to do and say the difficult things. It is to question the status quo and hold it up to the light of Truth.