Opening Remarks: Montessori Experience 2023

Tuesday 21st February 2023

Below is the transcript of the opening remarks of AMI President Alain Tschudin at this weekend's AMI/USA Montessori Experience conference in Baltimore, Maryland USA - a rallying call for Montessorians around the globe:

If you want Peace, prepare the Child. Sounds pretty simple, right? But as I’m sure each of us appreciates, preparing children in today’s world is fraught with challenges, and for many, obstacles. Let us think on this, for a moment. Think of the child in Ukraine, bombed out by war, think of her in Turkey or Syria, buried under rocks, think also of them, less obviously perhaps, excluded by hunger and access or by poverty and finances. The great unifying force of Maria Montessori’s approach to education is that it is for all and it works. 

It started out one and a quarter centuries ago with children who were written off by society, perceived as a risk by the authorities and excluded from services. Yet the children of San Lorenzo share the same universal human dignity as those from St Paul, Saint Petersburg, Santa Monica, Soweto and San Salvador. Whether they learn in Sanskrit, Swahili or Swedish should not be a determining factor in realising their potential as they move through life. 

Yet, language, location, money, ethnicity, gender, religion, race and history continue to play into what enables or disables young people from being prepared for a wholesome life of peace and harmony with others in community, society and the surrounding environment. Our rally cry is ‘Education for Peace”, but we can only proclaim it when that education is offered to all, and not only those with means or the circumstances of privilege. Children do not choose where they are born, but we adults have the power to make decisions that influence their developmental trajectories. Their education is our responsibility.   

This is not a bare bones minimum “education” that ticks boxes, but the holistic preparation of the human for life, with all the dynamicity and changes that this holds across the lifespan. At the outset of this meeting here in Baltimore, which has been organized by AMI USA, and our thanks to Ayize, the Board and team, let us reflect on what “experiencing” Montessori really means, for whom, when, where, and critically, why? 

If, after our soul-searching on this, we realise that there is still a lot of work ahead, then that’s a positive thing. Perhaps, in seeing and identifying the challenges in our own unique contexts, we may feel daunted by the task at hand, but let’s take comfort from Maria’s own work in extremely difficult environments. She had a never-give-up approach. Many of those self-same symptoms of life back then remain with us today and our advocacy for education, advancing children’s and human rights needs to be as emphatic as hers, along with an unwavering commitment to social justice, peace and the sustainability of our world. And we are actioning transformative programmes around the world, India, South Africa, Mexico to name a few, and here in your very own country.    

And this friends, brings me to the final point of this brief welcome:  Spirituality (the theme of the meeting) and the preparation of the Child. Material and physical preparation is all well and good, but what contribution might we make, as Montessori educators and pedagogues, to the nurturing of each child’s spirit? 

My home philosophy of Ubuntu, African humanism, holds that we are most fully human in good relations with each other. As we say in Zulu, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: a person is a person with other people. Preparing the child for the non-material realm involves the nurturing of ethical values by prepared adults. Only by sharing values such as grace, empathy, respect, kindness, inclusiveness and love will we truly prepare the way for Peace. It begins with us. Thank You.  

Delegates at the Montessori Experience 2023
AMI President Alain Tschudin