What we inadvertently create when we teach

I recently read an article from BBC about the impact of environment on the way humans perceive things (https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170306-the-astonishing-focus-of-namibias-nomads). Members of the Himba tribe of Namibia who continue to live a nomadic existence without modern artifacts see differently than their counterparts who have moved to town. It seems the Himba are more focused on the particular. They can see the broader context, but their focus is on the particular. However, even a limited exposure to a town setting, visiting once or twice, changes their perception.

This led me to muse once again about the impact the environment we provide our children has on their development.  From visual perception to social mores, our children are changed even more deeply by their environments than we adults. It’s a topic that has intrigued and troubled me for some time.

Covid-19 has demonstrated unequivocally the magnitude of responsibility we give to our childcares and schools in the upbringing of our children. In most modern families, parents are at work and grandparents and significant others live in different households. Our children spend the majority of their time in childcare and school, shaped more and more by these environments and, of course, by the online world that often impacts whatever waking time they have at home.

As we educate our children’s intellects, we are impacting their entire being. Have we given this enough thought? Do we know what we are creating? Is it what we want for our children? Is it what our world needs from the adults our children will become?

Having been a Montessori teacher and head of school, I know first-hand the impact Montessori environments have on behaviour and well-being. The more closely we adhere to supporting the individual young person’s development with a carefully prepared physical, temporal and mentored environment, designed to meet not only the young person’s intellectual but social, physical and emotional needs; the calmer and more focussed the young person, the fewer the disciplinary challenges, the deeper the learning, and the greater the joy for both adult and youth. The emphasis is always on supporting the individual young person – following their lead, interests and developing abilities. There is a curriculum framework but the young person’s path and speed through that curriculum is theirs alone. And this occurs in a social environment of mixed ages, usually three grades together, where the emphasis is on supporting one another in challenges, and acknowledging everyone’s successes – where you are valued for being you within a community.

Whenever a Montessori teacher succumbs to the pressure to push the curriculum, to emphasize it over the needs of a student, the spirit of the classroom dissolves – as quickly as a bubble bursts with a touch. The impact of environment does indeed seem to have a much more powerful influence than we generally acknowledge.

In spite of the challenges that Covid-19 is causing for education, or maybe because of the creative opportunities in these challenges, I am led again to ponder:

When we educate our children’s intellects, whether in a Montessori environment or in a more traditional setting, we are impacting their entire being. Have we given this enough thought? Do we know what we are creating? Is it what we want for our children? Is it what our world needs from the adults our children will become?