Why is it that Montessorians do what we do? We are bound by a pedagogical framework, in name and in practice, that unifies our presence here and in this moment, but... Why?
It is easy to talk about the What: Providing an alternative education environment in the public charter school arena...
And the How: Through moving from the sensorial to the abstract we ignite the senses and the intellect through the work of the hands; or, through great impressionistic lessons we connect children with their world in rich and meaningful ways; or, by providing real and resonant opportunities for children to contribute to their local community while gaining the academic skills that powers innovation and leadership...
I am reminded of a time in my youth when I was walking off-trail through the dusty floor of a dense lodgepole pine forest. That day I was very intent on sticking to the bearing that I had cast through the woods, focused on navigating wisely around the trees and boulders that lay in my path so to stay true to my course. My eyes would glance up from map and compass, select a point to walk towards that was in line with my bearing, and I would walk to that mark - repeating the process as each successive waypoint was reached. This I did for hours.
Later that morning, I was awakened by something suddenly between the more stationary things I had been working around. There, in the dappled light of the mid-day sun, stood a young doe and her fawn. The two stood there as if stone, their presence only illuminated by how their breath caught in the rays of the near-vertical light reaching the forest floor. I remember gasping and feeling as if my heart might break open. There, amongst the concentration and vigilance that had filled my morning stood such tremendous beauty, such a powerful sense of belonging.
I lingered for a time, suspended – afraid to move or breathe lest the moment pass too quickly. When I finally did take a step onward it was as if my vision had changed. Everything was more clear, more crisp. In fact, I was no longer drawn to the points along my bearing, but rather to the spaces in-between.
What I realized after my journey through the forest was that for much of the time I was hiking my hyperawareness to my travel plan blinded me to the magic around me. (1)
So it is that the clarifying potency of discernment distills what is most important. Like the sunlight shining through the forest canopy in my story, what is needed becomes shockingly and suddenly clear.
Maria Montessori’s “Why?” was to be an aid to humankind, to be an aid to life. She wrote:
“Only a sane spiritual rebuilding of the human race can bring about peace. To set about this task, we must go back to the child.” (2)
To her, our role was to shepherd a new age of enlightenment and higher consciousness; indeed, to engender in the children of today and the adults of the tomorrow a deep and abiding sense of peace and justice and equanimity.
“If education recognizes the intrinsic value of the child’s personality and provides an environment suited for spiritual growth, we have the revelation of an entirely new child, whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.” (3)
The atoms of which I am made are the atoms of which you are made. We are all but cosmic dust, cast wide from the days of our ancient universe. Within us are the kernels of great masses of heat and light. Within us is the vibrational energy of the universe, the great flaring forth. We all share this interstellar ancestry.
What is it about how we were made that informs our work with children and, therefore, our “Why?” In how we are and what we do, how can we consciously and conscientiously reflect the great cosmic mystery and the potential for peace?
Needless to say, we are way beyond “education reform”. We are charged with fundamentally changing the way children interact and perceive the world such that we actually elevate our species and evolve higher consciousness. To do so, we must remember that we are each stewards of a child’s inner light, that spark of possibility that needs our undivided attention.
All that we do - our personal preparation, the preparation of our environments, the concerted intentionality behind the lessons and experiences we provide children must all be checked and double-checked relative to that mission-driven purpose. Tending to the light within every child, and within each of us:
- Classrooms become temples;
- Materials become meditations; and
- Work becomes worship. (4)
In so doing, we shine-out our own inner brilliance. We are each like individual stars, seen collectively as constellations, providing the star maps by which children can navigate the Universe.
Journeys such as these can be filled with both discomfort and joy. It is how we intentionally choose to navigate that journey that makes all the difference. Our “Why?” is nothing short of spiritual enlightenment. Through engaging the hands, the heart, and the head we can truly create the future as we want it to be.
(1) Adapted from the previously published “Looking for Grace in the Work We Do”
(2) Excerpted from Maria Montessori’s 1932 speech at the International Office of Education in Geneva, Switzerland - first published in Italian as “Educazione e Pace”, then later in English as “Education and Peace” (1943) by The Theosophical Society of India.
(4) Adapted from the previously published “ Teaching with Spirit: Maria Montessori’s Cosmic Vision” (http://radicalmontessori.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-spirit-meditations-on-montessoris.html)