Is Social Justice on Track to Contaminate Montessori?
Unfortunately, some Montessori organizations are caving into the social justice movement. Two major Montessori organizations, Association Montessori International/USA (AMI/USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) have supported or sponsored conferences that featured workshops or lectures on understanding structural racism, diversity, anti-bias, LGBTQ students, and much more. These conferences were put on by an organization called Montessori for Social Justice. The website for the AMI/USA conference in 2018 states that Montessori for Social Justice is “dedicated to promoting anti-bias, anti-racist Montessori education. They bring together Montessorians of all trainings to work towards educational equity and the success of all children.” Another Montessori organization, the Montessori Foundation, has formed a task force to address and act on several issues such as eradicating prejudices, establishing a social justice curriculum, and so on.
Well, this is news to me. I had no idea that Montessori was a biased, racist educational system or that it wasn’t for the success of all children. I frequently get emails that mention ending systemic and internal racism. Americans, but especially Montessorians, as educators, should recognize that the answer to ending racism is right under their nose, and here is the explanation as to why.
Racism claims that a person is determined by physical factors out of his control, such as skin color. It holds that a person’s values and the content of his/her mind are either determined before birth or are controlled by his social group. Racism is deterministic; it does not accept free will. It does not recognize any ability of a person to think for himself, come to his own conclusions, and form his own character. Racism is the lowest, crudest, and most evil form of judging and relating to others.
The antidote to racism is individualism. Individualism is the moral stance that recognizes the moral worth of the individual. It holds that each person develops his own character by the thinking of his own mind, not by the color of his skin or other irrelevant factors.
What can be done to end racism? The United States has already done a massive amount to end racism as it was founded on the principle of individual rights. It was the first country created that recognized individual rights—that each individual had a right to pursue happiness as long as the rights of others were respected. Yes, slavery existed in 1776, but slavery was not unique to this country. It was world-wide at the time, and, indeed, is still found in parts of the world today. But it was the idea in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal that led to the Civil War and ended slavery in this country. After that, because people were allowed to associate with each other freely, it took time (as it always does), but they eventually discovered that skin color does not determine the character of a person. This change in attitude was why this country elected a black president twice. It is why we have a Supreme Court justice who is black. It is why Oprah Winfrey, a black woman, is one of the richest persons in the country. It is why we have had entertainers like Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and the Supremes. It is why we have popular commentators, like Thomas Sowell, who are admired by people of all races. And so on.
Education is decidedly instrumental in influencing children’s attitudes towards racism. Education needs to center around developing the child as an individual. When the child is viewed as an individual, is treated as an individual, and educated as an individual, children end up viewing each other as individuals rather than as members of certain races. Racism ignores the fact that humans have a rational faculty. Racism invalidates reason and choice, and replaces them (as Ayn Rand said) with “chemical predestination.”
The Montessori Method does not ignore the rational faculty. In fact, the entire method was developed to assist the child in creating a clear, reasoning mind based on the facts of reality. Furthermore, Maria Montessori did not think that human beings are determined. There is no doubt that she thought that humans have a free will. “Free choice is one of the highest of all mental processes.” “A child chooses what helps him to construct himself.” Based on this view of human nature, Montessori students are held responsible for their own behavior and are treated as individuals. Since individualism is the guiding principle in Montessori, the children judge each other based on behavior and attitude rather than race. The overall result in the children is a benevolent attitude towards their classmates. They accept each other as individuals, each with their own personalities, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Individualism is the norm and they learn to value others’ differences. Montessori education is not racist.
Eradicating racism was inspired by the Declaration of Independence. It has been done anywhere where people judge each other as individuals with their own minds, and treat each other accordingly. It has been done in Montessori classrooms where the child is treated as a distinct person with a free will. There is no point in being a Montessori educator unless Maria Montessori’s principles are adhered to and supported explicitly. Instead of workshops on social justice topics, Montessori organizations should feature seminars on the value and role of the individual in eliminating racism, and should glorify and celebrate the fact that the Montessori Method is based on individualism.
 However, not every Montessori school or teacher supports the social justice movement. If you are considering sending your child to a Montessori school, investigate their position on it carefully.
 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, (New York: Dell Publishing, 1967), p. 271.
 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, (New York: Dell Publishing, 1967), p .223.