Friday, March 15, 2013

Where Would I Be Without Montessori?

I have been thinking a lot about my Montessori Pre-K through 8th grade education recently in reflecting on how I became who I am today and the work I do in the world. As I look at how people who are "different" are treated in society, I feel so lucky to have gone to a Montessori school and I wonder where I would be without it. Given that I had a different kind of mind and learning style, would I ever have been able to get into college had I not learned at an early age how to learn rather than just what to learn?

Looking back, I know that ever since I was about six years old, I have had ADD, anxiety, and probably even the bipolar disorder. I always knew I was different. I knew most of the other kids did not have such difficulty with math and linear thinking, most of the other kids were not scared all the time, and no one else needed to call home to their mother in order to get through the school day.

In the 1980's had I attended a non-Montessori school which focused on memorization, competition, conformity, and testing, I could have easily fallen through the cracks. I would have been labeled as less intelligent, easily distracted, weird, and a child who would never really do much with her life.

Jeffrey with the Trinomial Cube.

However, none of my Montessori teachers labeled me as anything negative. As Temple Grandin says, I was "different, not less" and that is what I learned from my teachers. If I was struggling, they tried to help me learn using methods which worked best for me. Usually that was through tactile and visual learning. It always surprises me that some of my favorite "work" in the classroom was all math related, even though I am horrible at math. I loved the Bead Bars and the Trinomial Cube and my son loves Test Tube Division (he has his father's exceptional brain for math though.) So even in my worst subject, there were ways to teach it that I was actually interested in. Montessori taught me how to be creative in learning. It taught me that even if I could not learn something in the way everyone else did, I could figure out how to learn it anyway. Basically, Montessori taught me how to be resilient, which is how I was able to figure out how to get through high school, college, and graduate school all while having undiagnosed mental illnesses.

I often hear people say that they don't keep their child in Montessori past kindergarten or that they don't try Montessori at all because they think the kids then don't know how to go to a "normal" school afterwards. I went from Montessori to a competitive private high school and did just fine. In fact, I don't think I would have done well in high school had Montessori not already taught me that I was smart and I could accomplish things. Montessori defined me by my abilities and not by my limitations.

Most importantly though, Montessori taught me empathy and compassion. The Montessori principles of focusing on what you are good at, accepting people as they are, and seeing the potential within teaches empathy. Those principles also take away the shame and judgement often associated with mental illness and other brain disorders. If we as a society were all taught these principles, the world would be a far less judgmental place.

Dr. Montessori said: "If we have neither sufficient experience nor love to enable us to distinguish the fine and delicate expression of the child's life, if we do not know how to respect them, then we perceive them only when they are manifested violently." This is basically what society does to people with mental illness. They see the "bad behavior" rather than seeing the actual person. This means they then do not help the person find their inner self and how to live to their greatest potential. They see the manic episode rather than the person struggling to do the best they can who happens to have an illness in their brain- which we could help them manage if we cared enough to get to know them and find out what helps them.

There are many ways in which I think the Montessori method and principles help those of us with brain disorders, so you will continue to see these concepts on my blogs. (There is already a bit about Montessori based dementia care on Moving in With Dementia.) Mainly though, I think Montessori has taught me that no one is "hopeless," no one should be left on the fringes of society just because they are different. Everyone deserves dignity and respect and to live a life of meaning and purpose. Montessori led me to fighting for my life despite my illnesses, and it also led me to being a minister in a faith that has the same values.


Rev. Katie

1 comment:

  1. What a blessing that you had a Montessori foundation for learning! Excellent article!