I spent time the last few weeks presenting geometry in Bluffton, South Carolina, using the same materials I’ve presented to teachers in different parts of the world over the last few decades. From public charter schools in the Low Country, to a village in Ghana where pencils are shared, in Indonesia, Korea, Shanghai.
To say that this all impressed upon me the universality of Montessori would be an understatement. And so I’ve spent some time thinking about what it is about this method of education that is so adaptable across time, over a hundred years, and space. I think part of the answer is that at its core, Montessori is a reflection of humanity’s most essential components.
It is rooted in movement. We see this clearly in the materials and the nature of the environments. Ours is a dynamic space. Movement is engaged, both gross motor, as works are chosen and replaced, and fine motor, exchanging one stamp for ten, one bead for ten, forming quadrilaterals from triangles. “Children”, Montessori reminds us, “learn through their hands”. Movement is also rooted in our humanity. When we need to express our deepest emotions, are words ever adequate? What conveys comfort better than an embrace? What communicates affection more clearly than the stroke of a cheek? We are born to movement. Our first breath is movement. Movement makes us human.
It is rooted in imagination. Our children place a thousand stamp and see, in their mind’s eye, a thousand cube. A piece of string becomes a line that never ends, moving to infinity in either direction. Globes become worlds. Look around you, for worse but mostly for the better, everything we have created as humans was created through imagination. Montessori likened us to Robinson Crusoe, wresting material from the Earth to meet our needs, using our greatest tool, our imagination. It is what moves us forward with hope, envisioning a future better than the present, better than our past. “If there is to be change in the world”, Montessori reminds us, “it will begin with children.”
It is rooted in love. There is no greater lesson in a Montessori classroom than the value of compassion. The care of our environment comes from a love of order. The care of each other comes from our love of community. We could even say that the child’s inner drive to refine, to learn, to grow, is derived from love, because isn’t self-respect and esteem a loving and caring process of our future self?
And we have all chosen to make this our life’s work. Now think of the circumstances that have led to this moment. My parents, one from Germany, the other from America, had to meet for me to be born, and their parents and their parents parents and so on, from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Austria, Germany. We are all, then at the apex of a great triangle. The circumstances and events that led to this moment, repeated for all of us, then gives us the idea, not of a triangle, of a great cone, stretching out behind this moment, and focused right here, right now. If we look ahead, doesn’t the same shape appear to us? The events in our lives, planned and unplanned, woven with others, expand out away from us as will our descendants. A cone behind, cone ahead. That’s what makes these weeks, our work, in each passing moment, so important.