Building the Activists of Tomorrow

We are a community of revolutionaries. Each day as I watch families walk through the front doors and the children enter their classrooms I start the day with a genuine moment of inspiration. We come together in our courageous choice of an alternative model of education, motivated by a deep desire to honor the best within our children and find the best within our adult selves in our roles as parents and teachers.

This week as I listened to NPR, a farming family in China shared the heartbreaking story of losing their 14-year-old son to cancer as a result of the severely polluted river that supplies water to their village. The water that flows into this particular village comes from a leather tannery which produces manufactured goods. This Chinese village uses much of the river water to farm rice, which finds its way to tables globally. This small story matters to all of us because it highlights our inescapable interdependence.

In the Elementary, we have a set of economic geography lessons around this idea of interdependency. One set of cards invites the children to discover “Who the farmer needs..” to do his work. The cards highlight the transporter, miller, grocer, and others who collaborate with the farmer. It was this lesson I thought of as I listened to the NPR story and envisioned that the farmer now also needs the environmental regulator, the lobbyist, the journalist, the activist, and the global political will to safely continue their work in the modern economy.

The tragic events of Boston and Newtown alongside this specific story bring focus to the challenges facing humanity and the planet our children are inheriting. There is big work to do throughout the world. Work that requires compassionate, dedicated, hard-working adults. In Montessori schools around the world, children are gifted with an experience that offers appropriately challenging work and activities which allow them to practice and perfect their skills, to feel the satisfaction of concentration, to learn to constructively manage conflict, to practice grace and courtesy, and to connect with the essential need to be in community and collaboration with one another.

The foundational partnership between school and home supports the work of the children and elevates the purpose of knowledge beyond the individual to the interdependent whole. When given real responsibility and work at school and at home, the children see themselves as active, important, and essential members of their communities (the laundry will not fold itself!). Our students leave us understanding that it’s not just about passing tests or one’s class rank but about connecting to our essential humanity. They leave us with what Montessori termed a “cosmic task”, or one’s unique work and contribution based on the individual’s skills and interests within an interdependent community. We are building the activists of tomorrow.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

In the words of Maria Montessori: “If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men."

Dawn Cowan, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School