Fourth in a series. Former Mountain Shadows parent Paul Algreen (P ’15) shares his journey as a Montessori parent.
For those of us living in Boulder County, we often hear the term “Boulder Bubble.” The term bears a mostly negative connotation and stems from the insulation Boulder residents experience from living in the eclectic culture of the town commonly referred to as the “People’s Republic of Boulder.” While the existence and side-effects of this metaphorical bubble may be debatable, as parents, we all know that someday our children will most likely venture out into the wild unknowns of this world and find that people are not always just like them. And while Boulder may be a more “bubbly” town than most, the challenge must surely exist everywhere; how to select an educational environment that prepares our students for new, unfamiliar experiences and affords them the resiliency to cope when they find themselves out of their comfort zone.
Taking a step back, my thinking on this topic has focused on how to counteract the effects of living in a homogeneous environment in general. After all, save for a few students growing up in very diverse, integrated cities, most American students grow up around children that look like them, talk like them, and most importantly, think like them! The International Baccalaureate (IB) program has a mandatory curriculum known as Theory of Knowledge (TOK), where students dedicate a year studying how we know what we know and learning about the impacts of human bias largely imprinted on us by our surroundings. An important goal of this course is to prepare IB students to thrive in an increasingly more diverse, more interconnected world by avoiding or at least mitigating the bubble effects that might limit intellectual curiosity or promote emotional rigidity to change.
It is with these concerns in mind that my wife and I choose to filter our educational options for our son. We want our son Casey to be capable of adapting to changing environments, to feel reasonably comfortable in unfamiliar environments, and to have the skills to find common ground with people from different backgrounds and with differing viewpoints. Can these goals be achieved in a small classroom? Would a public school setting provide more diversity of thought? Does a private school cut an even narrower slice of socioeconomic pie? After substantial research and inquiry, our hypothesis was that a well-executed Montessori education would lend a proven solution to shape our son’s ability to mitigate the bubble effects.
What we have found is that while no solution is perfect, an AMI-based Montessori education does present a favorable environment for a student to become a bold bubble-breaker. I may be biased (pun intended), but I have observed in Casey, more than most of his non-Montessori peers, a willingness and tendency to venture beyond his comfort zone. As a chaperone on field trips and on family vacations I’ve seen our son consistently display comfort addressing children and adults of different ethnicity and from varied socioeconomic status. Perhaps some of that is innate, but I do believe much of it derives from the many opportunities to be outside of the Montessori classroom, which have promoted curiosity and adaptability in our son. The “Going-Outs” that provide hands-on, real world learning combined with a community oriented classroom that stresses, if not demands, conflict resolution and acceptance has challenged Casey to be open to new ideas and understanding of others opinions. Most importantly, the entirety of an elementary AMI Montessori education is centered on creating a path for the student to develop a truly global vision.
Over the years many students from other countries have spent time in Casey’s classroom including students from Europe and the Middle East. During his fifth year, a boy from Saudi Arabia was in his class and became one of Casey’s closest friends. As you would expect from children of differing ethnicity and religions, conflicts of beliefs and difficult questions arose. The relative cultural differences could easily have been a source of discord and division in the classroom. Instead, the format of the classroom presented opportunities for the students, with the guidance of the teacher, to explore their differences and strive to find universal beliefs and truths that provide common ground. Casey and his fellow classmates learned firsthand to listen to and consider others opinions, to challenge their own thinking, and ultimately to make up their own mind for what is right and what is wrong.
It is with this amazing foundation that I feel confident our son is well on his way to developing a mental toolkit to succeed outside of Boulder.
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