Each morning’s news – conflict after conflict. A reflection of our culture, our upbringing, our educational experiences. How difficult it is for us to hold both sides of a situation, to hear all the voices, to feel that the persons represented are more like us than different. How easy it is for us to see the other as separate and wrong – someone or some group to be vilified, put down, ridiculed. Perhaps this is just human nature, our natural inclination to protect ourselves by gathering around a common fire and keeping others at bay. But does it have to be? Is this helping our development as humans? Is it making the world a better place? Do we not long for a more peaceful world with less fear?
The aspect of this that bears down on me is the role that education plays. I’m not talking about the knowledge we are taught or the academic skills that we learn but the underlying values and ways of being that we learn in the many hours we spend being schooled. In conventional schooling, we are trying to fit into the mold that is designated by the adult, slowing down for a lesson that others still need or trying to grasp the concept being offered that we unfortunately lack the underlying knowledge for. In conventional schooling we are often in competition with one another, actually or in our perceptions. Are we at the top of the class, or the bottom? Did we get as good a mark as others? Is that related to our worthiness? Would we be more worthy, more valued by the adults in our lives if our marks were higher?
Can we change the way we interact with one another by changing the way we educate children – not just the academic curriculum but the way we have them spend their days?
What if we grew up living an experience of doing our best in the company of others, offering others what we know ourselves and gratefully accepting what others know as we explore and develop side by side, moving forward by interacting and learning to value knowledge perspectives that are not our own.
There is an educational system that encompasses this culture of a learning community in both its broad structure and its detailed day-to-day interactions – Montessori. It is an entirely different paradigm. Students work together in a multi-age class, each driven by the natural human tendency to explore and become competent, and guided by an adult who gives them the lesson they are ready for or, even better, puts them in touch with a fellow student who can give that lesson or the assistance needed in that moment. A Montessori classroom is a place where being exactly who you are, with all your abilities and challenges, is welcomed and indeed celebrated. And where the expectation is that everyone has value and, while everyone’s ideas about almost everything may be different, there is more to gain by trying to understand the other’s perspective than shouting about how right our ideas are.
When children are schooled in this way, they have a different way of being in the world and perhaps that is just what our world needs as it becomes smaller and smaller, and our human way of being in and on our world requires greater and greater care and cooperation.