Montessori sometimes has a reputation as being multi-cultural or that it teaches lots about the world. The Montessori curriculum is indeed rich in curriculum experiences that can be used as windows into the world. While these certainly help increase a child's knowledge of the world we can use the Montessori curriculum to help us further develop our practice using modern pedagogical ideas.
Montessori always wanted her classrooms to be culturally responsive. For example the practical life activities in a 3-6 class are meant to help a child practice skills they will come across in their everyday life. This links to the idea of culturally responsive teaching or CRT. CRT is about making learning relevant and effective for learners already at a school by affirming students' cultural knowledge, life experience and so on.
Sometimes I find that we tend towards thinking of our classrooms as apolitical or places of 'peace,' we may teach about different countries or cultures, but we detach ourselves from asking questions or discussions about what is happening in those places and our own at the current time.
Chisnall points out that:
"In her bid to ‘follow the child’ Montessori tried to be apolitical but in her collaboration with the Italian fascist regime, she was naive. She did not understand that for her system to deliver the peace and social justice that she dreamed of, her teachers would have to be given more responsibility and that widespread opposition rather than co-operation with the authorities would be necessary."
Chisnall's comment here made me think of the importance of our classrooms as spaces for social justice. Social justice builds upon some ideas of CRT and seeks to explicitly affirm through the whole curriculum diversity, justice and activism.
As an example, a school may have a group of children from the south of Somalia and may have a practical life activity that affirms these children. This is not the same as helping the above group of children advocate when they or others in their community face prejudice for housing because of their race.
The above example of children advocating for housing is quite different to how Montessori centres sometimes carry out their practice says Chisnall.
"Although Montessori early childhood centres generally espouse equity and justice, some centres succumb to neo-liberal capture of their ideals. The provision of literacy materials and activities, for example, were originally a response to both child and parental request, recognised by Montessori (1912) as an issue of cultural capital for the impoverished families with whom she worked. An internet search, however, will quickly reveal many Montessori centres that create an illusion of academic advantage with which to attract middle class families to the early childhood education market place. The original project had an entirely different objective."
I found the above quote particularly powerful when thinking about who has access to Montessori and how Montessori is perceived in our communities here in New Zealand. I wonder if Montessori was here now how would she speak into education here in Aotearoa?