Last month, a group of 17 of our faculty and administrators attended the American Montessori Society’s annual conference in Washington, DC. Our workshop choices were fantastic, with every session offering multiple opportunities to learn about Montessori philosophy at every level, review of recent research in Montessori effectiveness, and a very strong emphasis on our responsibility to provide an education that is rooted in inclusion—which is critical in raising our children to be prepared for a rapidly changing world. At this earliest stage in education, we have a clear role and responsibility to support young children in an environment that allows them to build strong identities that are facile with diversity of all kinds.
The workshops that I attended helped me to see our role as adults in continuing to learn and prepare ourselves as models and leaders for our children in terms of inclusive and anti-bias education. We have work to do, to ensure that our children grow into confident leaders, who are self aware, who are capable of recognizing stereotypes and bias in themselves and in others, who are supported in developing into their best selves in a diverse society.
How best to provide a model for a respectful and emotionally safe environment? One of the first ways we teach respect at Greene Towne is through addressing adults with an honorific of Mrs., Ms. or Mr. For me, coming from Friends schools where the tradition is often to honor equality by addressing each other with first names only, it took some getting used to, to be called Ms. Sweeney-Denham. I’ve come to like it, and see real value in introducing these expressions of respect as part of the foundation of grace and courtesy that we teach our children.
However, it’s also true that our use of Mr. and Ms. creates a strictly defined binary between men and women. Our culture’s understanding of the spectrum of identity in terms of gender has grown in the past generation. This spring at Greene Towne we are introducing our students to a new honorific—Mx. Mx. is an honorific that was derived in the 1970s. It does not specify gender, yet still expresses respect. (Read more about the origins and growing use of the prefix Mx., here.)
Part of our mission at Greene Towne is to support the growth and development of each individual in our community, with children at the center. At the AMS conference, we learned that there is no “right” answer to our practices, but that it is important to question them, and their goals. We use gender as a main element for creating classroom balance, but why? Is that practice based on our own stereotypes of what those genders mean in terms of a child’s temperament? Again, it’s not “wrong,” but the goals of our practices are important foundations to consider.
It’s clear to me that learning is a gift, and that we as adults have a responsibility to keep on learning in order to best prepare our children for their future. I look forward to thinking more about education for faculty, staff, board and parents about anti bias, anti racist and gender inclusive ways that we can prepare ourselves and our children for the world that we live in. If you are interested in helping to explore and shape learning experiences for our community of parents and staff, please get in touch with me. I welcome your perspective in this work.