There is a saying that “history repeats itself.” Many people are equating past times of social concerns about violence, ethnic hatred, racism, and abuse, to the current unrest in our country and others. It is a confusing, frightening time to live and raise children.
How can parents and educators teach the next generations about peace?
Peace truly begins in our homes and in our classrooms. The basics of peace include providing day-to-day environments which operate under an umbrella of respect, where members can freely share concerns, be productive, be creative, and enjoy one another without punitive or violent results.
Between the First and Second World Wars, there was a movement to teach more subjects about international relations so that students would not want to wage wars against people in other countries. Perhaps this was the start of educating “global citizens.” It was a time of teaching tolerance that had the potential to contribute to peace. During this time, Maria Montessori was instructing educators throughout Europe to replace authoritarian pedagogies and replace them with a curriculum that allowed students to make choices. She saw authoritarian teachers like some rulers, and she believed if children had choices, they would not automatically follow rulers who waged war.
Montessori’s philosophy of education was the first that demonstrated the importance of freeing the child’s spirit, to promote love for others and by developing prepared classrooms to remove unnecessary restrictions. Her initial work in the slums of Rome facilitated a love for learning for children while they were living in extreme poverty. It was not just about teaching peace it was about changing the paradigm for the way teachers teach and the importance of the prepared classroom. In addition, Montessori encouraged teachers to nurture characteristics of a healthy family. Montessori found that if parents, children, and teachers all work together to help develop the child more consistent progress will follow.
Montessori teachers are instructed in the importance of preparing the classroom to ensure that each child has activities that provide comfort, creativity, challenges, and joy. Children are able to move about the classroom freely, make choices, converse with peers and teachers, immerse with concentration in meaningful work, and to relax at will. Children are taught important executive function skills such: as how to wait, persevere, how to watch, how to interrupt politely, how to take care of their belongings and the classroom, how to plan, and how to solve conflicts peacefully.
Impromptu lessons in grace and courtesy happen throughout the day. Grace and courtesy impact all interactions in life – with the environment, with peers, with adults, with family members and new acquaintances. These lessons empower children to be self-aware, empathetic, responsible and independent. Again, the umbrella of respect is ever present.
Many Montessori scholars believe that lessons in grace and courtesy are just as important as lessons in math, language, or music. Children in a Montessori school help to establish and keep the ground rules of the classroom. When undesired behavior does occur the manner in which this is handled involves honoring the humanity of both the child who exhibits the behavior and any victims. Children are taken aside, spoken to in a calm manner, given an opportunity to reflect on what could have been done differently and then showing compassion and kindness towards any who have been mistreated. Montessori teachers are role models of the expected behavior with all classroom community members. In addition, mistakes are considered opportunities for learning to take place.
Maria Montessori not only produced the theory of peace education but she also made major contributions to concrete lessons for peace. Montessori education is still thriving after 110 years and continues to grow in popularity throughout the world. Her focus on the development of the whole child including creative and critical thinking skills as well as interpersonal skills leads to the development of people who are equipped to enable lasting peace.
Maria Montessori said, “Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of educators.”
Duckworth, C. (2006). Teaching peace: A dialogue on Maria Montessori. Journal of Peace Education. ISSUE NUMBER 39-53.
Harris, I.M., 2002. Peace Education Theory. Available online http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED478728.pdf
Lillard, A. 2005. The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press.
Miller, A. 2011. Cultivating Peace in the Classroom.