“The society that accepts a lack of civility strikes at the very foundation of a working democracy.”
Montessorian Pat Schaefer
The Montessori Art of Grace and Courtesy:
an apropos topic given our current political climate.
Did you know that there is, in fact, an entire curricular strain that is foundational and runs through Montessori pedagogy called “Grace and Courtesy?” It sounds so antiquated and yet how entirely relevant!
Through my many conversations with parents over the years, I have come to understand that some aspects of EAC culture and what we ask of, and want for, our children is elusive, confusing, or just poorly articulated.
Why do we care so much, for instance, about individual responsibility? Why does an educational system that proports to be about each being’s unique developmental path hold children accountable for actions that affect the group? Why do we ask children who would rather be left alone to stretch themselves and participate? Why does a student’s impact matter as much as their intention?
At its core, the Montessori paradigm is a movement for social reform. We really are trying to change the world through the education of children. The “method” Dr. Montessori developed gave us a blueprint for creating, in a sense, a sacred space for doing just that. Grace and Courtesy is one crucial component therein.
In Primary, we give children the tools to be mannerly. We teach them the language of respect. We coach them in emotional intelligence. We ask them to bring awareness to their physical movements. We make time stand still and are mindful that one day, if we are vigilant, this way of moving through the everyday will eventually become an unconscious way of being.
During the Elementary years, otherwise known as the birth of the social being, the etiquette of Grace and Courtesy become the vehicle for the student’s grappling with issues of fairness and justice.
The child is developing a moral
code moment by moment, peace treaty by peace treaty. Teachers ask students to be with others in “integrity, directness and honesty.”
We ask students to take responsibility for their words and actions alongside their academic work.
academic work is superseded by this work of the soul.
If we have done our work well, the adolescent is ready to test their civil prowess in the larger world. One reason our middle school students travel so extensively is to give them opportunities to practice civility in “unprepared” spaces. The work of this age is to “navigate various venues with poise and confidence.”
At EAC, we also ask our adolescents to be leaders in our school community: When younger students are around, they must be cognizant of the immense power they have over children who look up to them unabashedly. This in itself is a big demand as young people during the teen years would prefer to hide among their peers.
Courtesy, respect, kindness, humility, generosity, self-awareness and self-possession-these are the birthrights of a Montessori child. They are also necessary virtues for a fully functioning democracy.
“The essence of grace and courtesy is presence;
it is the presence of being human.”