“Dr. Montessori understood that children learn about moral development by working in real life tasks. When they focus on real work towards a common goal, they use their energy, commitment and intelligence which can help transform the world! Her belief that our children are our medium for social change and her concept of using education as a means for teaching peace are real”
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator and is best known for her educational method that is still in practice today in private and public school around the world. But there is more to her, she was born in 1870, and grew up in a time when it was not respectable for women to pursue a career and to attend university but this did not stop her from pursuing her dreams: becoming the first female Italian doctor and improving the lives of children. After the First World War, she became socially active regarding world peace. She believed that education was the corner stone for creating great social change. As an early supporter of the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, she spoke to an assembly in 1929. It is here that she introduced her concept of Education and Peace. In 1949 she also wrote a book titled “Education and Peace”. Maria Montessori died in 1952. On August 31st, 2020 the Montessori community will be celebrating Montessori’s 150th birthday. As the United Nations also celebrates a milestone anniversary (75th ) in 2020, it seems very fitting to remember Maria Montessori on a greater scale; being involved in the early formation of the UN and sharing her dream of education for peace. Her objective is still very much aligned with those of several United Nations organizations (UNESCO and UNICEF).
As Canadian elementary Montessori teacher, I recently had the opportunity to work at a Montessori school in France teaching students aged 6-12. This, in itself, was a fabulous experience but it also introduced me to the Montessori Model United Nation, a program I had only heard of in the USA and I didn’t think it applied to the elementary students, and many people outside of Montessori would only know of Model UN events for high school and University students. But here is the beauty of Montessori: It is “believing in the potential of the child”.
In 2012, the MMUN hosted their first teacher’s workshop in Geneva and our school jumped at the chance to be involved. I became a trained MMUN guide and then for 2 years I helped my students prepare and attend the two conferences in Geneva. I would like to share with you my experiences and introduce you to the wonderful world of global peace education at work.
As a teacher, it is a big commitment to embark on a MMUN project but the rewards are everlasting. I remember this one student…. He was a 6 year old French speaking student who came to us mid-year. That year he witnessed the 9-12 students prepare and attend the first MMUN conference in Geneva. The following year, he was 7 years old and he was enthusiastic about everything (except writing) and he was eager to learn English. He would often hear me give lessons to the other children and would stand on the outskirts of the group. He was particularly interested in the current events sharing and asked to attend the group. Of course I agreed. At first he just listened a great deal. His English rapidly got better. His parents were bilingual but usually spoke French at home. At one point they told me that he started to refuse to speak French at home! As time went on he began to ask questions and comment on the issues, then he began to share some pieces of information that he had heard in the news. Two other 8 year old girls also started to join our group. I thought “this never would have happened if I was in a 9-12 class”, and “this is exactly why we have mixed ages in a class”! Anyway, this boy knew about the Model UN conference that the older students were going to attend and he wanted to join. I said I had to think about it: he was a hesitant writer; he didn’t write stories in French or English; his hand writing was slow in developing… I wondered “Was it possible?” During the MMUN teacher’s training we were not given an age restriction due to so many teachers having 6-12 year old classes. It was left up to us to decide who was ready. I told this boy what was involved (a lot of writing, reading and research), I also talked to his parents as they would need to help him with reading and understanding some of the world issues. This boy still wanted to be involved. So I agreed which had an effect on the other 8 year old girls as they also wanted to join the MMUN group. Wow! So, my task got even greater as I needed to get these younger students ready also. They needed to learn how to cite references, write a research paper, and debate. It turns out that this was just what this boy needed to spark his interest into writing. I let him use a computer to type his work. I spent extra time helping him edit his work and adjust his references but it all came together. He had the stamina and interest to sustain the project. His topic was child labour and at the conference he spoke intelligently and passionately about the subject. He out shone some of the older attendees. I get an email from his mother occasionally, to tell me how he is doing. His experience at the MMUN has had a lasting and positive effect on him.
I also think of my other students who attended the conferences. Some of them struggled in the preparations but they all got a great deal out of the actual event. They established friendships with people from around the world, their views were REALLY listened to by their peers, their oral communication skills improved, and their interest in the world improved. At the first Geneva conference we had students aged 8 years old to 15 years old in the same room, discuss a topic. At first I thought that the older students would dominate the conversations but everyone seemed to listen to each other. In fact, two of my 10 year old students were voted, unanimously, by their committee peers, to read the final resolution at the closing ceremonies. What a fantastic boast to their egos!
During the conferences I was free to move between committee rooms and to listen to the discussions. One such discussion was on the disarmament of land mines. In attendance were students from Oman who chose to represent their own country so they could share their perspective on why they needed land mines. At times the debates got quite intense but in the end they created a resolution which was supported by all the countries!
They agreed that the goal was to disarm landmines around the world and that funding would be available to those that needed it. For Pakistan and other countries who are at war, they agreed to only have landmines on the bordering regions where conflict occurred and to replace those current landmines to “smart mines” which could be activated and deactivated when necessary, and when the country was ready to completely remove them, then funding would be made available. This resolution really surprised the adults as we did not think it was possible for the students to compromise to this extent. It really showed us how capable our young people are.
Dr. Montessori understood that children learn about moral development by working in real life tasks. When they focus on real work towards a common goal, they use their energy, commitment and intelligence which can help transform the world! Her belief that our children are our medium for social change and her concept of using education as a means for teaching peace are real and can work if we believe too. This is Peace Education at work!
Linda Wrigley has been a Montessori educator for 19 years. She holds an Honours Bachelors in Outdoor Recreation, a BA in Geography and has an AMI Elementary Montessori diploma from Milwaukee. She recently had the opportunity to bring her skills to France and taught for 2 years at a Montessori school near Antibes.