The dominance of the US American Montessori Voice in Montessori today

Posted by Montessori Kiwi on

Have you ever had a cold and blocked ears?
Perhaps you found yourself talking louder than you thought you were and someone had to tell you to stop shouting.
This is kind of how I feel about the dominance of US American Montessori,
Ever since getting my first job at a Montessori School here in New Zealand American Montessori has dominated my story.
When I did my training through NAMC (A distance provider based in North America) I had to do questions on US  American related topics such as how to present a lesson on my state – something irrelevant to me here in New Zealand, examples were given of things that I didn't now about and the material masters I was given had US spellings, vernacular and examples.
When I attended my first New Zealand Montessori conference nearly 100% of our speakers were from the US, at future conference I attended I guess the number fluctuated between 80 and 100%.  I wonder is this because we as New Zealand Montessorians don’t believe in our own shared knowledge enough or is it that we truly believe that American Montessorians have some type of superior knowledge?
In New Zealand as we have no local manufacturers all our materials have to be sourced from overseas too often from US American suppliers, the same applies for training. While there is some under 6 face to face training available here in New Zealand for all other year levels people have to do block courses from overseas which makes the cost prohibitive and also leads to teachers from overseas (often the US) being employed in New Zealand schools, this also leads to a lack of diversity among montessori teachers. Further if one wants to teach in a public school which has a montessori class the teacher also has to have ‘normal’ or ‘state’ teacher training and registration.  
When I recently joined a Montessori Teachers Facebook group I was pleasantly pleased to see some of the admin team implore people to speak in a way that teachers from around the globe could understand for example giving the specific age range that they teach rather than use a term such as ‘elementary.’ However I hit a hard spot and what I felt was an unsafe group to be in when I asked about the make up of the administration team and whether there were any people on the admin team from outside North America (most of the admin team were from the US). I received a reply telling me that while none of the admin team was from outside of the United States the admin team were aware of the international nature of Montessori and that Montessori was an international movement. This is true however different countries have unique challenges that they face and I felt that this group lacked an understanding of this and were patronising in assuming I needed Montessori explained to me. When United States speakers and organisations pervade our professional workspace and assume what is true in the United States must be true for us we all lose. Recently there was an incident of violence in the United States. One of the large Montessori associations published a press release on the act of violence and the associations stance on it. I do not decry such a piece being written but I don’t see these types of press releases coming out everyday about other horrors that happen in the world that Montessorians work in too.
Montessorians outside of the US also face issues that may or may not affect US American Montessorians these are far reaching and may include:
  • Accessiblity to materials and training that may then be passed onto families leaving montessori not accessible to a large proportion of the population. Alternatively teachers may have to hand make or adapt  a lot of materials that US teachers can access via montessori shops.
  • Montessori Materials sourced from the US may have US spellings, settings or be dominated by US landmarks, people or items found in the US but not common in the country.
  • No materials existing for certain curriculum areas leading teachers to make their own for example a timeline of local history, local government leaders, local people of significance, language materials for the indigenous language that may be government mandated to be taught.
  • How to employ Montessori in Public School settings using the national curriculum and testing.
  • Government rules such as a compulsory ‘fantasy play’ area in a classroom, something not usually seen in an authentic Montessori classroom
  • Small size of the Montessori community and therefore limited ability to advocate to government.
  • Small size of the community makes it sometimes difficult to challenge or explore issues in fear of limiting future job opportunities or getting a reputation.
  • The usual age children start ‘big school’ or ‘real school’ may be different to the usual 3 year cohorts of a Montessori class. Teachers may have to teach children outside of what would be normal in Montessori classrooms.  In New Zealand, public primary (elementary) schools  can accept children from age 4 years and 8 months if the school governing body deems it so. The teacher has no choice about whether these younger children come into a 6-9 Montessori class.
  • Rules about ratios of adults to children in the class
  • Lack of access to (affordable) professional development opportunities
  • Wider social or economic issues such as poverty, war or racial issues
  • Cultural expectations or norms of childhood compared to Montessori expectations of childhood
  • Lack of understanding of Montessori due to lack of resources that are accessible for parents in the local language or a lack of parent education materials that relate to the cultural context and background of parents.
This again had me thinking ‘Why is the US American voice so dominant in Montessori?’ There are so many diverse issues from around the world and I would love to hear more about and hear from other Montessorians about how they are working in those situations.
I asked some of my readers about their Montessori communities and received these replies from Australia and France.
Some thoughts from an Australian Montessorian:
“The Majority of Montessori schools are private – the are a small number of public schools with Montessori streams in Australia. For the most part being private schools means big fees, and in many areas this leads to the perception of “elitism” and certainly doesn’t allow for Montessori’s vision of education for all. At many schools it also means there is a lack of diversity.
There is a Montessori National Curriculum Framework – recognition from our national curriculum body (ACARA) that Montessori curriculum broadly covers the outcomes comparably to the Australian Curriculum, which is what all schools must follow.  Each states department of education and re-registration process also effect this. One problematic aspect is that schools must subscribe to our national Montessori body (MAF – Montessori Australia Foundation) to be able to use and have access to this framework. This also makes it difficult for homeschooling families to be able to officially use the Montessori curriculum at home (when having to report back to their state departments)
One initiative by MAF is the Montessori Quality Assurance Programme – to combat the misuse of the name Montessori, ensuring standards are met,
When looking at the MAF site you can see a long list of Montessori schools and child care centres – the ones with MAF logo next to them are subscribers to MAF, and there is a further icon if the are participating in the MQAP
We all know how expensive the materials are – but being so far away shipping costs really make Montessori education a very expensive practice here.
One issue is isolation geographically (both from rest of the world and different parts of Australia) and being a small community (and spread far and wide), 
Montessori works well in indigenous communities - several schools, minor adjustments for cultural aspects. This includes Kiwikurra one of most isolated places in the world.”
From a teacher in France:
“I am an AMI Montessori teacher working in France. I am not French but have been living in France for the past 6 years. I have lived in three different towns and know many Montessori teachers working in various French Montessori private schools. Being a Montessori teacher is very rewarding but also a MAJOR challenge in this part of the world. It is so badly paid there's no way I would be able to afford to follow this passion of mine if it weren't for my husband's economic support. Basically most salaries in private Montessori schools are not even enough to pay the extremely high rent prices here, let alone pay rent AND buy enough food to simply survive-yes, it's that bad. I have colleagues who are single and they have had to rent rooms in shared housing (because apartment rents are so high) plus get help from their parents to be able to get by. I really don't understand why it's so bad. I knew teaching was not the best-paid job in the world but I NEVER expected it to be this bad. Honestly sometimes it's just too depressing to even think about. I guess all I can say is that I will keep doing it as long as I am lucky enough to be able to afford it. 
In general there is high demand for Montessori here but because there is no government funding everything has to be paid for by the school fees paid by the parents. The parents would have to contribute more for teachers to be paid better salaries but then there would hardly be any families who would be able to afford that since it's already so expensive compared to other types of private schools which do receive funding (Montessori schools are one of the only kinds of private schools, along with Waldorf schools which get no funding whatsoever from the state). So it's kind of a vicious circle; utterly depressing!”
You can read more about the challenges and triumphs of Montessori in New Zealand in my upcoming blog post.

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