My turn: Montessori offers a way of embracing diversity

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I would like to comment on last Sunday's article on diversity in the Montessori program (Empire, April 17). First, I would like to acknowledge Ms. McHenry's work, and all the Native leaders whose strong voices are needed to advocate on our behalf.

This dialogue with open consultation between the Native and Montessori community can produce a solution that will enhance Juneau. It is in this spirit that I would like to offer another perspective on the diversity issue. I am a Tlingit Indian, and the mother of three wonderful, young Native children who have great gifts to offer the world, as all children do. My children thrived in the Montessori program, and felt they were part of a large, nurturing family.

I admit, initially, I had many of the same reservations brought up in Sunday's article. Now, however, I believe the Montessori movement can be a key ally in the struggle for the advancement of Native people. This conclusion was reached by looking beyond the stereotypes and conducting a full, open investigation of Montessori.

From an Alaska Native perspective, I will tell you why I came to this conclusion. Diversity is not a Pollyanna idea that can be pursued half-heartedly. Mankind has diverse cultures that not only bring beauty to the landscape of man, but, through their contribution of ancient knowledge and varying world views, these cultures can help protect the world from the social, physical, and spiritual ills of our day. As minority people, we must find all avenues in our lives to validate our cultural gifts.

Montessori education is just such an avenue. Its strength is its vision that world peace can be attained through the proper education of the child. Maria Montessori, the founder, was thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this vision. While Montessori was developing this peaceful education in the early 1900s, American education was still employing the assimilation policy which severely damaged the Native cultures. Montessori's aim is to foster peaceful, competent, responsible, lifelong learners committed to service. To develop such children, Montessori's format scrupulously adheres to the respect of the individual child. Learning is done in an inquiring, cooperative, nurturing atmosphere. The teaching style takes into account the diverse learning styles. Peaceful communication is inherent in the format. The belief is that respect for one's self, others, and the environment is necessary to develop a caring attitude toward all people and the planet. The fruit of this education is children, from diverse cultures, who have discovered their noble selves and have been given their voice to speak. What can be more culturally responsive than this? Is this not what our people need the most?

Yes, in America, Montessori can, in many places, be considered exclusive. Montessori was brought to America through the avenue of private schools, but this is changing due to the demand from the public. Also, this exclusivity does not manifest itself in the rest of the world. In actuality, Montessori is sought after as a tool to close the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. The largest school in the world is a Montessori school in India, which works to overcome the caste system that has imposed similar barriers to those experienced by Alaska Natives.

The Montessori method significantly contributes toward the betterment of mankind, including the Native Alaskans. If America has failed to effectively implement this spirit, than let's help it to fulfill its destiny. I implore Native parents to personally investigate the truth. We must look beyond the stereotypes, visit the classrooms, research on the Internet. Finally, I encourage the Native community to seek collaboration with Montessori to help ensure its diversity. As Native parents we must seek out partners who have a common vision and recognize the value of our contribution to the world. The Montessori movement is just such an ally. We owe it to our children. I promise you will find a loving, nurturing education that will empower your children and ultimately ensure a brighter future for our people.

• Kim Hope-Seagren is a mother of three children who were involved in Juneau Montessori for three years prior to moving to Hoonah.

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