Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful

K recommended Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful to me when I first started volunteering at her school, and I must say, I am incredibly thankful she did. Donna Bryant Goertz shares 19 stories from her Austin, Texas Montessori school in her 2001-released book. Each chapter describes a student that could have been (and in many cases were) not properly cared for in a traditional school, but through interventions, time, and love, Donna, almost miraculously, turns every situation around. It was my first glance into what makes the Montessori method so very wonderful, and I found it more inspiring than any other education book I have read.

Donna's classroom, like Montessori classrooms across the globe, is made up of six- to nine-year olds that have learned to help and rely on each other with little assistance from the adults in the room. They solve problems on their own, speak politely and respectfully to one another, and only involve an adult if there is a problem that they can't resolve together. They are learning to become independent, self-functioning children.

Donna also helps her students before they even enter the door by explaining to parents what is most beneficial to them while they are at home: little tv and video game time, ample encouragement and love, healthy food, and reading together every night. She insists that none of her students, despite circumstances, are on medication, as it interferes with their growing minds and bodies.

Having established these two important prerequisites, a classroom where students can thrive and a caring home life, Donna welcomes, throughout the chapters, children with many different complicated situations into her classroom. She describes with great illustration the struggles of each child, and then details how, with what seems to be ease but may merely be patience, she leads them to overcome. A child that purposely destroyed is guided to make creative and artistic messes, a child that lied is guided to tell the truth, and children with aggression are guided into a calm.

When I read Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful, I was reminded in every chapter how little public school teachers actually help their students to overcome problems. They have so little time and so much to do (testing and paperwork and whole-class lessons that only half the class understands) that solving every students struggles is an impossible task. We build a temporary fix for the school year, caulk the growing hole in a dam, until we can send them off to the next teacher, to the next grade level, and let them fix things.

A few of the chapters even reminded me of children I work with now as a para. When I realized that I was seeing my students in the characters, my heart began to break. My students could benefit so much from the Montessori method, but I realized then that it was impossible to hope that for them. Donna lives states away, and Montessori schools are far more expensive than these Title I students' parents can afford. Even then, it is probably too late to reach the students I fear for, some of which will be graduating 5th grade in just weeks.

I knew, after reading about Donna's successes, that it was up to me. I may not be able to do much as a para, but when I enter the classroom with my degree, I pledge to be different. I pledge not to let any solvable struggles pass me by. Using the Montessori method as a beginning to my guide, I will use love and patience to reach all of my students. I will guide my students to become self-reliant and respectful. And for those children who are not yet peaceful, I will find the time to somehow lead them to calm.

Read a few chapters from Donna's book on Google Books
and then buy it on Amazon.