I’ve been thinking a lot about voice lately. I believe it matters whose voices we amplify within Montessori, as it has a direct impact on kinds of worlds that are produced, not just for ourselves and the humans we care for, but also for the multispecies world we are intricately and inextricably enmeshed in. In academia, this concept is made sense through what the British-Australian scholar, Sara Ahmed calls ‘citational practice’. The term addresses the need to give voice to some but not others. It highlights how the voices of minority scholars get displaced systematically as a result of scholarship traditionally being cis, white, and heteropatriarchal. Ahmed uses the metaphor of building materials to help us grasp the effect of our citational practice.
As an academic, this is hard work. For instance, I am deeply aware that the current surge in posthuman and ‘new’ materialist scholarship is anything but ‘new’. Non-western thinkers and philosophers have for centuries and millenia subscribed to similar worldviews that highlighted the illusoriness of individualism, the interconnectdness of the world as well as the agency of the nonhuman (See Advaita Vedanta or scholarship on Indigenous materialism from the Māori tradition). Despite knowing this, I find myself inadvertently citing western scholars in my work, because… guess what? The institution privileges, popularises and makes easily accessible western scholarship through the various systemic processes in place. As a result, the cycle of citation is reproduced time and time again. Therefore, citational practice is not an easy feat, it takes conscious, deliberate, and care-full effort.
Lessons from Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori’s contributions to early childhood have been dismissed and erased both in history and contemporary practice . This is evident in the thesis written by William Kilpatrick, a successor of Dewey, that criticised the work of Montessori. In his thesis ‘The Montessori system examined’, he discredited her work as obsolete and irrelevant and that ‘they are ill-advised who put Madam Montessori among the significant contributors to educational theory’ (Kilpatrick, 1914, p.66). This played a pivotal role in Montessori’s work being undermined in North America and eventually ceasing to exist (Kramer, 1988). Though Kilpatrick’s criticisms of the Montessori approach were misguided, the language used in his account quickly reveals his prejudice towards women. Throughout his essay, he repeatedly refers to Montessori in a condescending manner as ‘Madame’, despite her qualifications as a medical doctor and a lecturer in anthropology at the Royal University of Rome. He then concludes by dismissing her years of work as making ‘no theoretical contribution’ to the realm of education. Montessori’s contributions in early childhood literature has since been reduced to the introduction of child-sized furniture. There is an immense sense of injustice that surfaces when her own trainees, Piaget and Erikson, continue to receive more acknowledgment than her (O’Donnell, 2013).
What does this mean for contemporary Montessori practice? For me, it really brings us back to whose voice we are amplifying. Here are some questions worth thinking about:
- Who are we giving voice to in our conferences, workshops, and panels? What worldviews do our speakers, panellists, and presenters subscribe to? Are their worldviews elevating the voices and lived experiences of marginalised folks?
- Do we acknowledge and amplify the work and contribution of others (both online and offline) in the training and professional development courses we offer? Or do we borrow content without giving due credit?
- Are our teacher training programs overly populated by dead white male theorists such as Froebel, Piaget, Erikson, Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner? Can we bring in and emphasise the works of feminists, BAME/BIPOC, LGBTQI+, and working-class theorists/philosophers?
Sid Mohandas is a doctoral researcher from Middlesex University, London UK, investigating gender within Montessori early childhood spaces using feminist materialist philosophies
BAME Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups
BIPOC Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
LGBTQI+ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and so forth.
Ahmed, S. (2017) Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press
Cohen, S. (1974) The Montessori Movement in England, 1911–1952 , History of Education. In Journal of the History of Education Society, 3(1), pp.51-67, DOI: 10.1080/0046760740030104
Cunningham, P. (2000) The Montessori Phenomenon: Gender and Internationalism in Early Twentieth-Century Innovation. In P. Hirsch and M. Hilton (ed.) Practical Visionaries: Women, Education and Social Progress, 1790–1930, pp.203–218. Abingdon: Routledge
Kilpatrick, W.H. (1914) The Montessori system examined Cambridge: The Riverside Press
Kramer, R. (1988) Maria Montessori: A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
O’Donnell, M. (2013) Maria Montessori: A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.