Q: Thanks for joining us, Michael. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
Thank you so much for having me, Sid. My background at this time is almost entirely in the Montessori field. I started in Montessori in 1969, almost too many years ago to count. At that time, I had no intention of working with children or teaching. My mother had been a teacher, and I did not want to follow in her footsteps. But here I am, almost 50 years later – a dedicated Montessorian. Of course I am interested in children, but in a larger sense, I am interested in humanity – what makes
us tick, what inspires us, and how we can make our life on earth meaningful. I believe that my work in Montessori with young people addresses that very set of interests.
I dream of an enlightened world in which all children can receive a decent education and look forward to a fulfilling, productive life. Right now, something like 30 million children worldwide will never attend school – of any sort. Over 900 million people are illiterate. About one billion children are living in severe poverty around the world. They will never have a chance to attend a Montessori school. So, my dream is that they at least have access to some kind of appropriate and adequate schools. Sure, I would like those schools to be progressive, ideally inspired by Montessori. However any sort of proper educational opportunity is a step up, and a vital one.
You know, Sid, faced with these shocking numbers, I believe that we Montessorians need to set aside our internal disputes and differences. Instead let’s focus on children, even if the method or approach is not quite “pure.” More locally in the USA, the UK, Canada, the Nordic countries, and other first and second world countries, I dream of every child being able to attend a real Montessori school, staffed by kind, generous, caring and learned guides. Public and charter Montessori schools are advancing that dream.
Q: Can you share with us what brought you into this field of working with young children?
That is an interesting question, Sid. One fine autumn day in 1969, I saw a church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA) with a sign that read, “Montessori and Day Care”. At that time, I had no idea what those words meant. I went inside and was treated to a most remarkable sight. A room full of small children all deeply engaged in some kind of focused play. A very nice Dutch woman introduced herself as the teacher and loaned me a book to read. It was The Montessori Method.
I was captivated and fascinated, especially by Montessori’s references to peace. I was very involved in activities for peace, but had never thought of peace in connection with children. I kept reading, especially looking for references to peace. When I found those, I was inspired to continue.
That school had an opening for an assistant, and I was hired. Having never been around children I was intrigued. The following spring a Montessori training program was organized in Minnesota, and I was offered a partial scholarship.
Excitedly, I accepted, still never intending to stay with it for long. It did not seem to be the proper work for a man.
Nonetheless, four different Montessori trainings later, I am still immersed in Montessori, still involved in peace through children, still fascinated and grateful for all that it has brought me.
Maybe, upon reflection, that random sighting of a Montessori program in a church was no accident. I feel like somehow, Montessori called to me.
Q: What was your experience when you first started off as a male practitioner? Did you face any prejudice? How do you think the society’s attitude towards men has changed over time?
I faced a lot of prejudice when I entered the field. In my first training, there were only two men. The other one left the field very quickly.
Other trainees frequently questioned me about my motives. How could I make a living without a spouse to support me by doing “real work?” Who would hire me? How could parents trust me, and why should they? Most disturbing in those first years were the questions and comments that suggested that I was possibly some sort of pedophile, solely because of my gender.
This was difficult, and even certain erstwhile friends made comments like, “How long do you plan to be a schoolmarm?” Oddly, this all strengthened my resolve. I developed an “I’ll show them” attitude, and stuck to it.
Now, in a new millennium, I do believe that attitudes have changed. There are still prejudices, like the automatic presumption that if I am a teacher, then it must be with high school, certainly not nursery or Kindergarten infants. Sometimes, I am met with a sort of condescending “understanding” – I probably lack the capacity for a more meaningful career.
Overall though, acceptance has grown exponentially. Parents want appropriate male role models in the lives of their children, colleagues welcome men, and the growing number of LGBT teachers and families have made gender bias recede. I want to celebrate that, while supporting my colleagues of any gender.
Q: Recently you published a very powerful book called ‘The Deep Well of Time”, can you share with us what led to writing this book? What is the core message of the book?
The Deep Well of Time is a book about storytelling in the classroom. Storytelling is at the heart of the Montessori experience, and it has strongly moved me in building relationships with both young people and adult students.
Montessori as a system, is built on relationships. This emerges from the notion of the “House of Children,” the extended age span, and the respectful manner of relating to children. Storytelling really enhances relationships in a powerful way, not approached by any other classroom practice.
Interestingly, storytelling is also a spiritual act. The special bonds that are created between the storyteller and the listener are deep and almost magical. They are bonds of trust and belief. I have been using storytelling with children for decades, and wanted to help others to use this approach. The book grew out of my experience and hope. The book consists of a major section, which outlines the arguments for storytelling as well as how and when to use it in the classroom. Then the rest of the book consists of actual stories that a guide could use in a Montessori –or other – classroom. The core message is, of course, imagination matters and we can both utilize it and develop it through story. A second core message is an imperative, start telling stories!
Q: Finally, do you have a favourite quote?
This is a difficult question, because I have so many. I’ll try my best though. My very favorite Maria Montessori quote is from To Educate the Human Potential:
“Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination.”
I can’t resist giving you another one, coming from my abiding interest in peace. This is from Montessori’s 1949 work, Education and Peace. It is often quoted differently because of different translations, but this version is excellent
“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss Montessori. I really appreciate it. Anyone who wants to contact me may do so at firstname.lastname@example.org