By Becca Fernandez, Lower Elementary Teacher
Dr. Montessori called her method, “Education for Peace.” For many years, the Arbor community has celebrated Peace Day on September 21st. Older students folded origami doves, large and small. Younger children practiced using scissors to cut out doves. Teachers arrived early in the morning to decorate both campuses. Families walked the hallways, with children eagerly searching for one of “their” doves. Stories were shared of great peacemakers and the work they have done to better our world.
Later in the day, we gathered outside around the peace pole to hear a reading of the UN Declaration on the Rights of People to Peace by AP students. Then, we sang for peace, joining children around the globe. This year will look different, as we celebrate separately in our classrooms, but our commitment to creating peace will not be stopped, COVID-19 or not.
A one day celebration is lovely, but the hard work of teaching peace takes time and practice. In the elementary classrooms, opportunities for creating peace at a micro level abound. In fact, the classroom is deliberately designed in ways that create conflict. Every time the children experience tension, there is an opportunity for conflict resolution: to learn to communicate, to listen, and to resolve an issue. Built upon the strong base of grace and courtesy skills practiced in the toddler and primary classrooms, elementary children learn to solve their own conflicts and even to assist other students in negotiating their conflicts.
Integrating Conflict Resolution into Education
It seems counterintuitive, designing conflict into the day in a space where children ought to be focused on learning, right? Not so. Elementary children are driven by a strong sense of justice. Limited classroom materials force them to figure out who gets to use which material when. The freedom to choose where to work ensures that children will learn to speak kindly when declining an invitation to sit with a peer. If someone feels excluded, they learn to advocate for themselves and other children learn that it is important for everyone to have a seat at the table sometimes. The freedom to move about the classroom teaches the responsibility to be careful of others’ space and work. The freedom to converse freely teaches the need to keep voices low enough so as not to disturb others.
Every single day, multiple opportunities for conflict resolution arise. The children resolve most by themselves, as they flex their graceful negotiation muscles. Others require gentle guidance by the adults. Still others wind up in a full-blown mediation led by an adult in which children learn to speak their truth, listen intently, and brainstorm solutions. Each conflict offers an opportunity to learn to coexist in community with others without resorting to name-calling, threats, or passing the blame.
Students enter the Adolescent Program prepared to tackle larger issues than who sits with whom at lunchtime, though they still jockey for their favorite table. Our AP students explore issues such as food waste and its impact on global hunger. They debate topics as prescient as the death penalty and ocean pollution, yet they must treat one another with respect and follow the rules of formal debate. They learn about our local refugee populations and find ways to assist them.
As we celebrate in our respective classes this year, we will still sing the songs and fold the doves. We will celebrate the peacemakers of the past and of today. We will strive to honor Dr. Montessori’s call to action; that peace must be the final goal. As she said, “establishing lasting peace is the work of education.”