Double Death in Montessori

Image courtesy: Extinction Graveyard by Bart Heird

A year on…

It is coming to a year since a 17-year-old Black girl Darnella Frazier caught the horrific murder of George Floyd on her cellphone camera. It grabbed the world’s attention in unprecedented ways. Montessorians across the globe paused to consider, listen and act. Montessori organisations, schools and practitioners were seen enrolling in all kinds of “anti-bias” training programmes, supporting diverse forms of racial equity projects and anti-oppression interventions. But almost a year on, whilst expected, it seems “we”1 have lulled ourselves to a place of comfort again. It is disheartening to witness Montessori organisations return to default modes of doing ‘Montessori’, teaching and training just like before, not giving much thought to how whiteness pervades practices, even worse, not being mindful of who is given a platform or what kind of worldviews and in turn worlds are being privileged. Of course, “we” knew the speed at which ABAR and anti-oppression courses were being filled up did not necessarily correspond to a greater attunement or awareness to the persistent and iterative materialisation of whiteness in everyday on/offline Montessori spaces. But where do “we” go from here?

Methodological individualism and ‘double death’

Violence against Black and indigenous people is an outcome of larger perverse processes at work. The Australian anthropologist and ethnographer Deborah Bird Rose (2004), in her work Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation described this as ‘double death’. Death is integral to earth life. It is part of the ongoing flourishing on earth. Double death on the other hand smashes the intricate relationship between death and life, resulting in death overrunning. And those most harmed by it are subaltern communities 2 – both human and nonhuman. It is the unnecessary killing of ongoingness that I want to foreground in this article. This kind of killing is produced through very specific ways of relating, shaped by ‘methodological individualism’ 3.

Methodological individualism produces knowledge through a detachment from entangled histories, places, spaces and times, whilst presenting itself as apolitical, objective, and devoid of ideology. In it, the bounded individual is at the centre of all analyses. This is particularly relevant as it was and continues to be the mode of (neo)colonialist and capitalist expansion. Western conceptions of progress and development are enmeshed in such displacements, marked by a disregard for indigenous ways of being, knowing and relating with the more-than-human world 4. The immense alterations to relations through colonial interventions5 has resulted in major ecological crises, evidenced by the ongoing anthropogenic effects 6 that are decimating plants and animals, polluting oceans and rivers, producing atmospheric change, exacerbating inequalities, and so forth.

‘It matters what relations relate relations’

The need to abandon methodological individualism is urgent. “We” must think differently. It is not even enough to think of ourselves as ‘individuals plus relations’ or ‘units plus relations’. Although that is a start. As Marilyn Strathern (1992) emphasises, it is relations all the way down or as Donna Haraway (2016, p.35) contends, ‘it matters what relations relate relations’. “We” do not come to spaces as individuals, “we” come to spaces enmeshed in relationalities. At the same time, it must also be noted that not all relations are equal, or more importantly not all relations generate response-ability 7, justice and care. This is not an exercise on relativism or perspectivism, on the contrary it is deeply relational and materialist. It concerns real and differential material consequences. Seeing the entanglement is not an option. It is an indispensable part of the ongoing art of flourishing on a damaged planet (Tsing, 2015).

Invitation to ongoingness

My invitation to Montessori communities is to commit to this ongoingness, to grapple with how whiteness permeates the way “we” see, think, feel, and live, and to a sustained engagement to decolonise knowledges and worlds. And if “we” are on that journey, “our” activism will always be non-innocent and incomplete. “We” will get stuff wrong, and that’s okay. But the real tragedy is in ‘double death’, i.e. death to the ongoingness in this work. In other words, to engage in this kind of ongoingness entails rupturing established and sedimented ways of knowing and doing that are informed by methodological individualism, in turn nurturing a different sensibility that foregrounds response-ability .

Sid Mohandas is a former Montessori educator and teacher trainer, who is currently doing his doctorate at Middlesex University investigating gender in Montessori spaces using feminist ‘new’ materialist and decolonial onto-epistemologies.


EndNote:

1 You will notice that I have put we, us, and our in inverted commas to signify that there isn’t a homogenous collective here.

2 Subaltern refers to folks who are socially, economically, politically, and/or geographically excluded from hierarchies of colonial power.

3 Methodological individualism is the principle that subjective individual motivation explains social and worldly phenomena, a key aspect to free market ideology and capitalism.

4 More-than-human is a term that includes the nonhuman world i.e. other animals, things, objects, trees, land, rivers, physical forces and so forth, as well as humans.

5 For instance, many indigenous communities cultivate/d a more symbiogenetic relationship with the nonhuman world, in contrast to western colonial relations that viewed and continues to view the nonhuman world as resources for “human progress”, i.e. relations shaped by colonial and capitalist extractivism. The introduction of non-indigenous animals, plants, and technologies, as well as the changes to terrain unleashed major disruption and destruction to existing relations.

6 Anthropogenic refers to the influence or impact of human activity

7 Response-ability refers to one’s ability to respond based on the cultivation of a collective knowing and doing.


References:

Haraway, D.J. (2016) Staying with the trouble. Durham : Duke University Press

Rose, D.B. (2004) Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Strathern, M. (1992) Reproducing the future: Essays on anthropology, kinship and the new reproductive technologies. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Tsing, A. (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World. New Jersey: Princeton University Press