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Peace Education: Part 1Washington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut

A piece of art depicting symbols of peace

Part 1: Maria Montessori’s Vision of Peace

How does a Montessori School teach children to create justice in an unjust world? How do we provide an equitable and inclusive learning environment to a diverse group of students when our culture can make that quite difficult? The answer is both simple and complex: we seek each day to reach back to our roots in Montessori philosophy and connect those powerful foundations to the needs of the present day. 

In our two-part blog series, we will explore Maria Montessori’s radical advocacy for peace education and how the foundations she laid have been refined and advanced in the Montessori classrooms of today.

Maria Montessori’s contributions to peace education

While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are sometimes seen as an add-on to an independent school education, Montessori pedagogy has focused on equity and inclusion from the start. 

Dr. Maria Montessori’s first students were children who were marginalized in their home city of Rome, lacking both socioeconomic and social privilege. Dr. Montessori called her revolutionary mission for educational equality the pursuit of Peace and Justice, which became a cornerstone of the Montessori method. “If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace,” she said during the 1937 International Montessori Congress, “we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.” 

Maria Montessori believed that emphasizing peace in the social world of children would result in a generation of adults inclined to advocate for a more peaceful world. The historian Erica Moretti describes the process underpinning this vision in her book, The Best Weapon for Peace:

Achieving peace was a twofold process: first, the child would be called to develop an internal peace, a harmony with the environment, and a moral sense to guide her acts…. Second, having developed into a satisfied adult, she would be gratified by her own work and would be able to find a place within the larger ecology of the world. The resulting adult would have a natural propensity toward peace; she would find joy in her work and in her relationships with people.

Dr. Montessori’s pursuit of peace started with the child, but it didn’t stop there. As the American Montessori Society (AMS) notes, “In addition to advocating for women and children’s rights, Maria Montessori sought out world peace. She believed war and violence were unjustifiable. In fact, Montessori’s antifascist views caused her to be forced into exile from Italy during Mussolini’s premiership. During her exile, she developed her work. Education for Peace in which she expressed her ideal that children are peacemakers and education is the only true means to eliminate war.”

As Dr. Montessori wrote in Education and Peace, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics: establishing peace is the work of education.” As a result of her outspoken advocacy for peace, Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for three consecutive years: 1949, 1951, and 1952.

Peace education in the Montessori classrooms of today

In Education and Peace, Dr. Montessori acknowledges the difficulty of her lofty mission. “An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking,” she writes, “it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” 

Empowered by the methodology and philosophy established by Dr. Montessori, Montessori classrooms around the world strive to create peaceful environments that inspire students to develop an appreciation for peace and the openness, curiosity, and conflict-resolution skills they need to create a just world. 

AMS outlines the hallmarks of a peaceful and just learning environment: “By creating respectful, inclusive classrooms, celebrating diversity in all its forms, crossing cultural boundaries, and modeling engaged citizenry, Montessori educators nurture students who will transform the world and make it a better place for their generation and the generations that follow.” 

Conflict among children is inevitable, but in the Montessori environment, it becomes an opportunity to further the mission of peace education. 

“As children move from respecting their physical space to respectful collaboration, from projecting their own desires for peace and social justice to leading that change, they will come to understand that conflict is an opportunity for growth and understand their own potential for leadership. This is the essence of Montessori, and can be found in the design of the materials, the prepared environment, and in their actions.” —  AMS, “Peace & Social Justice”

Dr. Montessori’s work was never meant to fossilize. She herself was a revolutionary thinker, and we bring that spirit to our work together. She wanted students who were ready to tackle problems with ingenuity, confidence, and hope. She believed – and time has borne this out – that children who are treated with respect and given agency become adults who build peace. 

If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.

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