postheadericon A Message from Dr. Riane Eisler about the Importance of Montessori Education

Dr. Riane Eisler, best selling author and internationally acclaimed expert on human rights and human possibilities, offers an open letter to parents about the importance of Montessori education.

A Message from Dr. Riane Eisler

Author of Tomorrow’s Children & The Chalice and the Blade

Much of my life has been devoted to an effort to understand and come to grips with the great questions that I raise in my book, Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century:

•  What is the meaning of our journey on this Earth?

•  What about us connects us with, and distinguishes us from, the rest of nature?

•  Why are some people violent and cruel? Why do some of us feel the need to hurt and kill? Is it simply human nature? Is that why violence seems to be infecting so many children? If so, why are some people caring and peaceful? What pushes us in one direction or another?

•  What are our ethical and moral responsibilities as human beings? What impels us to wonder about such things?

Since time immemorial, people have sought answers to these kinds of questions through religion, philosophy, and the empirical method of investigation we call science.  

In my earlier book, The Chalice and the Blade, I attempted to show through specific evidence what Montessori educators know through their experience with children: that people are not inherently greedy, violent, or competitive, and that we are capable of living together in relative peace. I attempted to document that human beings actually did live in partnership and relative peace for tens of thousands of years.

As did Maria Montessori, I also came to the inevitable conclusion that in order to create a peaceful world, we must lay the foundation in our children, beginning when they are very young.

Unfortunately, in many schools, children often feel powerless to change the course of their lives, much less the course of the world around them. Many become immersed in the materialism and self-centeredness that permeates mass culture, futilely seeking meaning and belonging in the latest fad or commercial offering.

Montessori schools around the world offer an alternative way to raise and educate young people that I call Partnership Education. It is designed not only to help them to better navigate through our difficult times, but also to help them create a future that is oriented more toward partnership, rather than the familiar form of interpersonal relationships that I call the dominator model.

In the dominator model, relationships tend to be based on patterns of domination and submission. Most of us have observed, and perhaps experienced, the pain, fear, and tension of people who use coercion, jockey for control, or who try to manipulate and cajole when they are unable to express their real feelings. We can find this going on every day in the relationships within some families, classrooms, workplaces, and among nations or fanatical groups of ideologues.

Thankfully, most of us have also experienced another way of being, one where we feel safe and seen for who we truly are, where our essential humanity and that of others shines through, perhaps only for a little while, lifting our hearts and spirits, enfolding us in a sense that the world can after all be right, that we are valued and valuable. Relationships like these are based on mutual respect, nonviolence, and a desire to work things out in a reasonable and equitable manner if at all possible.

Although we may not use these terms (partnership and dominator), they do accurately describe the two extremes of the ways that people tend to organize their relationships, from the level of our families to our businesses, and even relationships among nations. While in real life things are rarely black or white, but rather shades of gray, we are all familiar with these two models from our own lives.

The partnership and dominator models not only describe individual relationships. They also describe systems of belief and social structures that either nurture and support – or inhibit and undermine – equitable, democratic, nonviolent, and caring relations. Once we understand the partnership and dominator cultural, social, and personal configurations, we can more effectively develop human institutions that foster a less violent, more equitable, democratic, and sustainable future.

Montessori schools are founded on the partnership model and encourage children to develop the ability to work together, think independently, and be empathetic and kind. As studies have shown, students in Montessori programs both tend to excel academically, they have exceptionally high levels of self-esteem and social and emotional maturity.

Teaching Children To Recognize Human Possibilities

Most schools give young people a false picture of what it means to be human. We tell them to be good and kind, nonviolent and giving. But on all sides they see and hear stories that portray us as bad, cruel, violent, and selfish. In the mass media, the focus of both action entertainment and news is on hurting and killing. Situation comedies make insensitivity, rudeness, and cruelty seem funny. Cartoons present violence as exciting, funny, and without real consequences.

This holds up a distorted mirror of themselves to our youth. And rather than correcting this false image of what it means to be human, some aspects of our education reinforce it.

In many schools, the history curriculum still emphasizes battles and wars. Western classics such as Homer’s Iliad and Shakespeare’s kings trilogy romanticize ‘heroic violence.’ Scientific stories tell children that we are the puppets of ‘selfish genes’ ruthlessly competing on the evolutionary stage.

Montessori schools deliver a different message, even from early childhood. Here children are seen as complete human beings, and are encouraged to discover their own talents and voices. They learn at their own pace, and are challenged to focus their attention and energy on self-mastery, rather than besting their classmates. The goal is still to produce very well educated people, but the means by which this is achieved are much more empowering and respectful.

One of the things that I admire about Montessori is that it offers children a much more balanced and positive view of history. Rather than glorify violence and conflict, Montessori schools help children to look at societies from the perspective of daily life, with an equal emphasis on the roles of women, who were, after all, anything but invisible and irrelevant, as well as the roles men played. Montessori students study the culture, cuisine, art, music, and great stories of past civilizations. Rather than pretend that bad things did not happen, they teach children to examine the evidence of celebration and kindness that did exist, along with the stories of not only warriors and kings, but of the people who made great contributions to social justice, scientific understanding, the arts and great literature, and the search for peace.

Montessori schools also bring to light civilizations, past and present day, that have often been ignored, where social life flourished on a basis of partnership and celebration of life. One of my favorite examples of this is the study of Minoan Crete, a glorious civilization which was ultimately destroyed not by invasion and conquest, but by a series of earthquakes and natural disasters.

It is interesting to consider why schools have continued to emphasize the themes of wars and domination in the history curriculum for so long. Not that they should be ignored, but why these experiences are often glorified seems illogical, if we all want peace on Earth.

But think about it from this perspective. If human beings are inherently violent, bad, and selfish, we have to be strictly controlled. This is why stories that claim this is ‘human nature’ are central to an education for a dominator or control system of relationships.

They are, however, inappropriate if young people are to learn to live in a democratic, peaceful, equitable, and Earth-honoring way: the partnership way urgently needed if today’s and tomorrow’s children are to have a better future – perhaps even a future at all.

Children are impoverished when their vision of the future comes out of a dominator world-view. This world-view is our heritage from earlier societies which were structured around rankings of people who considered themselves ‘superiors’ over their common and everyday ‘inferiors.’ In these societies,  violence and abuse were required to maintain rigid rankings of domination – whether man over woman, man over man, nation over nation, race over race, or religion over religion.

Over the last several centuries we have seen many organized challenges to traditions of domination. These challenges are part of the movement toward a more equitable and caring partnership social structure worldwide. But at the same time, much in our education still reinforces what I call dominator socialization: a way of viewing the world and living in it that constricts young people’s perceptions of what is possible and even moral, keeping many of them locked into a perennial rebellion against what is without a real sense of what can be.

Montessori education is one of the few educational approaches that has been so highly successful in giving children both a sound grasp of core knowledge, and the big picture of human history and human possibilities.

The connections between my own ideas and Maria Montessori run deep. In my book, Tomorrow’s Children, I quote from Montessori’s works, and use the great themes in Montessori education, to illustrate many of the reforms that I have urged to transform the schools of today into the schools that we need for tomorrow’s children.

Montessori education is about to celebrate its first one hundred years, and has proven to be not only highly effective, but more relevant and important today than ever before. With the challenges that we face as human beings – social, environmental, and international – I am not aware of any other educational system that provides such a clearly defined overarching plan for preparing teachers to implement partnership education, along with the curriculum needed to support it.

I earnestly hope that as parents, you can appreciate the value of the education that you have chosen for them by sending them to a Montessori school. There they will absorb critical life skills and values that will serve them well down through the years.

Last Updated (Friday, 03 September 2010 08:08)