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Building Together at the Montessori for Social Justice Conference

Posted by on 27 June 2016

I slipped into the back of the auditorium and immediately felt the energy in the room. The first day of the Montessori Social Justice conference was a training in anti-racism, anti-bias offered by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training and supported by AMS. It was afternoon, and usually a low energy time of day – after lunch, in a cool, dark auditorium on a summer day. I had stepped outside to take a phone call and a walk around the block in the warm sun. Returning inside, the group of over 100 Montessorians from around the country were standing in the aisles and on the stage stretching and stepping, determined, it seemed, to build the energy they needed for a movement.

That was the energy that carried throughout the Montessori Social Justice conference. This year the total attendance was over 140 people from all kinds of Montessori schools, a big jump from the 25 who came to the first gathering at City Garden Montessori in St. Louis two years ago. This year, the group met at Tobin Montessori School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first public district Montessori school in Massachusetts.

It was clear that this is a group longing for each other. They share a commitment to Montessori as a tool for social justice. Not only do they believe that Montessori education should be more widely available to children everywhere, but they also hold to Montessori as a way to bring justice to the world beyond education. By offering children the space to direct their own learning, collaborate with others, and develop critical problem solving skills – rather than focus on content learning – Montessori can shift how people work together for a more just world.

But the conversations and workshops were not just about this dream. They also focused on the challenges the group shared in offering Montessori education in public schools and other settings that reach children of color and children in economic poverty. They struggled with how to practice more inclusive education themselves, recognizing that even with the best intentions, structures of privilege and racism permeate their own teaching.

There was plenty of building and problem-solving together, along with healthy and honest tension. Montessorians of color had the rare opportunity to define a space to come together to connect and support. They asked for the respect of the group in creating this space for themselves.

I had the chance to connect with people whose names I recognized from social media and as donors to our film project. In a presentation I shared about our project, the group expressed their own struggles to communicate a message about the power of Montessori education and ideas for how to take the film out into the community as a tool. The support from the room for this project felt like a collective lift to make it happen.

We were supporting one another in the work we are each doing to build a more just world. We felt the honor and accountability of being part of a community of movement makers. We were building together.

I would like to think a revolution was brewing in the Tobin Montessori building, that it is reaching out beyond Cambridge to communities around the country as Montessorians working for social justice return home powerful.

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