This year, travel guru Rick Steves was one of the keynote speakers at the American Montessori Society’s annual conference in Denver. I entered the room thinking this was going to be a litany of his travel ideas including the best things to pack for a trip abroad; my expectations were quite low. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, he began by sharing how he came to love travel and what his trips entail. However, he moved far from that topic, sharing insights about why travel is important. He regaled us with personal experiences in Europe, Asia and Africa. He has been to many countries throughout the world and has positive stories about each.
An important aspect of a Montessori education is learning about the world and its people, which is referred to as the cultural curriculum and includes history, geography, science and much more. Dr. Montessori recognized the need for children to explore the cultural geography of the world. People throughout the world have the same basic needs. Helping children understand that each country or region has natural resources depending on its geography is a part of exploring the fundamental needs of humans. It is important for them to learn about how a country’s inhabitants use their available resources, develop rituals, traditions and holidays based on where they live. They need to understand the types of governments that have developed as well as the architecture and artifacts that a country exhibits. Steves shared all of these things in his address to the conference attendees.
The more children learn about the ways in which people of the world meet these needs, the more they recognize all they have in common. Opening one’s mind to others requires learning about them and their similarities. Experiencing the world allows us to open our minds and hearts to those who may be different than we are; we all have a common humanity and an obligation to learn about each other. This can be done through travel as Steves suggests, and it can also be done through learning about others in a respectful inquisitive classroom. Education is the way to establish peace. Learning about others is a tremendous aspect of the Montessori cultural curriculum and a huge step toward a peaceful world.