We Can Do Hard Things

 

Dear MMS Community,

With the purpose of honoring his passing, this summer my sons and I sought to know the place my father loved in his youth, long before he was a father or grandfather. For five days in July, we backpacked through Yosemite, starting in Tuolumne Meadows and ending at Twin Lakes in Mono County. On the second day, as we were preparing to put our packs back on after a water break, my younger son looked at me with plaintive eyes and said, "This is so hard." I heard myself replying, "Yes it is. And we can do hard things."

We are parenting, teaching, and learning during a global pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice. We will continue to be challenged to do hard things. Current research on resilience--the ability to recover from and steadily work through significant challenges and failures--indicates a strong connection between purpose and resilience. To have purpose is to possess a far-reaching, steady goal, something that is personally meaningful and takes us beyond ourselves. As a school, as families, and as individuals, this is precisely the right time to zero in on what matters, to zero in on purpose. 

For MMS, this is our time to draw inspiration from Dr. Maria Montessori, the source of what drives us every day to cultivate vibrant curiosity, independence, self-discipline, knowledge, and compassion in your children and adolescents. What can we learn from Dr. Montessori's approach to doing hard things, for she faced many in her life and mission to learn and teach.

Beacon of Purpose
For Maria Montessori, the clarity of her purpose came to her one night as she walked alone through the streets of Rome. Continually harassed as the only female medical student in her university, barred from opportunities to learn, and told by a professor to leave because women have "smaller brains," she was ready to quit. As she passed by a homeless group, an image flooded her mind: an impoverished, unkempt child who, despite these conditions, was engaged in deep, purposeful work. At that moment, she discovered her purpose: to serve to benefit children's healthy development. Later, she wrote about this moment. She noted that human beings must have missions in our lives, even if we are not yet aware of what these are. 

Refusing to quit her studies, Maria Montessori became one of the first female physicians in Italy, opened a medical practice, and pursued her passion to discover the ideal way to educate children. In the schools she began, her students flourished far beyond every expectation. World experts flocked to her schools in Italy to observe and learn from her. And yet still, the barriers she faced were daunting.

Holding to What Matters
The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, at first enamored by Montessori schools and the focused, self-disciplined children he witnessed in them, insisted that every teacher pledge allegiance to fascism. Unwilling to tolerate this conflict with her purpose of fostering individual potential and critical thinking, Dr. Montessori refused Mussolini. He closed all of her schools and exiled her out of Italy. Adolf Hitler and Nazis then targeted Dr. Montessori, closing her schools and burning her books and even her effigy. She persevered with purpose, establishing training centers for teachers in India and Europe, traveling to the United States to lecture, and even delivering a passionate, anti-racist message to the United Nations: "When children are accustomed, from earliest childhood onwards, to considering those who surround them as a source of help to explore the world, they are not tempted to adopt a wary or hostile attitude towards men who belong to different races or religions."

Incalculable Value
Dr. Montessori's purpose to educate children and adolescents "to be the master of their own force of will," and to prepare "young people to understand the times in which they live," never lets up. Tens of thousands of Montessori schools educate hundreds of thousands of students around the globe. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three different times, Dr. Montessori was known to say, "Don't look at me. Look at what I point to." Though, how can we not look at her individual life's example and find motivation and inspiration to persevere with our purpose?

As we prepare to welcome you back soon, MMS is passionately filled with purpose and perseverance. We will continue to offer stellar Montessori education and guidance to you, our students and families. We will do this safely and innovatively. We will not give up or let go of the compelling, life-affirming vision ignited late that night on the streets of Rome and in the mind of Dr. Montessori.

My sons and I made the final summit over Mule Pass in time to miss the risk of lightning. We took in the vistas and imagined my father--their grandfather--when he saw these too. We learned that there is great reward in persevering with purpose through challenges: fulfillment, happiness, and meaning, to name just a few.

All the best, MMS,

Sam