Education as Peace

Researching an article on the Montessori educational method and its focus on peace (“Montessori, Peace, and Libertarianism“), I came across this fascinating piece, “Education as Peace” (posted here with permission of N.A.M.T.A.), by John Bremer in a 1985 issue of the N.A.M.T.A. Quarterly. Bremer discusses Montessori’s lament that we have no science of peace. As she wrote, “it is quite strange, in fact, that as yet there is no such thing as a science of peace, since the science of war appears to be highly advanced, at least regarding such concrete armaments and strategy ….” In Bremer’s moving and insightful article, he writes: “From my little knowledge of eastern thought, it appears quite possible for a discipline of peace to exist already, and I mean a discipline for a way of life and not an academic discipline.”

The entire article is well worth reading. It’s my growing view that  libertarians can profit from Montessori’s educational insights, and that Montessorians searching for a science of peace can stop looking: this is what libertarianism is. Libertarianism recognizes the world of scarcity that we inhabit gives rise to conflict and war, and the solution is the adoption of civilized rules of cooperation and allocation of property rights—a libertarian private law society. If Montessori had been apprised of the insights of Austrian, free market economics and of anti-state, pro-peace liberalism, who knows—maybe she would have become a key advocate of libertarian views.

Skepticism of statism, individualism, and love of freedom permeates the Montessori perspective. It is worth quoting at length from Bremer’s piece:

Maria Montessori … knew that education, properly understood, is a disturbance of the universe as it is conventionally conceived and experienced. It places the power structure at risk since there is the strong possibility that it will be exposed for what it is—an imposition upon the sacred order of things, a distortion of what is natural, for the supposed benefit of those not willing or not able to learn. She also understood more clearly than any of her contemporaries that if the perversion of the natural order of things is to be maintained by the power establishment, then the soul must also be perverted because it is the one power, the one course of energy in the universe that is able to see and to show the corruption and perversion of the whole and to correct it. This perversion of the soul arrogated to itself, for obvious rhetorical advantage, the name of education. In reality, it is what was characterized earlier as a form of indoctrination, and it rests upon an imbalance, an inequality of power.

The key to Montessori is contained in the two sayings which are more often repeated than argued about and understood—“Follow the child” and “Look to the child”.

… The fundamental fallacy of conventional apologetics in education is [that] if the teacher establishes control, the students can learn. … This fundamental educational fallacy has, of course, its political counterpart. How could it be otherwise when in conventional opinion “education” is a sub-branch of “politics”? The basic political fallacy is that if people are controlled “by proper authority” then they will improve. I suppose they might improve as sheep but scarcely as human beings, as citizens.

… [I]n our international relations we will have to learn whatever the counterpart is of “Follow the Child” and of “Look to the Child”. It is possible that we will come to see, eventually, the nation state for what it is—an extensive defence mechanism against learning, and we may find some new pattern of human organization which will simultaneously offer security and the opportunity to learn. Just as Montessori diplomas are different from ordinary credentials, I suspect that Montessori diplomacy may be of a different order from that played by the brinksmanship of Kissinger and the like.

… I rest my confidence in the knowledge that if power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then learning liberates and universal learning liberates universally. And universal learning is peace in action. [pp. 33-34]

Note the keen recognition of the state’s lies and corruption and use of education for propaganda. It is thus no surprise to learn that Maria Montessori, as the Inspector of schools in Italy, refused to use the education system to produce soldiers for Mussolini. As noted here: “In 1922 she was appointed Inspector of Schools in Italy. She lost that position when she refused to have her young charges take the fascist oath as the dictator Mussolini required.” More detail is provided here:

in 1929 Montessori opened the Association Montessori International in the Netherlands, with another center following in 1947 in London. The political world had its own affairs in the works however, most notably the rise of fascism in Italy and the spread of Germany’s Nazi regime. Montessori found herself under dire pressure to turn her schools into training centers, to mass-produce soldiers for the war. Naturally she refused, and for a brief time she and son Mario were interred. Freed and then exiled by Mussolini, they fled from Italy, taking refuge initially in Spain and India, and finally the Netherlands.