Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Frightening Discovery

Every day I thank God for the gift of my life's work. I am one of the lucky few who figured out what I wanted to do "when I grew up" immediately out of college. Thomas Moore writes about this gift in his book, A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do. This is a great book to read if you are at a crossroads and trying to figure out what you want to do next.

My family knows that I live and breathe Montessori education, on the brink of obsessiveness, simply because I believe the philosphy could change our world. No, I do not claim to hold the power of world peace. I do, however, believe that God has given me this knowledge and this passion for knowledge to give to the children. Most people realize the obvious benefits of a Montessori education in terms of academic preparedness. But what many people don't see is the formation of character, the moral development, and the inner sense of peace and calm that is passed on to the children. I've seen many high quality preschool programs, but I've never seen one that actually has a peace curriculum. Maria Montessori spent many years in India where she created her early childhood peace curriculum. In 1932, Montessori addressed the International Bureau of Education in Geneva with a piece entitled A Remedy for War: Peace and Education. I was able to get my hands on a copy of it, translated into English, which I will add to the school's lending library for parents. The American Montessori Society has published a video about her thoughts on peace and education. When time allows, please take a few minutes to watch this short video about the fundamentals of her peace curriculum:

In today's busy households, many of us are neglecting to give our children proper exposure to character development. I made a frightening discovery at the beach this week. My oldest daughter made a new friend each day that we were there. Innocently enough, they built sandcastles, turned themselves into mermaids, and jumped over the little waves in the ocean. I enjoyed watching them and listening to their four-year-old conversations. Soon after, I started to cringe while watching and listening to the interactions.

One little girl was making conversation with G near the shore. She soon started to pick up on the fact that G has a relatively high level of anxiety. This little girl started to list things in the ocean that could potentially hurt her. I watched G's reaction to these statements and noticed that she simply started to walk away and play closer to our blanket. The girl followed her and started talking about how her friend's mother passed away and how sad that would be if it happened to G. She continued to change subjects ranging from loud thunderstorms to scary rides at the boardwalk. I eventually did intervene and I asked the child if there was anything positive she would like to talk about. She immediately realized that I had picked up on her game and lost interest. Fortunately, G started playing with her sister and by the end had ignored her completely.

On day two, G was playing with a ladybug that continued to land on her finger all morning. She named the ladybug "Pretty" and was overjoyed when the bug landed on g's little nose. After a while, she started to play with a little girl who was sitting next to us. G told this little girl all about Pretty. Shortly after, Pretty landed on G's towel. They had fun watching the insect crawl up and down G's arm. Seemingly out of the blue, the little girl proceeded to snatch the bug away from G and run to the ocean. My daughter started screaming for her to "please let it go back to it's family" as she chased the girl down the beach. The little girl laughed as she plunged the ladybug into the sea. Tears started streaming down my daughter's face, as she walked back to the blanket. The little girl pranced back to G, asking if she wanted to play something else now. This time, she simply uttered the words "no thanks".

Unfortunately, instances like this occurred in four out of the five "friendships" she made while at the beach. Each time, the other child's parents were watching and none of them took the opportunity to instill moral or ethical values into their children. I'm astonished and deeply concerned about the state of the world when these children are running it. Let's continue to look for meaninful connections with our children, and let's give them meaningful connections with society. We have the power to raise caring citizens of this world. Here is an exerpt from Montessori's Peace and Education:

"If a person were to grow up with a healthy soul, enjoying the full development of a strong character and a clear intellect, they could not endure to uphold two kinds of justice- the one protecting life and the other destroying it. Nor would they consent to cultivate in their heart both love and hate. Neither could they tolerate two disciplines- the one aimed at building, and the other at tearing down what has been built. Better humans than we are would use their intellects and their attainments of civilization to end the fury of war. War would not be a problem for them at all. They would simply see it as a barbarous state, opposed to civilization- an absurd and incomprehensible phenomenon, as expendable and defeatable as the plague."

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