Montessori-ese: Learning to be humble enough to translate our mother-tongue

01 01Montessorians are intense, dedicated and passionate people. We live, eat, sleep and breathe what we do. And sometimes, in that process, we forget that we are part of a wider community of educators, all of whom are as intense, dedicated and passionate as we are. They just express it differently, through a different philosophy, methodology, pedagogy or language.

Montessorians often have the reputation of being aloof, judgmental and having an air of superiority about them. This leads to other educators not wanting to approach us with questions about what we do, how we do it and why we do what we do. 

When they do approach us, we speak to them in our own language, forgetting that the Montessori language, our mother tongue, is not that of everyone. And we are too arrogant to translate. For this we are judged, and we end up not being able to have our message heard because we do not share it in a language that others understand.

We fear “watering things down”, “losing our authenticity” and “compromising our practice” when we translate our “Montessori-ese” into more mainstream language. And these fears are what we use to justify our closed off stance.

Perhaps it is time to look at ourselves and improve our practice. After all, what Dr Montessori observed is universal, present in all children, not just restricted to those attending Montessori schools. In very simple terms, her philosophy is based on the idea that there is a path of typical human development and our task is to guide and nurture that development to reach optimal levels, through carefully prepared environments. Many non-Montessorians have validated this and so we are in good company and don’t need to protect and defend.

It is not compromising our practice if we take the time to explain that what Dr. Montessori called sensitive periods, mainstream researchers are now calling “windows of opportunity”. We are not compromising our commitment to Montessori education if we translate our terminology and allow a place where communication can take place with other educators, using their language. In fact, my view is that it enhances our practice, and deepens our understanding of what we do. If we are able to find a way to translate what we do into another language successfully, we have probably truly understood ourselves.

So the next time we are asked to explain what it is that Montessori education is or does, take a moment to formulate an answer that is not laden with Montessori-ese. It can be there, but translate, not because we need to be condescending towards the other person, but because we respect them, and ourselves enough, to know that it is not their mother tongue and therefore we owe them the courtesy to try to meet them in a more understandable place.

This would open the doors for the possibility of change in the education system – of which Montessori education is but one part. Unless we reach out, unless we take the opportunity to translate what we do, on behalf of the children who experience Montessori education, we will continue to remain isolated in our practice. And that is really not beneficial to the children we serve. Nor does it help us in our task of contributing to the world in a peaceful, humanity-building way that Dr. Montessori worked so hard to establish, and whose legacy we are committed to continuing.

PS: And remember it is important not to make sweeping statements about what Dr. Montessori said…we must make sure she did in fact say it, before we give her credit for our opinions.