February 28th had been imprinted in my mind for months, in anticipation of submitting my TIES Culminating Project. Little did I know, that date would also mark the first case of COVID-19 diagnosed here in Oregon. In the flurry of activity surrounding school closure and the lockdown of our city, there was neither time nor space for deep breaths of relief or feelings of elation and at having completed my big, transformative work. My focus necessarily shifted to guiding my school community through distance learning platforms, and navigating individual and communal grief arising from the one-two punch of a global pandemic and what would grow to become a national social crisis.
Closure & Sustained Community
Like many schools around the world, after the closure we quickly learned a few key tools of technology to approximate an experience of connection and community. We spent countless hours collecting resources and pondering how best to support our children and families through a time of enormous uncertainty. We came together in virtual Zoom rooms to recognize our shared responsibility as Montessori educators, processing the crises around us whilst grappling with the crises within us, and noticing our innate tendency to do what we have always done, even as we were being called to a new purpose.
In the midst of unprecedented circumstances that require more of me, personally and professionally, than any experience in my life, I find myself leaning into the TIES community for strength, grounding and support. I often refer to David Bohm’s process of dialogue, to arrive at common meaning and purpose as we explore and expand upon our understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I feel grateful to have spent eighteen months in TIES, observing my own conditioning and actively questioning the assumptions that may emerge out of old core beliefs, all within the framework of an expanded view of Cosmic Education.
Social Justice and Peace in Montessori Education
For people of privilege, COVID-19 has shown us what it means to fear for our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and to endure the loss of our basic rights to move about and gather freely. Yet, people of color have been facing these realities for generations. To witness deadly acts of racism against the backdrop of global suffering provides us with a critical perspective, as we work to create an elevated sense of empathy as humans.
As I gathered virtually with my cohort and our beloved faculty mentors on graduation day, I became overwhelmed with emotion at the unexpected sense of connection and belonging I felt, despite the fact that I was quarantined at home, alone. In the space between us, I was reminded that separation is a narrative that can be rewritten. We are self-constructing beings who play an integral part in this autopoietic universe, and our evolution as a species depends upon our collaboration with others. We innately carry the capacity for solving the problems we have created, and to develop the understanding to work through the problems we now face.
In his concluding remarks to our graduating cohort, faculty mentor, Steven Arnold, encouraged us to “Follow the child in front of you, and follow the child within.” Montessori tasked teachers of her method to support human beings with the enormous work of self-construction, directing us to be introspective, and to deconstruct beliefs that do not serve humanity. While it is incredibly big work to dismantle the narrative of separation that leads to racism, it is our paramount responsibility as Montessori educators of the 21st century to purposefully engage in this work and help pave the path to social justice and peace; for the children in front of us, and for the children within.