This week, our country celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the week that our first African-American President leaves office, and the week of the presidential inauguration. It’s a momentous week to be sure. As we honor these dates, we reflect on what has led us to this place in history – some things we are proud to claim and others we may prefer to forget.
Through many years of working with upper elementary students, one thing I learned is that looking at history through their eyes is nothing short of remarkable. As we have shared stories from World War II – books about children treated as less than because of their race or ethnicity and people immigrating to the United States only to face more struggles than they imagined – the students’ reaction is one of disbelief. They cannot understand why anyone would treat another person in any of these ways; they are rightly appalled. In their lack of understanding of the world, they tend to see it more clearly than we do. Things are much more simple. Kindness results in kindness. Rising up to denounce the cruelty of a person or a society’s actions is an obvious act that must occur. Why did we, the adults of the past and present, allow these things to persist? Why did we not create the changes needed to protect and preserve the people of our world?
Education for peace is a central focus of the Montessori curriculum. As Dr. Montessori stated, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.” As children move through their school years, history reveals itself. The good and the bad are apparent. Students are sure they can do a better job than their ancestors. They are certain they would not stand for many of the things that have occurred throughout our world’s history. They want to create change and to treat people in the same ways, no matter who they are. They know they have the answers. It is our responsibility to help them find those ways, to right those wrongs and to learn how to make a difference. We open their eyes to what has happened, to see what is wrong with our world so they can move steadily forward making the changes that are needed. They need to know that their actions are imperative, that they have meaning. They are creating the future. And we are there by their side to stand with them, answer their questions and guide them along the way. Peace education is a critical aspect of educating all children. Thank you to Dr. King, Dr. Montessori and all of those who went before us leading the way for our future.