What inspires you about education?
I’m inspired, every day, by the idea that we do not yet know what is possible. It only takes a single look into the eyes of a child to see this thought realized. Imagine telling a child today it was impossible to put a man on the moon. Imagine the audacity we must have to think that we can tell them anything at all.
There’s a lovely quote in The Aims of Education, by the great American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, which captures this movement of thought, with poetry and precision.
“In my own work...I have been much struck by the paralysis of thought induced in pupils by the aimless accumulation of precise knowledge, inert and un-utilized. It should be the chief aim of a university professor to exhibit himself in his own true character - that is, as an ignorant man thinking, actively utilizing his small share of knowledge. In a sense, knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows: for details are swallowed up in principles.”
Education has hitherto paralyzed thought. It’s only in moments of escape, where a student fails to listen to his teacher, or stays up all night following her interests, where real moments of discovery are allowed to break free.
Then, of course, Montessori comes along and disrupts our entire way of thinking about what it means to learn. You simply need to follow the interests of the child, she says. “The teacher must give her lesson, plant the seed and then disappear; observing and waiting, but not touching.” Our task, on this new model of education, is merely to create the conditions in which children can flourish, and then get out of the way. To ready the soil for rich and fertile experiments.
I simply adore the idea that it is through the details that we discover the principles, through the concrete that we come to understand and appreciate the abstract, and it is Montessori who continues to teach us. It’s, perhaps, why the Whitehead quote has always resonated so strongly with me, why I feel it in my bones. One day the pupil will become the master, whether the master is ready for it or not. Having the humility to recognize that moment is the art of learning. Or, what some might call, the art of living.
How did you discover Montessori?
We discovered Montessori the way most people discover Montessori: entirely by accident. It was out of sheer coincidence that we happened upon the Maria Montessori Institute in London. Located near Belsize Park, the training center is so very close to where Marx is buried, and Freud lived during World War II. There's a great sense of history there, of stories being written, of philosophies being created, of what is possible.
Without knowing exactly what Montessori was, something about it clicked. We were intrigued by this concept, "Montessori". We had heard it before, but we didn't know exactly what it was. Was it a person? Was it a school of thought? Was it a city? We were eager to find out more.
For us, Montessori is intuitive to the way we think and feel and experience the world. It's an approach to education that makes learning fun and joyful and playful. Truly playful, in fact. Has learning not always been seen in these terms?
Actually, for many, Montessori is more than a pedagogy. It's a way of life. It takes the passive verb "to be" out of education, and electrifies it with the active verb, "to become". It's about seeing the world through the eyes of children and never forgetting the lessons of our ancestors: relishing the taste and touch and smell and sight and sounds of wonder and curiosity. Do we really only have five senses? In a way, it has everything and nothing to do with what is typically conceived of as education.
How does Montessori philosophy impact your daily life?
This is something I feel passionately about. That Montessori is so much more than any curriculum. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of architecting or reconfiguring life, based on children. There’s nothing prescriptive about it, except, perhaps, its undying belief in the often unrecognized power of childhood. As Michel Foucault says, “What I seek is a permanent opening of possibilities.”
We’re so accustomed to thinking that education is about a set of instructions that children must ascribe to, to better themselves. Whereas, I believe, true learning transpires outside these constructs. It happens in the hallways or late at night, in the crevices of the library, long after the faithful librarian has gone home. It also takes shape in Montessori classrooms throughout the world, and in ways of living that upend our traditional habits or styles or modes of thought. There are new ways in which we can engage with the world, and Montessori teaches us every single day.
Do you have a favorite Montessori book or quote?
“Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” - Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
“If humans move from one place to another by means of walking, if they perform the movement of grasping something, if they turn their eyes, if they speak, if they write, etc., they always perform movement and, thus, to educate movement would be to educate all of life.” - Maria Montessori, The 1913 Rome Lectures
What was the moment you decided to make Montessori your career?
I have yet to decide! I feel fortunate to play a small part in this growing movement. I only hope that, one day, I’ll be able to recognize when it’s time to step aside. I’m looking forward to being, as Whitehead says, an “ignorant man thinking.”
What have you learned from your time working at Higher Ground Education thus far?
I have learned, or am learning, the importance of communication, collaboration and culture.
What do you enjoy most about working with your team?
One of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite professors, goes something like this: “The ‘and’ conjoins, but never innocently or romantically. So much at stake.”
One of the true joys of my life is working with a passionate team, a team as committed to the mission, as they are to each other. When you operate as a collective, from a shared space, you start to share the same wavelength, and truly inspiring things slowly emerge.
It’s not unlike the ‘and’. When you finally decide to enter the conversation, you’re instantly thrust into the thick of things. There’s a new terrain, complete with unfamiliar idiosyncrasies and a lexicon that you seemingly create together.
In a way, it’s as if you collectively, but unknowingly, opt to erect a scaffold that will sustain your engagement. It’s the scaffold that becomes quintessential, the one you lovingly create alongside one another. Each participant, then, becomes a tightrope walker who crosses the depths below, as the taut rope is slowly raised to an increasingly comfortable height. For me, this is the ethics of collaboration. Complete trust and confidence in those you love. Together, you can figure anything out. Just ask, Angela, Anna, Connor and Chris!
It also reminds me of J.M. Guyau, “In my opinion, education has been far too much looked upon as the art of bringing up the individual - apart from the family and the community. From the individual we try to get the best yield; but it is as if a farmer were to endeavor for a few years to get the largest possible crops from a field without restoring to the land what he has taken from it: the field would eventually be exhausted.”
What are your passions, interests, and hobbies?
Over the years, I’ve developed a more than passing interest in photography. I shoot a lot of film, relishing the experience, waiting for the “decisive moment”, trying to capture it, if but only for a moment. Walking through cities with a camera teaches me to see, not only the ways in which the light intersects the streets, but the way people interact with one another. There’s so much hope.
Patiently waiting to develop the film helps me learn to anticipate and covet happenstance. I’m always excited to see what the film holds, if only to unconditionally set it free. Was the light right? How about the perspective? Do they even matter?
I’m reminded of Socrates, and what he famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m also reminded of Alphonso Lingis, one of my personal philosophical heroes, who added, “The unlived life is not worth examining.”
Photography, not unlike philosophy, helps me to live.