By Aimee Allen M.Ed.
TIES Alum ‘05
One of the many gifts of Montessori Education is the woven threads of gratitude that infuse the classroom at all levels. As the adults in the Montessori classroom, we model for children what it means to be appreciative, humble, and considerate in addition to being curious, capable, and confident. This is an immense gift to both the student and the world. We embrace and celebrate that which makes us different and that which connects us in unity.Mario Montessori wrote and spoke about the human tendencies and the fundamental needs of people一those things that transcend all and connect us to both the past and future, and to cultures all over the world. When elementary students dive deeply into the Fundamental Needs of People Chart they see that we are all connected and all have the same needs. How those needs are met depends on geography, natural resources, culture, and place in time. For example how someone met their fundamental needs in Manhattan in 1794 differs greatly than how someone meets their needs in that same location today. However the actual needs一nourishment, shelter, quest for knowledge, clothing, communication & connection, etc.一remain the same. Likewise, students might look at how someone meets their needs today in Gig Harbor, Washington compared to how someone is meeting those same needs at the very same moment in Ankara, Turkey. This concept allows students to feel a kinship to people they have never met.Mario Montessori also talked about gratitude, specifically regarding the need to reflect on those who have come before us. Our ancestors who tasted plants and berries passed down information through generations about what is safe to eat. Our fellow humans across the globe are working right now on materials that will clothe us, or inventions that will help us meet our human needs for health and wellness. Right at this moment there are people having deep and meaningful conversations around peace and human rights. There are so many people who have done and are doing indirect service for us, and we them, service which allows everyone to meet our needs in our place and time.
You can imagine, and likely have witnessed, the sense of wonder that students feel when we take humanity and strip it down to show that we do, in fact, have all of the same basic needs. It allows our students to view themselves as global citizens. It also can inspire them to reflect on what they are doing or can be doing to participate in society.
At the same time, we must be careful that we do not romanticize it. As the models in the classroom, we must acknowledge and celebrate the differences between cultures, traditions, races, religions, abilities, and identities. Students in the second, third, and fourth planes of development need to learn about the inequities of the world. They need to understand that everyone should have a voice and everyone should find their power. This understanding and appreciation of diversity shouldn’t push us away from each other, but connect us even further.
Unity and diversity are not antithetical. Maria Montessori, a woman always ahead of her time, recognized the connections between unity and diversity. She said, “The needs of mankind are universal. Our means of meeting them create the richness and diversity of the planet. The Montessori child should come to relish the texture of that diversity.”
Certainly, we have much work to do in the social justice arena and in human relations, in general. The Fundamental Needs of Humans and the Human Tendencies can serve as springboards for very timely and important conversations. Conversations can turn to action and students can lead the way.
Spending time looking at what makes us unique and what makes us the same can produce a deep sense of gratitude. The works of Maria and Mario Montessori can provide the framework we need to get started. It is then up to us to continue making connections, all the while planting the seeds for students to harvest and discover their own appreciations of humanity.