by Sonnie McFarland
At the dawn of the 21st century, many promises, as well as challenges, lie before us. Never before has it been possible to communicate around the world instantaneously. Never before has so much attention been paid to the importance of human rights and human dignity. Never before has such emphasis been placed on the importance of peace, nor has there been such a keen awareness of the fragile nature of our environment.On the other hand, we face some of the greatest challenges in history. Never before have so many people experienced alienation, disillusionment, and hopelessness. Never before have we seen such violent crimes, starting at a younger and younger age. Never before have we faced such threat of global terrorism, nor such a potential for global warming and environmental destruction.We are at a pivotal point in history where peace at every level is no longer an idealistic dream, but a global necessity. Much progress has been made, yet there remains much to be done. As parents, educators, and guides for children, we have a unique opportunity to influence the course of history.Having experienced the heartbreak and destruction from both world wars, Maria Montessori saw firsthand the importance of educating children in a way that would help them develop greater awareness and sensitivity to themselves, others, and the environment. She advocated the possibility of developing a new consciousness within the children so that they could lead us toward a more peaceful world.
Through new education, we must enable children to grow up with a healthy spirit, a strong character and clear intellect, so that as adults they will not tolerate contradictory moral principles, but will gather human energies fro constructive purposes. And, at the same time, we must develop a science of peace based on this new orientation of humanity. (Wolf, 1989. p. 62)
Montessori’s life work was dedicated to developing an approach to educating children that would match their most effective way of learning, follow their unfolding interests, meet their developmental needs, empower them to become as fully actualized as possible, and inspire them to become leaders for a peaceful world. She often spoke of witnessing “new children” being born – children who were happy, cooperative, productive, and sensitive to all of life. For nearly a century, now, thousands of children have benefited from this approach to education, and many have acknowledged its positive influence in their lives as they have become responsible world citizens.
As a Montessori educator for 30 years, I have witnessed the power of Montessori’s approach to educating children and have seen, as it fruits, children who are able to express themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I also have seen some of these children become outstanding leaders and responsible citizens. And I have observed our need, as educators, to look at what we are doing from a more conscious viewpoint and become more aware of how we might further enhance our work of educating for peace. Creating a model for the “science of peace” has helped me systematize and organize the many varied activities that fall under the label of peace education.
The “Flower of Peace” Model
In the last few years, educators have become more conscious of the need to educate for peace. Some say we need to give more attention to self-esteem development and character education. Some say we need to work more with communication and problem-solving. Some say we should pay more attention to the issues of diversity and tolerance between cultures. Some urge us to attend more to environment-related issues. Some say we have it all if we just practice what Montessori advocated. And some contend that peace education is too nebulous and should be defined more clearly. As I see it, all of the above concerns must be incorporated in any model we adopt for peace education.
As I have come to view the curriculum, peace studies fall into four general categories:
- Community Awareness
- Cultural Awareness, and
- Environmental Awareness
At the core of each of these elements is a consciousness of and respect for its essential nature or spirit. Each aspect of peace education can be seen as a petal of a flower whose center is spirit. Each petal touches or overlaps the other three, symbolizing their interrelatedness
The more conscious we become of the essential nature or spirit of ourselves, others, cultures, and the environment, the more respectful and thus peaceful we will become.
In our work with children, it is important that we include, thoughtfully, a variety of activities from each of the four areas of peace education, on an ongoing basis. It is also important that we continue this work throughout the four planes of development Montessori outlined:
- Early Childhood: birth to age 6
- Elementary: ages 6-12
- Adolescence: 12-18, and
- Adult: 18 throughout life.
Each of these planes of development can be seen as additional petals. This “flower of peace” can be seen as expanding into a fuller and more beautiful flower, resembling the mysterious lotus.
Implementing the Model
Embedded in the basic Montessori approach to education are the seeds of all four aspects of peace education. In addition, there are activities and lessons that can be added in each of the areas to deepen the awareness of peace among both the adults and the children. It is important that we study each aspect of peace education and consciously determine what we can bring to our classrooms each day to ensure that our children have a deep love and respect for themselves, other people, cultures, and their environment. Within each of the four categories of peace education highlighted below are specific suggestions for areas of study and exploration in the classrooms of early childhood through adolescence.
Self-Awareness Activities are those that bring greater understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation of the beauty, characteristics, and talents within each child. These activities help the children connect to the dynamic center of balance within themselves and increase dramatically their sense of well-being and self-confidence as they learn to identify with their spirit within. Some of the areas that relate directly to this are Practical Life, character education, consciousness of self, self-esteem, creative expression, and the Silence Game.
Practical Life. As children of all ages participate in the various activities of Practical Life, they become more aware of themselves, strengthen their capability to master their environment, and develop independence and confidence. In addition, they are empowered to be themselves in a gracious and kind manner through the practice of Grace and Courtesy lessons.
Character Education includes specific work with the children in the area of moral training and value clarification. Working with specific principles such as honesty, responsibility, love truth, etc. Is a powerful way to bring greater awareness to the children of the importance of incorporating these principles in their lives. In addition, biographical study of great men and women brings positive roll models for the children to emulate. Providing children with opportunities to “test their character” at the appropriate level is an important key to helping them realize they are more than they think they are. Some examples of this include hiking, overnight camping, outward-bound experiences, and ropes courses.
Consciousness of Self relates to the study of the relationship between body, mind, emotions, and spirit. It is based on recognizing the spiritual essence of self and consciously manifesting this aspect through understanding and learning how to work effectively with body, mind, and emotions. Through developing grater awareness and understanding of this interrelationship, children are better able to make conscious choices, manifest the greater self within, and gain more mastery of their lives. This study is the basis for “conscious education” (Gang, Lynn. & Barer. 1992) and includes specific study of body, mind emotions, and spirit.
Self-Esteem is the sense of confidence and well-being that children feel when they are comfortable and happy with themselves. When children are participating successfully in a Montessori classroom or any other situation, they experience positive feelings about who they are and what they are capable of doing. As we recognize the beauty within each child through our actions, verbal references, display of work, and provision of opportunities for them to show what they can do, we add to their positive sense of self. In addition, there are specific exercises and activities related directly to building self-esteem that can be incorporated into the ongoing classroom offerings.
Creative Expression. Providing opportunities for the children to express themselves through the arts is an important facet of educating for peace. Providing open-ended creative projects allows the children to step safely into the unknown and find their unique, personal, creative responses that originate deep within the center of themselves.
Silence Game. Maria Montessori discovered in her work with the children that they loved to move and be active and at the same time, loved to create silence and be still. She found that using the Silence Game on a regular basis was beneficial to the children, as it assisted them in developing the ability to concentrate their minds and listen to the deeper aspects of themselves. The lives of children are filled with stimulating input, and they get little time for reflection or inner concentration. Daily use of the Silence Game offers them a chance to quiet the mind and listen to the still small voice within – their inner teacher or spirit. It helps them learn to identify with their essential natures, rather than their body, mind, or emotions.
Community Awareness activities are those that bring greater sensitivity and understanding of others and facilitate the interpersonal relationships between them. This includes family members, friends, classmates, neighbors, and any individual one meets on a daily basis. Some of the areas that relate directly to this are grace and courtesy lessons, cooperative learning, communication skills, problem-solving, acknowledgements, conscious development of community, and community-service learning.
Grace and Courtesy Exercises. From the earliest experiences in a Montessori classroom to the culminating experiences at the elementary and middle-school levels, the grace and courtesy lessons form the basic foundation of the classroom community. They are based on respect for others and encourage cooperative activity within the classroom setting. It is important to renew and review them on a regular basis throughout the year, at each plane of development and throughout the entire course of Montessori education.
Cooperative Learning. Another basic tenet of the Montessori experience is that children’s learning is more effective, particularly as they move into the elementary years, when they are able to work cooperatively as well as individually. As children work cooperatively, they develop respect, understanding, and appreciation for others. They also develop the ability to share and contribute to something other than themselves. Including in this area are projects and specific games or activities that give the children opportunity to practice their skills of cooperation.
Communication Skills. The development of communication skills is all too often taken for granted. Our tendency is to think that we automatically inherit the ability to communicate effectively with others. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is important that we consciously work with the children to give them the tools, ability, and opportunity to express themselves effectively and listen empathetically to others. These skills can develop when specific lessons and activities related to interpersonal communication (expression and listening) are a part of the regular offerings in the classroom.
Problem-Solving. Once the children are able to express themselves and listen to others, they are ready to participate in the process of solving their own difficulties. This can start at a very young age and continue at a more sophisticated level throughout life. Having a special place or area set aside for problem-solving can be effective, as can designating a special object, such as a peace rose or talking stick, to indicate each person’s turn in the peace process.
Acknowledgements. Providing opportunities for the children to acknowledge the strengths of others adds much to the feeling of communication within the classroom and encourages positive behavior. Acknowledgement of the thoughtful actions of the children by the adults, both on a private and public basis, sets a positive tone and creates a desire among the children to be a contributing part of the group. Using concrete symbols, such as a flowering tree, to highlight the thoughtful acts that take place adds to the joy and cooperation within the classroom community.
Conscious Community-Building. Just as effective communication doesn’t just happen, conscious community doesn’t just happen, either. There are specific elements that must be present for community to take place. According to Dr. Jim McFarland, in his CPIR Community-Building Model, these elements are Climate, Process, Identity, and Relationship. Before children can feel comfortable to participate in the classroom, there must be aclimate that is safe, trusting, and nurturing. When this is in place children feel comfortable enough to begin to share their thoughts and feelings with others. It is important that the classroom have a process in place that encourages this type of interpersonal sharing. As children feel heard and understood within the group, they feel affirmed, and their individual identity becomes stronger. The more self-confident and affirmed the children in the group feel, the more they can give of themselves in relationship. The more successful the relationships become, the more warm the climate becomes; the more climate improves, the more open the process becomes; the more open the process, the stronger the individual identity becomes; the more the individuals in the group feel affirmed, the greater the cooperative relationships become; and so the cycle perpetuates itself. This cycle of community can be enhanced consciously when the adults observe the classroom and provide activities and experiences for the children that focus on each of the aspects of community.
Community-Service Learning. Providing opportunities for participation in community- service projects is an effective way to help our students become more aware of and empathetic to the needs of others – such as singing at a nursing home, collecting food, serving at a homeless shelter, or giving away toys to those in need.
Cultural Awareness activities are those that bring greater understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation for the people and customs of different cultures. Some of the areas that relate directly to this development are cosmic education pertaining to the people of the world, multicultural study, cultural exchanges, celebrations, study the United nations, and diversity training.
Cosmic Education. Maria Montessori developed a comprehensive and integrated approach to the study of life in the universe and called this Cosmic Education. A vital part of this plan includes the study of the fundamental needs of all human beings. She described the fundamental physical needs as food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and defense. She described the fundamental spiritual needs as art, culture, religion, and vanitas (love, beauty, social acceptance, self-image). This awareness can lead into a global comparison of the various ways people meet these needs in relation to the environmental terrain upon which they live. By using the fundamental needs of humans as the starting point for any cultural study, we establish a point of commonality and connection prior to studying differences. This serves as an anchor as we explore the many fascinating and diverse ways that people of the world fulfill these needs.
Multicultural Study in most Montessori classrooms is very rich. The continent maps often establish the basis of study as they are introduced to the children. Once the continents are introduced, specific activities related to the cultures of that continent (or one of its countries) are introduced and made available for the children’s use. These include “continent boxes” containing artifacts and clothing of the area, picture cards, books and research tools, artwork, music, games, food, celebrations, language study, etc. As stated above, using the needs of humans as the basis for multicultural study is very effective. A typical culmination of an area of cultural focus might be an “immersion” experience such as a cultural fair, festival, or celebration.
Cultural Exchanges. Providing opportunities for our students is relate directly to others of different cultures enriches them and builds bridges of understanding and acceptance. This might take the form of inviting guests to the classroom, Internet exchange, pen pals, or visiting another culture or country.
Celebrations. Both classroom and all-school celebrations that provide opportunities for our children to experience and enjoy the cultures of others are fun, as well as enlightening. It is important to take time prior to the event to prepare the children, so they can both appreciate and understand the meaning behind the celebration. Good candidates for celebrations are the Chinese New Year. Cinqo de Mayo, and International Peace Day.
Study of the United Nations. The United Nations has contributed significantly to the current peace among most nations. It is important that we give our children an appreciation of what this organization does and how it accomplishes its work. The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work cooperatively with the U.N., such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), make fascinating study for the children and, in many cases, provide opportunities for the children to participate actively in their ongoing work. An example of this is the Halloween Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. Specific lesson plans and materials for this work are available through the United Nations.
Diversity Training is a “hot topic” in today’s world. What we do in the classroom to develop awareness and tolerance for cultural differences contributes significantly to this work. Conscious reference by the adults in the classroom to the importance of accepting and appreciating people different from ourselves is important.
Environmental Awareness activities are those that bring greater understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation for the interconnectedness and fragility of our global environment. Some of the areas that relate directly to this work include environmental aspects of the Cosmic Education, specific scientific study of the elements of the planet, study of the U.N. efforts with regard to the environment, ecological activities, and environmental celebrations.
Cosmic Education. At the Montessori elementary level, the cosmic view of how our planet came into being is presented to the children dramatically. This presentation emphasizes the interrelationship and interdependence of each of the elements of our environment and serves as the framework for all future study of the elements of the universe. From this point on, geography, geology, biology, zoology, and the study of water, air, soil, and energy are seen as vital parts of the whole. In this work, the children are encouraged to be thoughtful stewards of the planet.
Scientific Study, Specific studies of animals, plants, earth, water, air, and energy are presented in the Montessori classroom as part of a greater whole. The children’s sensitivity to the “cosmic task” of each element of the planet is increased through in-depth scientific study of each. Field trips and various activities of artistic expression that emphasize the use of the various elements of the planet add to the children’s appreciation. There are several ways in which the intricate “web of life” can be illustrated experientially to the children.
Study of the United Nations. As in the area of cultural awareness, the U.N. has taken an active roll in preserving the resources of the earth. Again, there are a number of NGOs that do significant work with environmental issues and will welcome the involvement of our children. Specific information can be obtained through the U.N.
Ecological Activities. It is important that the children have opportunities and encouragement to take an active part in the care of the environment. This provides them with conscious practive in appreciating, conserving, and renewing resources. Some activities that might be included in this work are recycling, energy conservation, and composting.
Environmental Celebration. Preparing for and participating in the annual Earth Day Celebration, as a classroom and school, increases the level of environmental awareness in a significant way. When an entire school comes together for this occasion, it makes a strong statement and commitment to responsible stewardship of the earth to the entire school community.
The Adult as a Model for Peace
Perhaps the single most important factor in educating our children for peace is that we, their adults, model the behavior and attitudes we encourage the children to manifest. In order to accomplish this, we must make conscious and continual-effort to work on our own transformation. Maria Montessori spoke to this by saying:
The first essential is that the teacher should go through an inner, spiritual preparation – cultivate certain aptitudes in the moral order. This is the most difficult part of her training, without which all the rest is of no avail… She must study how to purify her heart and render it burning with charity towards the child. She must “put on humility.” And above all, learn how to serve. She must learn how to appreciate and gather in all those tiny and delicate manifestations of the opening life in the child’s soul. Ability to do this can only be attained through a genuine effort towards self-perfection, (Standing, 1957, p 298)
At the adult level, the process of increasing self-awareness, community awareness, cultural awareness, and environmental awareness is similar to the path set out for the children. It is only a bit more sophisticated.
Self-Awareness. We, too, can work on developing more confidence and competence through challenging ourselves to new practical life experiences, such as taking up carpentry or sewing. By consciously applying universal principles to our daily living, we will build our own characters. Giving ourselves permission to experiment with various forms of creative expression can be healing, as well as exhilarating. As we become better at observing our internal states and mastering our bodies, minds, and emotions, we will more often be able to view the world through the clear lens of love. Each day we can take time to observe the silence and listen more keenly to the deeper wisdom within each of us.
Community Awareness. Practicing ordinary grace and courtesy in our interactions with everyone we meet increases our effectiveness as a member of any community. It is important that we hold an attitude of cooperation and teamwork and work on communicating effectively with the children as well as the adults in our various groups. When difficulties arise, it is important for us to seek solutions that are of a win/win nature. Acknowledging the strengths and contributions of not only the children, but other adults, is important in the process of becoming a meaningful member of a community. Participating in community-service projects adds to our ability to empathize and share ourselves with others.
Cultural Awareness. To model cultural awareness to the children requires that we continually educate ourselves about the various cultures and peoples of the world and work on our ability to be understanding and tolerant of those who are different from us. Participating and contributing to the many organizations dedicated to helping people throughout the world helps us develop more empathy and cultural awareness.
Environmental Awareness. This, too, requires that we continually educate ourselves to the wonders and beauty of our planet and actively participate in being responsible stewards of the earth.
The Key is in Our Hands
We stand at a crossroads as we enter this new century and new millennium. Our world can move in the direction of violence and ultimate destruction, or it can move in the direction of peace and continual creation. Each of us has the opportunity, in our own small way, to make a significant contribution to the latter path by consciously applying and expanding “science of peace” activities in our classrooms ever day. Maria Montessori beautifully expressed the importance of our work when she said:
Truly, upon the spiritual growth of the child depends the health or sickness of the soul, the strength or weakness of the character, the clearness or obscurity of the intellect. The nurturing of this spiritual life finds its expression both within the family and at school in what is still called “education” … If education recognizes the intrinsic value of the child’s personality and provides an environment suited to spiritual growth, we have the revelation of an entirely new child, whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world. (Wolf. 1989. p. 35)
The beautiful lotus flower grows in the mud and flourishes from the nutrients of the mud. As we conscientiously work with our children using activities from each of the areas in the “Flower of Peace” model, we will help their spirit and potential to bloom out of the mud and challenges of their lives; and they, in turn, can lead us to a more peaceful and harmonious world.
SHINING MOUNTAINS PRESS
P. O. Box 4155
Buena Vista, CO 81211