MSJ Statement on the Election

Dear Montessori for Social Justice Community,

you-are-loved-1-of-1The American election results have impacted our children, families, schools and all of us and in many different ways. The messages of hate that many of us heard during the campaign have become real and threatening. Some of us have felt uncertainty, fear, rejection, concern for our physical safety and the safety of our children and our friends. Students and teachers who are more recent immigrants fear deportation and splitting apart their families. Our Native American Montessori colleagues see the irony in American immigrants further restricting access to land that was not originally theirs. As educators, here is how we view our work going forward:

In our classrooms, we work to recognize the unique beauty and potential of every child, and help our students understand the uncertain society around them. We commit to looking inward, and examining our own implicit biases. We commit to improving our practices and school policies to better support diversity, openness and accessibility. We are committed to creating systems that produce equitable outcomes for all.

We stand together as a country founded on the principles of democracy, and we work to continue to realize those principles for everyone. We demand respect and expect that our voices matter. We hold vigil for those who are afraid to speak out and for those who do not have the resources, the opportunity, or the ability to protest. We commit to continuing to work to protect the most vulnerable families in our communities…our children no matter what race, gender or class. Our Muslim, Latinx, Native American, African American, Asian, LGBTQ, immigrant and refugee neighbors are loved and welcome in our schools.

Martin Luther King, Jr said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We choose love. We choose to transform. We choose to stand together. We choose to speak out. Our children’s hearts are enormous. We will do our best to provide them with a safe and hopeful place to spread their love. We will work to make America reflect the communities of respect we create in our classrooms.
In love and solidarity,

Karen Farquharson, Montessori del Mundo, Aurora, CO

Dale Mogaji, Northglade Montessori Magnet School, Kalamazoo, MI

Trisha Moquino, Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, NM

on behalf of Montessori for Social Justice

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Our Big Work: Reflections on being Anti-Racist Montessorians

Tiffany Jewell and Laura Kraby, both Montessori elementary teachers, write the first in a series of reflections teaching anti-bias anti-racist Montessori.

Tiffany: I grew up in one of the poorest cities in the country.  Our neighborhood of renters and elderly home-ownersTiffanyJewell was filled with friends of varying shades of light and dark brown skin.  My twin and I lived with our white mom.  Our Black dad lived in Georgia.  Our public magnet school was just a few blocks away and our mom walked us there every morning.  It was our neighborhood school; the ceiling in the gym was crumbling, the textbooks were the same ones used by students fifteen years ago, and there was always shattered glass on the playground.  Despite our underfunded schools, I fell in love with education.  I loved the books, the work, my classmates, and my teachers.  I believed everyone should be able to have access to obtaining knowledge and love doing so as much as I did so, I followed my cosmic task to teach and became a Montessori teacher.

Working with children is liberating and humbling, exciting and exhausting, and it is, I think, the best avenue to making positive change in the world. Some educators question whether racial bias exists in schools, particularly Montessori schools. This is a reflection, a summary, of how I, as a multiracial child and woman, have witnessed and experienced racism. I was first introduced to racism when I was in preschool and, as my schooling continued, received constant reminders and confirmation that racism exists and is embedded into our educational institutions.  

My first school friends and I all had varying shades of brown skin.  Our teachers did not.  I learned how to read, write, and solve equations.  I also learned the darker a person’s skin color, the harder they had to work.  I learned only white people can be teachers and that our white teachers, even when they spelled Asia with three “a’s” were still, always right.  And, I learned, as a third grader, that a white teacher could call a student a “Black African Ape” and come to school the next day without making an apology to her student, my friend.  I learned that Columbus was a hero and the Iroquois Nation was a thing of that past. I learned we were all a part of a “melting pot” and my teachers were praised for being “colorblind.”

My middle school friends and I had varying shades of light skin, like our teachers.  We were challenged, academically, in our Team One classes.  Despite there being a higher percentage of brown students at my school, in my tracked Team One classes, I was surrounded by the white ones.  We went on many field trips, my brown friends did not.  I learned how to speak Spanish, solve algebraic equations, and to feel trusted by a teacher.  I learned that all the white kids were smart and the brown kids were not… and that the few who were on Team One had to work extra hard to prove their capabilities.

Still, my sister and I had no teachers who looked like us in high school.  I learned how to dissect small animals and that a logarithm is an exponent. I learned it was okay for my English instructor to assign books written by white men (and only white men). I learned only white students and those of us with light skin took Advanced Placement classes.  My Black classmates needed to go through “mediation” more often than my white schoolmates.  I learned the school district and school board only saw us as labels (B-black, W-white, and O-other) and those of us with the “W” (and, sometimes, the “O”) label were placed in the highest track classes, headed to college.  Those of my peers with the “B” label were not often considered advanced or “gifted.”

I went to my first college where I was the only person like me within the campus of the small women’s liberal arts college, in a tiny town, in upstate New York.  I learned how to discuss Jane Austen and William Shakespeare among my peers, how to take photographs of cells under a microscope, and how to be that only one.  I learned that, in my “Failure and Success in America” seminar,  it was okay for my professor to substitute the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the movie, Thelma and Louise. I learned that my academic advisor was a racist because she told me so.  And, I learned there was a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in which the librarians’ husband was a member, maybe even the leader.  There, I could count the number of brown faces on one hand and I, with my light skin, curly hair, and many freckles stuck out like a sore thumb.  I didn’t walk anywhere alone; the campus was too quiet, the rural town was too sleepy and too homogeneous.  That year, I learned how, for the first time in my life, to walk with fear.  

As a student, I learned that teachers, no matter how well-intentioned, express harm through their words, actions, and inactions.  As an educator, I know that we can do better. I was drawn to the Montessori Method because it is the hope for doing better.  Because the curriculum was created based on scientific observations and knowledge, rather than a person’s theories on what society needs and, because there is a concerted effort to teach and encourage peace, Montessori appealed to me as the avenue for Social Justice Education. However, despite being child-centered, our classroom environments and lessons are prepared by the adults.

We bring our personal biases with us, into the classroom, every day.  What we’ve learned (and didn’t learn) about racism enters through our doors upon our backs.  We are gracious and kind. As we greet our students with a firm handshake and a smile every single morning, we make a silent promise to honor each student and see them for who they are… not for who we think they should be.  We made a promise, as Montessorians, to “Follow the child.”  However, do we really follow the child and honor them when our biases get in the way?  Can we effectively guide with respect, inclusivity, enthusiasm, and integrity when we are bound by systemic racism?  

Our reality check: Our Montessori programs are not inherently unbiased.  The biggest reason why is because of us, the teachers, the administrators, the parents.  We carefully prepare our environments for our children and attempt to promote safe, inclusive schools and classrooms. We encourage no prejudice without actively practicing anti-bias education.  We have pictures on the walls that reflect “diversity” and books about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but nothing more.  We want multiculturalism without embracing an anti-racist mission.  Education is liberatory; teachers are agents of change.  As Montessorians, we can do more; we can do better.

What does it look like when we start to do more?

Our goals are these (from Louise Derman-Sparks’s Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children):dermansparks

  1. Nurture each child’s construction of a knowledgeable, confident self-concept and group identity;
  2. Promote each child’s comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds;
  3. Foster each child’s critical thinking about bias; and
  4. Cultivate each child’s ability to stand up for themselves and for others in the face of bias.

“Anti-Bias, anti-racist (ABAR) education supports all children’s full development in our multiracial, multilingual, multicultural world and gives them the tools to stand-up to prejudice, stereotyping, bias, and eventually to institutional “-isms/” (An excerpt from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves , Louise Derman- Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards).  

What does it look like when we start to actively practice having an anti-bias/ anti-racist Montessori classroom community?  

Throughout my three years of Montessori teacher training I met many well-intentioned teachers.  I’ve kept in touch with some and have been able to observe in the classrooms of a few.  Laura is one teacher I wish I had when I was in elementary school.  She graciously accepts and understands her privilege as a white teacher and truly sees all of her students.  She continually practices anti-bias/anti-racist education and recognizes there is, still, much work to be done.  Laura’s classroom shows us what it looks like when we start to actively practice having an anti-bias/anti-racist Montessori classroom community. Here is a sneak peek into what happens every day in her classroom:

Laura: Over the 6 years that I have been a Montessori teacher, my mission has continuously evolved. I have worked in a laurakrabyfew different Montessori schools and classrooms with varying degrees of diversity, both culturally and socioeconomically, and in all instances, one common purpose bursts forth naturally each year, informing my classroom agenda: guide the children toward a tolerant, inclusive, peaceful, and socially conscious experience as they grow. I tend to tell parents when the topic comes up that the children might not leave my classroom expert mathematicians or perfect spellers, but they will be consciously practicing kindness, acceptance, and awareness of the ways they can contribute to social justice.

I have taken this mission seriously as I have seen abundant evidence that anti-racist/anti-bias conversations are not happening in many other classrooms or schools. I have heard white parents express concern that the children are too young to learn about topics such as slavery and civil rights. I have also had many families of various religious and ethnic backgrounds thank me for the work I do to heighten the children’s awareness. I have explained to my head of school when questioned about the work I do that I am not in the business of protecting the bubble of white privilege. It is never too early to awaken a child’s mind. In the early elementary years children are particularly concerned with justice and especially compassionate. Bringing anti-bias/anti-racist topics to their level of understanding opens natural pathways and ignites natural passions that will become important parts of their character as they grow.

Every day I see evidence of the positive effect of our classroom’s anti-bias work. One particular moment from last spring stands out as I reflect on the body of anti-bias work we did. It was late April in our Lower Elementary Montessori class. A new student had just joined our classroom community as a first grader, with only 6 weeks left of school. The 26 children – only four of which identify as white – were all sitting in circle while another child shared her personal timeline – a story told through photographs and descriptions of important events from each year of her life. As she walked around showing one photo of her family on a camping trip, the new girl, who recently moved from her native Puerto Rico, said, “your babysitter was brown?!” and started giggling, looking to her classmates to join in. Nobody did, and in fact, two different children chimed in with comments like, “what’s wrong with that?” and “that’s not funny”. The child stopped laughing and gave her attention back to the presenter, a third-grade, seasoned student of anti-bias work, who wasn’t phased by the exchange.

I looked to my co-teacher and said, “and that’s why we do this work.” This particular child had not experienced the previous 8 months of anti-bias work we had done together and was expressing her prejudice to what she may have felt would be a like-minded group of peers. Instead she was introduced to the classroom culture and climate by her peers rather than her teachers. These children are the future of ABAR work in and out of the classroom. Their job, should they choose to take it on, will be easier than that of an individual like myself finally awakening to the great need for this work to be done as an adult. They are already doing it. They are already confident allies. They recognize inequality and express their emotions about the historical and current examples they are challenged with the task of thinking about in class.

It was a proud moment to hear a couple of the youngest children in the classroom taking an active stance against racism in the classroom completely independently and exemplified the need for this type of goal to be present in more Montessori classrooms. This is why I do what I do. As my colleague and friend Tiffany stated recently, and I am always trying to find a succinct way to say, “teaching is my activism.”

So, to all the amazing Montessori folks… WE CAN DO MORE!

Tiffany Jewell and Laura Kraby completed their Montessori Training together at the Center for Montessori Teacher Education, New York  and have been Lower Elementary Montessori guides for 10 and 6 years respectively. They share a passion for social justice and are embarking on a journey of Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist education in their Massachusetts classrooms.

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Dismantling the Artificial Obstacles, by Joshua Vogt

Joshua Vogt teaches government at Gamble Montessori High School, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here is the graduation speech he was invited to give in June 2016 by the senior class. You can listen to his speech here.

joshuavogtFirst I’d like to thank our class of 2016 for inviting me to speak at your graduation today. Honestly, what were you thinking? Actually, I am truly honored to be here today in this space with this amazing group of young people. I was privileged enough to share our final morning meeting with this group a short time ago – there is power in that ritual of shared space and I know in that moment in that circle that we have built such a strong community among the members of the class of 2016 – because we have built each other up, you are about to graduate from high school. That is no small achievement and I’ll say simply and clearly – I am proud of you.

In the spirit of this invitation to speak at your graduation, I’d like to give the speech I think many of you would give if you were up here at the podium right now. I know each one of you is truly grateful of the support you’ve received from people in your lives to help ensure your seat at this ceremony right now. However, I know even more clearly that you have overcome many obstacles to get to this place. Some of those obstacles are real and necessary to build character – learning to sit quietly and work diligently, for instance, even if the process is difficult or the work is boring. But many of these obstacles are artificial – these are things that we as adults, including me, place in your way, even with good intentions, that trip up your progress. These artificial obstacles don’t need to exist, yet they often persist anyway. Today I hope to name those artificial obstacles and I hope to give a call to action to everyone in this room so that we may recognize them and work to dismantle them. Through taking apart these artificial obstacles I believe we can help all of our children become more selfless, thoughtful people. Parents and family, Gamble staff, community members – we are doing good work, but we have to do even better.

So, I’m going to talk about four artificial obstacles that we, as adults, place in the way of our children’s progress. I’m also going to offer some solutions to each one of these – some strategies we can all use to dismantle these obstacles. I’ll warn you right now, though…these get progressively more difficult.

The first obstacle I’d like to name is that of frustration. This is a pretty easy one. I see too often that when adults are frustrated with their children or their students, that the language shifts – it immediately becomes negative. We are all guilty of this from time to time – I am certainly not exempt from letting frustration get the best of me. When we are frustrated, all of a sudden, the child who is simply tired becomes “lazy” and the child who is simply disinterested is “unmotivated”. This language is particularly damaging when we engage in it around other children or direct this language toward an individual child. When a child perceives himself or herself to be a hard worker, for instance, an adult’s negative judgment can unnecessarily damage that child’s self-image and plant nagging doubts where there was only confidence before. When we call a child lazy or unmotivated, they have a hard time viewing themselves as something different than that. This language of frustration doesn’t serve to encourage a child to be more motivated – instead, it serves the opposite purpose by giving that child a negative self-image to live into. I cannot emphasize this enough – the words of a trusted adult carry a lot of weight. With that in mind, the simple way to dismantle this obstacle is to recognize and identify our own feelings as adults. When you are frustrated with your child or with your student, saying “I’m frustrated with you right now” is a powerful start to the conversation that needs to be had. It opens the door not with anger, shame, or disgust, but with a temporary feeling of frustration. At that point, we can teach that child a more appropriate behavior or a better way to express himself or herself. If we start from a place of negativity, however, that sentiment overrides any teaching that happens after. So, in order to remove the artificial obstacle of our unintentionally destructive language, it is important that we recognize and identify our own feelings first before lashing out in frustration.

The second obstacle is that of our very own ego. This one is a bit more complicated, so I’ll give you a short example. I did my student teaching here in Cincinnati at an urban school that was known for being very “no-nonsense”. I was working with a veteran teacher who was well-respected within the building. One day, I was having an issue with a noncompliant student over something silly I’m sure, and instead of escalating the conflict, I walked away from it and told the student I’d address the issue later. My cooperating teacher was horrified. She could not believe I walked away from the situation. Here is what she said, I’ll never forget it, “The classroom is a power struggle and you have to win every time.” In the moment, as a brand new teacher, that message seemed to match up with what we learn in teacher education programs in college – it is my way or the highway…you must comply or else! Over time, however, I realized how harmful this outlook really is. If the children in your classroom continually lose, what are they getting out of that experience? Instead of fighting WITH students, we should be fighting FOR students – that is at the root of advocacy. This authoritarian outlook, for certain, is a symptom of that second obstacle: our ego, which is the opposite of youth advocacy. Let’s say we win that power struggle – yay adult! – by escalating it to the point where the child is removed from the class or given some sort of other punishment. We won! Well, we won for now…we got the child to comply – to do whatever we had initially wanted him or her to do or we removed them completely. But will that stick long term? Absolutely not! In that interaction, the dispute itself wasn’t solved at all! Essentially, the adult said “I’m the adult and you’re the child, end of story.” “I’m the adult and you’re the child…” if I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase I would’ve driven here to graduation on a freaking spaceship. This belief is not a justification for making a child do something – even if it is important. It is simply a clear expression of our ego – I have more authority than you, so don’t question me. It is also a very effective way to take away a child’s voice. This makes me especially sad because, when asked, parents and teachers say that critical thinking and self-reliance are two of the most important skills a child can learn – we say we want children to have a strong voice. What this means essentially is that, yes, we want our children to question authority unless we are the authority in which case they’d better listen and not be disrespectful!

Here’s the simple solution to this obstacle of ego: questioning authority isn’t disrespectful, it is democratic! We have to ask questions, we have to challenge authority – without this, we submit to our own oppression. Yes, the stakes are that big. Ask any 7 or 8 year old child about fairness – they’ll be able to tell you exactly what is and isn’t fair – they feel injustice very strongly and they aren’t afraid to tell you about it. Of course, they can be wrong or irrational, but they certainly have voice – they aren’t afraid to question authority. So, instead of punishing those little challenges or using our position of authority to quiet their voice, we can remove this obstacle of ego by helping that child make his or her point. Give them even more words, strengthen that child’s voice – there is wisdom waiting to be heard, not silenced.

The third obstacle is a pretty difficult one to tackle but it exists in every urban school I’ve seen – that obstacle is our own bias. For those of you wondering if I’m going to name the real beast here, wait no longer – yes, I mean racial bias. I would like to say, however, that we are generally lucky to be affiliated with Gamble Montessori in this instance as this is a conversation we are willing to have. We are willing to be critical of our own bias even if it is uncomfortable – we are willing to legitimize the experience of our students, we are willing to listen. But, we could do much better too. My students know the national statistics here: they know that students of color are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than white students. They know that those suspensions occur more often for subjective offenses like disruption or disrespect, whereas white students are suspended for provable offenses like drug possession or property damage. My students know that statistically, students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to end up incarcerated, they know that nationally an average of one out of every three Black men will be incarcerated at some point in his life. In fact, my students participated in a protest that they planned themselves – most of them stayed silent for an entire day in protest of this racial disparity. It was a proud moment for me, as a person who believes that education and liberation are the same thing, to see my students walking silently through the halls with tape over their mouths and one simple message – Hear Us. Their silence was deafening.

They know we must do better. We cannot continue to make an implicit judgment about a child from the moment he or she walks into a classroom on the first day of school. We cannot continue to ignore the lived experience of so many of our children who are instantly written off as problematic with very little chance for redemption. The consequences of implicit bias are very serious inside and outside of the classroom. This is quite literally a life or death matter in our society at large – one that has resulted in the senseless killing of so many young people of color like Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice – boys, who, in a snap judgment clouded by bias, were deemed to be a threat to the peace. We as a society own that – we let these babies pay the ultimate price for having the audacity to be young Black children minding their own business. We have got to reckon with that somehow and it has to happen in every household and every school.

I say that we’re lucky to be at Gamble because we are actually talking about racial bias. We know that we can be exceptional, but we know we’ve got to acknowledge this often invisible elephant in the room that exists literally everywhere in American society. And, yes, we can do better. Here’s my partial solution for Gamble and other schools willing to actively start dismantling the obstacle of implicit racial bias: listen. That’s it. Just listen. It is that easy, but it begins with this premise as well, this universal truth: we can’t live each other’s lives. We can try to empathize, sure, but my life is my personal collection of experiences and feelings and your life is your personal collection of experiences and feelings. I don’t have the right to tell you that your feelings are wrong or that your experience doesn’t have value. As an adult, if I want to eliminate the obstacle of bias, if I want to accept my students or my children for who they are and not who I’d like them to be, I have to listen to them, and, yes, sometimes that isn’t easy for me to do. But that simple act legitimizes that child’s lived experience. By listening, you are really saying that that child’s experience has value, that his or her feelings are true. If a child is feeling discriminated against, a response of “Well, I just don’t see that” doesn’t really serve much purpose – it fails to acknowledge the child’s feelings and it fails to create a pathway for examining biases that do exist in individuals and in the education system. Let’s resist the temptation to be dismissive of feelings of racial bias – all that does is bolster an already unnecessary obstacle in the path of our children’s success.

Right now, you’re probably saying something like “What is this guy even talking about? If we take to heart all of his ridiculous solutions, we won’t be able to hold our children accountable!” Well, here’s your final shocking moment – the fourth and final obstacle we needlessly place in the path of our children’s progress is what I call the myth of accountability. As adults, both teachers and parents, we are so fearful that our children will absolutely lose their minds if we don’t provide harsh consequences – by the way, even those evil behaviorists call these punishments. “We have to hold them accountable!” we say without stopping to ask the obvious question: “Accountable to what?” Well, of course we do need to hold our children accountable, but we usually say this as a justification for an any-means-necessary approach for getting our children to do what we want them to do. There was a story that recently went viral on Facebook of a famous Black motivational speaker “going off” on a group of Black teenagers in an assembly because they “refused to be quiet”. He angrily lashed out at the students and even at one point in his rant said “You ain’t got but a few people who care about you in this world.” His actions were widely praised in many circles – across boundaries of race, class, and gender. This disappointed me greatly, however, as I feel that this speaker was completely out of line. I want us to empathize with those teenagers for just a second. You’re a high school student of color attending an underserved and underfunded school. You have been to assemblies like this before – someone comes in to speak AT you, thinking they’re doing you some big huge favor, giving up time to save you from yourself. This is someone you haven’t met and probably will never see again. He insists on lecturing you about his personal experience, which, of course, isn’t the same as your experience. Feeling motivated yet?

Can you really blame these children for valuing the conversation with their peers over a lecture about responsibility and motivation made by a complete stranger? I certainly can’t!  Our children won’t -and shouldn’t – automatically give someone respect because they are an adult at a podium. But, I assure you, they won’t hesitate to listen if you actually have something valuable to say and you have earned their trust. We can’t simply write off this generation of teenagers as disrespectful and disengaged because they don’t want to listen to lectures about how impolite they are. This won’t help them become better people, but it will help us become bitter people.

Yes, we can do better. Instead, we should recognize that we are always most accountable to those people we are close to: our family, our friends, our significant others – really anyone we’ve worked to build a positive relationship with. If we have worked to build strong relationships with our children based on mutual trust, we are both accountable to that relationship. Yes, children will still misbehave. Yes, adults will still overreact (I certainly will). But the guilt one feels knowing that he or she has damaged the trust of a person that truly cares about them, and now must work diligently to repair it, is quite powerful – more powerful than shaming, more powerful than a detention, Friday School, or suspension, and, perhaps, more powerful than a jail cell. Caring for one another…truly building close relationships…I believe that that’s where real accountability lies.

So, we’ve come to the end here. And it is time to see these wonderful, thoughtful,  creative, passionate, kind-hearted, young people graduate. They have earned it, there is no doubt. But they are here not just because we love them, not just because we are the giants upon whose shoulders they stand so that they may see further. No, they are also here because they’ve succeeded in spite of these artificial obstacles we’ve all placed in their path, often unknowingly – frustration, ego, bias, and mythical accountability. So, seniors, graduates, I hope that when you are old enough to raise your own children that you can carry on this message: your life, your childhood, your adolescence, your schooling doesn’t just have to be something unpleasant. You don’t just have to grit your teeth and push through it like it is a chore. You don’t have to stare longingly out of a classroom window waiting for a superhero to swoop down save you from yourself. And, most importantly, you don’t have to stay silent. There is so much joy in the lives of young people and so much power in their wisdom. I hope that you can commit to a future in which you actively clear that path to progress of artificial obstacles so that generations to come may walk safely. Clear that path so that we may all do better.

Thank you. And congratulations, Class of 2016.

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MSJ 2016 Conference Keynote Speaker

The Montessori for Social Justice steering committee is delighted to welcome Darcell Butler as our 2016 keynote speaker!

DarcellButlerMrs. Darcell Williams-Butler teaches lower-elementary at City Garden Montessori School in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her undergraduate degree from Washington University, and a Masters in Teaching from Webster University.
She earned the Pre-Primary Montessori Certificate (3-6) from the Missouri Montessori Teacher Education Program (MOMTEP) in St. Louis, Missouri and the Primary Montessori Certificate (6-9) from Central Ohio Montessori Education for Teachers (COMET) in Columbus, Ohio.
Mrs. Butler has taught science, math, sensorial, and language in pre-primary teacher education programs and is considering pursuing a PhD. She began her teaching career more than twenty years ago in Columbia, Missouri, taught kindergarten and first grade in New Orleans public schools and Chesterfield Day School.
Over the years, Mrs. Butler has received several teaching awards. She has two wonderful children and a magnificent husband who whole-heartedly support her love for teaching.

 

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An opportunity to join the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools

Last week I spoke with Halley Potter, a fellow at the Century Foundation. Halley is the author of recent briefs including A Better Start, on the importance of racially and economically diverse preschools and A New Wave of School Integration, highlighting the 90 school districts and charter schools that are taking steps to be racially and socioeconomically diverse.

Screenshot 2016-04-01 10.21.39Halley is also part of a group of educators who have created a new grassroots organization (sound familiar?) called the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools. Unlike magnet schools, which have an explicit mission of desegregation, there are currently few structures in place to support and encourage racial and socioeconomic diversity in charter schools.

The NCDCS is currently hiring an Executive Director and will expand its work over the next year, supporting and connecting charter schools with similar missions of diversity, leading federal, state and local advocacy in support of weighted charter lotteries and other mechanisms that create diversity, and encouraging other charter schools to move forward in this work.

Lee Montessori in Washington DC, Magnolia Montessori for All in Austin, Texas and Baltimore Montessori Charter in Baltimore are part of the 91 schools now in the Coalition. Would your school like to join?

Charter schools that would like to join the coalition should send an email to info@diversecharters.org expressing their interest in joining the network and provide the following:

  • Information about mission of your school with reference to racial and socioeconomic diversity.
  • the racial and socio-economic demographics of your school and the demographics of your community.
  • How your school is maintaining/working to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity in recruitment & in supports at your school.

Public Montessori schools have been at the forefront of creating racially and economically schools for over fifty years. Here is an exciting opportunity to continue this important work.

 

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Advancing Montessori public policy, expanding access and equity

KatieBrownKatie Brown reports from the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington DC. Katie is a Doctoral student in Urban Education at University of North Carolina Charlotte and a former Education Associate coordinating Montessori Education at the South Carolina Department of Education.

Last month, I attended the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington, DC. This gathering brought together leaders of national, regional, and state Montessori organizations to discuss how to better advocate for Montessori education. Guest speakers included Libby Doggett from the Office of Early Learning in the U.S. Department of Education, Jolene Ivey of the Maryland House of Delegates, and Jim Cultrara of the Council for American Private Education. These speakers identified opportunities for us as Montessorians to make inroads in existing educational infrastructure, and provided guidelines for how we can be more effective advocates. Breakout sessions addressed such topics as forming state Montessori organizations, increasing access in both public and private settings, and prioritizing key issues for our advocacy work.

As in most Montessori gatherings, I was impressed by the collective energy and will that was palpable among the group. One of the major takeaways from this event was that as a community, we need to band together to make things happen–AMS and AMI, public and private. Many of the challenges that we face are the same, and we should be banding together to fight shared battles. At the same time, we often fight these battles in very different contexts. States, counties, and districts often have different regulations and varying levels of receptivity to Montessori.

Although it was very exciting to be a part of this collective energy, as a representative of Montessori for Social Justice (along with Daniel Petter-Lipstein) and as an urban education scholar, I was struck by the lack of discussion of equity and inclusion. When I looked around the room, I noticed that the group was sorely lacking in representation from Montessorians of color. Although much of the conversation revolved around making Montessori accessible to more students, very little was said about increasing access for students of color and low-income students specifically, and how we ensure that high-quality Montessori best fits their educational needs. Conversation in the breakout session titled “Increasing Access in Public and Private Settings” was primarily dedicated to the issue of public funding and private school tuition for three- and four-year-olds. Special education was also discussed, along with the need to better prepare Montessori teachers to serve students with special needs. I brought up the question of how to diversify the Montessori teacher pool, but my impression is that if I had not, the issue of racial diversity may have gone unaddressed in this session.

By harnessing the collective energy of the Montessori community and channeling it into organized and focused advocacy efforts, MPPI is doing tremendously important work. At the same time, these advocacy efforts may only benefit a small subset of students if issues of racial, cultural, and economic diversity and equity are not prioritized. We are often caught up in the daily work of addressing these issues in our individual schools and classrooms, and so we should be. But we must also be active participants in the big-picture conversations about equity and access if we are to effect systemic change.

 

Update 12/19 – MPPI’s response:
MPPI was happy to welcome our partners from Montessori for Social Justice at the first-ever national convening of state-level Montessori advocates last month. The advocacy retreat was a monumental step forward for our fledgling initiative, and was the first time that multiple state and national stakeholders have convened to discuss common challenges and share promising solutions. The author is not wrong to state that equity and social justice were not predominant themes, in large part because the Montessori movement is currently in reactive mode with the capacity to respond to immediate policy threats (and opportunities). However, MPPI has launched a six-month strategic planning effort that we hope will help us chart a path forward to becoming a highly effective initiative with the capacity to provide proactive leadership on issues of critical importance to the future of Montessori and our nation’s children. MPPI holds equity, diversity and increased access for underrepresented communities of color as critical goals for the Montessori movement and we recognize our responsibility as a national initiative to lead on these issues. We cannot do it alone, however, and will rely on partners such as Montessori for Social Justice to promote the dialogue, provide issue expertise and expand our access to other allies that can rally greater attention to these critical issues. We look forward to working with MSJ as we continue this exciting journey and appreciate the important role your organization plays in the national dialogue.

 

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Linking Montessorians with Progressive Educators

2015-10-15 17.15.36This past weekend I attended the Progressive Education Network conference held in Brooklyn, New York. I was interested to see what connections there were between Montessori and the broader progressive education world. Here’s what I learned:

Progressive education is a BIG tent. As a researcher on Montessori schools, I was welcomed enthusiastically. Teachers and the Principal of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School were some of the organizers of the PEN Conference. Progressive educators I met were excited to learn about Montessori for Social Justice and the MSJ conference in June 2016.

Montessori is has a bigger and more organized footprint in the public sector than other progressive schools. While there are a small number of progressive public schools, most people I talked to were staggered to learn that there are 500 public Montessori programs educating 125,000 students. We have NCMPS to thank for counting and organizing this group into a more coherent bloc!

With Martha Haakmat, Head of School of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School and one of the PEN Conference Organizers
With Martha Haakmat, Head of School of the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School and one of the PEN Conference Organizers

We both want to change the conversation in education reform. Progressive educators are concerned about current directions in public education away from the needs of children and toward the needs of policy makers. The conference featured a plenary session on the opt-out movement featuring a number of teachers and parents who are leading the struggle.

We’re facing similar struggles. First, an accountability challenge from the top as public schools demand a testing regime, and in private schools, parents demand data to know that their students are on track with their peers.

Progressive schools in the public sector are particularly vulnerable to testing requirements. One of only two charter schools closed by Carmen Fariña in New York City last year was the progressive Ethical Community Charter School in Brooklyn, NY.

Progressive educators would like to change the conversation about testing, but sometimes feel marginal to the education reform conversation – perhaps joining with Montessorians would create greater strength in numbers?

Another struggle was one raised by many speakers at the conference who pushed progressive independent schools to think about their lack of diversity, particularly schools like the Ethical Culture Fieldston School that had started as a school for “working men’s children” as Deborah Meier pointed out in her plenary address. “Where are [these children]? Why do we celebrate our failure?”

I encourage more Montessorians to attend this conference when it happens again
in 2017, and to partner with local progressive schools to work on common education reform goals together.

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Starting a school isn’t a pipe dream

RashidahLovickby Rashidah Lovick, North Carolina Montessorian

On June 26 and 27, 2015, 75 Montessori teachers, administrators, researchers, and advocates from across the country convened on the tranquil campus of Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. This diverse group of dedicated individuals gathered for Montessori for Social Justice’s second annual Public Montessori Unconference, which was hosted by Westminster’s Institute of Montessori Innovation. Based on participant input and expertise, 16 workshops were conducted on topics ranging from culturally responsive teaching to how to start your own school, as well as a day-long NCMPS workshop on Montessori and Assessment.

I feel extremely grateful that I was able to make the journey from my home in Raleigh, North Carolina to be part of this event. I am an African-American, AMS-certified primary teacher with a background in traditional, private Montessori schools. I came to the Unconference because my heart’s desire is to bring Montessori education to underserved communities, and my dream since adolescence has been to open a school in the inner city. I hoped to be inspired and educated by this unique gathering of like-minded Montessorians, and I was not disappointed.

This weekend in Salt Lake City proved to be transformational for me as I listened to and observed this incredible group of passionate, pioneering educators and advocates who freely and eagerly shared their success stories and struggles, their questions and concerns. In one workshop, I watched as the director of a soon-to-be-opened inner-city public charter school received valuable advice from colleagues. In another session, I witnessed special education teachers generously sharing some of their hard-earned insights and tools. In other settings, I was challenged by dialogue between African-American, Latino-American, Native American, and White Montessorians on social justice issues.

I also discovered that every school represented, whether public or non-profit, has its own fascinating developmental path, and every conference participant has a unique story. I was amazed and inspired by the stories I heard of courageous Montessori teachers starting schools in the basements of homes and churches, or of groups of discontented parents and teachers successfully creating charter schools in their communities. Here in this gathering my ambition was not a pipe dream but an attainable goal, not unusual but necessary. I realized that I had just become a privileged member of a growing movement to make Montessori education accessible to all.

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Refocusing the mission

Jen Heeter, a teacher at Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland, CA reports from the 2015 Public Montessori Unconference

Unconference participants cross the covered bridge between our meeting site and Westminster dorms.
Unconference participants cross the covered bridge between our meeting site and Westminster dorms.

Red sandstone and scrub-covered mountains grew larger and more clear as we approached Salt Lake City. We circled, revealing downtown and the larger cityscape. We were flying in for the second Montessori (un)Conference, to be hosted by Westminster College’s Institute for Montessori Innovation and Montessori for Social Justice.

As is usually the case with conferences, (un) or not, there is an anxiousness and excitement in regard to meeting new people on what I assume to be similar journeys as the one we began when we opened Urban Montessori Charter School three years ago. I was flying with my colleague and while we weren’t sitting together on the plane, sensed that he shared my feelings of anticipation as well.

We arrived in time for happy hour at a local brew pub and even though we were late, settled in immediately. It didn’t take long for the conversations to deepen. What began with light introductions soon morphed into a discussion around shared histories, previous pitfalls, and common struggles. We connected and began forming the tribe that would guide us through the next couple of days.

Friday we spent the day discussing assessment and its place in the Montessori environment. Jackie Cossentino and Elizabeth Slade from the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS) helped us shape a vision for relevant assessment in our sites and most importantly, reframe the way we view assessment. Rather than look at it as something we have to do for compliance, gathering data is something we get to do that will help inform our schools and community about our students and their progress. It was a great balance between lecture, discussion, big picture, and applicable tools and information necessary for moving forward.

We learned that we can measure things like creativity, compassion, and other traits valued in the Montessori world. Recent research on school environments show that providing children with large & open space, the ability to work in varied groupings, allowing a variety of social interactions, and movement within the space are some of the aspects that nurture executive functioning. Authentic Montessori classrooms offer that as a minimum. I left with the understanding that there is a strong need for data to build usable knowledge, to better inform our teaching, and to grow awareness about the Montessori methodology.

Saturday we moved through four open sessions curtailed to our interests. There were sessions on anti-bias and anti-racism within the school setting, special education, second-generation math materials, starting schools, inclusion of diverse learners and their families, classroom management, and more. They were handled in open forums and offered no ceiling except those placed by the participants.

While I remain inspired by the entire event, some pieces from the conference, particularly from the anti-bias and anti-racism session, have created deep imprints. I learned that it is crucial to encourage families and schools to not opt out of assessments. This data is necessary to illuminate the gaps in achievement and draw awareness to the situation. I heard pleas to open and continue dialogue on race. Things can’t shift unless we acknowledge them. The more people discuss what is going on in our nation, the more movement is stirred, the more growth occurs. There won’t be change if people continue to be uncomfortable with the dialogue.

Gilbert Parada, a fellow founding teacher at Urban Montessori, shared that like many Montessorians, he addresses race, ethnicity, and skin tone in a scientific and anthropological way. He shared at the conference that a student in his class commented on the color of a child’s skin in a derogatory way. Activity was halted and discussion commenced. He shared that the human race originated from Africa and that the color of people’s skin is directly related to the origin of their ancestors on the planet. He shared that the more color one has in their skin, the more protection they have from the sun and that as people began to migrate to other places, they lost some of this protection known as melanin.

My son is in Gilbert’s class. I treasure that he is part of this experience, at a school willing to open up the discussion. He remembers this lesson and will continually say, “Awh mom, those boys are so lucky. They have so much more melanin than we do.”

He has also asked if there can be a new word for white. He said, “I just don’t get it. A piece of paper is white. We look very different than that. Aren’t we really all just different kinds of brown?” I recognize that the situation requires more than a shift in terms, but it does makes me wonder if the kind of paradigm shift required as we move forward can be accelerated or affected by our language. Language is powerful, and aren’t we really just different shades of brown?

Topics of race relations in our country are so often handled with a quieting or dampening rather than opening up to face the discomfort. For a white, middle-class woman living in a diverse, working-class neighborhood, desperately wanting to serve and protect the needs of all of her learners, it can be difficult to discern the next step. Certainly moving forward with the mission of our school, but how do we reach the broader population? Definitely through more meetings like these.

Occasionally, a mission of mine may get diluted over time. The projects that I’ve taken on typically have shelf lives, at least from my point of interest. It is in public Montessori though, that I find my interest growing, at exponential rates. I closed the school year craving more theory and big picture thinking and the conference not only refreshed me, but allowed me to connect with teachers from across the nation around the same vision. The exponential growth continues. Where sometimes I falter through such exhausting work, it was invigorating knowing that there are so many educators, administrators, and advocates working towards the same goals. Conferences like these connect the people involved on such missions, allow them to share their stories, commiserate, and then create action steps. Public Montessori needs these action steps now more than ever.

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Teaching Ferguson

City Garden Montessori School, St. Louis
City Garden Montessori School, St. Louis

Christie Huck, the Executive Director of City Garden Montessori School, a racially and economically diverse neighborhood charter school in St. Louis, is graciously sharing an email she sent today to her staff.  In the message, Huck encourages her staff to talk with students and shares resources about the grand jury verdict of no charges against Office Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

As we return to school tomorrow, I want to ask each of us to be thoughtful and intentional about how we reengage with our students and parents, following the grand jury announcement.  This is simultaneously a poignant, painful, exciting and historic moment in our region, nationally and even throughout the world.  And, the events that have occurred in our city have a very direct impact on our students–in very different ways for some than others.

Before the grand jury announcement last Monday, that afternoon I stopped by the corner market on Shaw. As I was driving away I saw two of our African American sixth grade boys. When I pulled over, they asked “Ms. Christie, what’s happening? There are police everywhere, and they keep looking at us like we’re doing something wrong! One of them stopped us and asked us what we were doing.”

I asked if they knew about the Michael Brown case and the grand jury, and they did. I told them that the grand jury announcement was going to be made within a few hours, and that people were getting really worked up, and that they needed to go inside and keep themselves safe. They nodded and told me they’d go inside right away and tell their moms what was going on.

This highlighted again for me the reality in which our City Garden children exist, and the importance of acknowledging the events happening around us, helping them to process, giving them tools to both support themselves and to have a strong sense of identity, fairness, respect, compassion, helping one another, staying safe and standing up for what is right.

I know the Anti-Bias Anti-Racism committee will be working on how to support guides in the classroom. In the meantime, however, I wanted to share some incredible resources that are available and ask each of you to plan some ways to incorporate these discussions/ these issues into your work with students this week and in the coming weeks. Resources are listed below.

Principal Nicole Evans and I are happy to support and help you think through this. Remember, none of us is alone in this work! Thank you for your courage and commitment.

Christie Evans

Some recommended resources:

http://perspectives.tolerance.org/ – an INCREDIBLE new resource: an entire anti-bias curriculum free
http://zinnedproject.org/2014/11/teaching-about-ferguson/ – specific resources for teaching about Ferguson

Additional list of resources compiled by Teaching Tolerance Staff on November 26, 2014.  This week’s edition features stories about recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

  • Chicago Sun Times: A transcript of President Barack Obama’s Monday-night remarks on the situation in Ferguson.
  • Huffington Post: It’s not just in the Ferguson area that teachers are trying to figure out how to explain these events to young students.
  • LA Times: A mother reflects on her daughter’s experience teaching in a Ferguson kindergarten classroom.
  • The New York Times: Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, reflects on how she told her son about the grand jury decision.
  • PBS: Give students context for understanding Ferguson with a timeline of events and educational resources from PBS.
  • Reuters: The “I Love Ferguson” campaign lifts morale and offers fundraising opportunities for damaged businesses.
  • The Root: Do’s and don’ts for teaching about Ferguson. An older post, but highly relevant given the grand jury decision and widespread demonstrations this week.
  • Talking Points Memo: The Ferguson library opened its doors to the community—and to unprecedented donations—the day after the grand jury decision.
  • The Washington Post: Media outlets around the world are reporting on Ferguson— and providing a window on global perceptions of race relations in the United States.
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