Promoting tolerance in Montessori classrooms

In the most recent issue of TIME magazine (June 9, 2014), the cover article on transgender identity was subtitled “America’s next civil rights frontier.”  It pointed out that tolerance for transgender individuals lags way behind tolerance for homosexuals, especially same-sex marriage, which is speeding towards the commonplace. I was surprised to learn how widespread transgender identity is and how difficult transgender individuals find life in school.

Near the end of the article was a story about a transgender boy thriving at a Montessori school in Tacoma, Washington because the school administrators had recognized his special needs and established a climate of tolerance.  The principal, Sandra Lindsay-Brown, explained,  “Our goal is to make him successful so he has good days and not bad days.”

From a Montessori perspective, her remark could apply to any student. Some children have obvious personal obstacles to manage. Many others carry them hidden deep within.  The Montessori teacher’s first priority is to observe students closely in order to individualize each child’s experience in the classroom and make sure he or she feels successful.

Tolerance for all kinds of people is a learned habit of mind.  Part of the bedrock of a democratic society, its seeds are planted in the early years of schooling.  Let’s hope that Montessori will continue to lead the way in promoting tolerance for all kinds of people. Part of the challenge will be making concerted efforts to promote diversity in our school populations.  When we are successful, everyone will benefit.


3 Responses to Promoting tolerance in Montessori classrooms

  • Yes! Montessori classrooms are diverse and inclusive and focus, not on differences, but shared human needs and tendencies, shared human projects, shared human joys.

  • When I was at Montessori, I was NOT allowed to tell my friends I was transgender. I was denied the right to come out even though I had received clinical diagnosis of gender identity disorder. The school said telling youth that one of their classmates was going to essentially change sexes was too emotionally damaging. Well it was emotionally damaging, to me. My depression spun out of control and I attempted suicide. I also developed an eating disorder which caused me to be hospitalised twice.

    Before I came to grips about being transgender, I begged my mom to let me get my hair cut short so I would look more like a boy. She said no (not surprising as it took her two years to accept me) and told my teacher about what had happened. The teacher then took me aside and talked to me about what had happened. I told her I wanted to cut my hair short to look more like a boy. Instead of providing me with support or guidance though, she laughed at me and said I would grow out of it.

    The support I did receive from the school when I came out was little to non-existent. Almost every teacher told me a story of a childhood friend who was an extreme tomboy but eventually grew out of it and turned into a “beautiful woman” (actual wording). They then proceeded to tell me that would likely happen to me. Funny thing is that those people were girls who had masculine interests. I am a boy who was born into the wrong body. There is a huge difference.

    Because of the discrimination I faced, I left the school. At my new school, I was allowed to be me. I introduced myself as a boy and didn’t bother telling anyone I was transgender. During this time, my depression has disappeared, I no longer have suicidal thoughts and I am fully recovered from my eating disorder.

    The end message from my story is that preventing someone from coming out or not providing support is extremely harmful both to their mental and physical health. If I hadn’t transferred schools, I would have either committed suicide or died from my eating disorder. Shoving the issue under the mat will only lead to further issues that could be life-threatening.

    • Dear Pete, Thanks for sharing your story and reminding us how hurtful our lack of tolerance can be. It is a lesson for all teachers, but especially Montessori teachers because we DO profess to honor the dignity and worth of every individual child, no matter how different. As a culture I think we are just coming to grips with the damage done when we try to manage children’s identity and coach them into being “normal.” I hope that as Montessori professionals we will be leaders in promoting awareness of the need to respect differences of all kinds in the very young. Ann