Month: <span>September 2021</span>

Afghanistan Appeals

Afghanistan: A Month of Questions and No Clear Replies.

Featured Image: A street in Kabul, Afghanistan. By Christopher Killalea, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Rene Wadlow.

It is a month that the Taliban forces have taken control of Kabul, a symbol that they now control the state.  In addition to the Taliban, there are an estimated 10,000 foreign fighters in some 20 Islamist groups. Among these are fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS) who had been active in Iraq and Syria.  Until now, these foreign fighters had operated independently from the Taliban.

An interim government of largely hard-line Taliban members has been created.  However public services of education, health, transportation are poorly served if at all.  The economy is at a standstill.  Many persons who had worked for the U.S. or NATO troops as well as employees of Western non-governmental organizations have been given refuge abroad, but many had to be left behind.  There is a flow of refugees to Pakistan, Iran, and the Central Asian Republics of the former USSR.  Many other persons are also looking at the possibilities of leaving, and few consider returning from abroad.

Authorities in the regional states – Pakistan, Iran, China, India and the Central Asian Republics – are all asking questions as to what policies will the Taliban government put into place.  General Faiz Hameed, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has already gone to Kabul to find answers, and, no doubt, to try to influence the policies.  The ISI has been deeply involved in Afghan politics, especially since 1980 and the start of the Soviet intervention. At the start of August, one of the leading Taliban, Mullah Baradar met with the Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi in China.

Wang Yi

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

When the Taliban last ruled (1996-2001), they enforced a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, banning girls and women from schools and public life.  The media was closely under control, and minorities marginalized.  While it is still too early to know what the policies and practices of the Taliban toward minorities will be now, during the past Taliban rule, there was systematic discrimination against the Hazara.  Thus on September first, the Association of World Citizens issued a Hazara Appeal.

The Hazara

Hazara people in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan 2020. By Shaah-Sultaan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

 Read the Post. We Must Protect the Rights of the Hazara Population in Afghanistan.

The are some three  million Hazara whose home area is in the central mountainous core of Afghanistan, but a good number have migrated to Kabul, most holding unskilled labor positions in the city.  The Hazara are largely Shi’a in religion but are considered as non-Muslim heretics or infidels by the Taliban.  In the past, there was a genocidal period under the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan.  During the 1891 – 1893 period, it is estimated that 60 percent of the Hazara were killed and many others put into slavery-like conditions.

To understand fully the concern of the Association of World Citizens for the Hazara, it is important to note that for the 1948 Convention against Genocide, the criteria for mass killings to be considered genocide does not depend on the number of persons killed or the percentage of the group destroyed but on the possibility of the destruction of the identity of a group. It is the identity of the Hazara and their religious base which is the key issue.

There have been repeated appeals to make the 1948 Genocide Convention operative as world law.  The 1948 Convention has an action article, Article VIII which states: 

“Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.” 

Despite factual evidence of mass killings in Cambodia, former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, no Contracting Party to the Genocide Convention has ever called for any action under Article VIII. (1)

Thus the World Citizen Appeal that events need to be watched closely and non-governmental organizations be prepared to take appropriate action to alert government.

 

Note.


1. For a detailed study of the 1948 Convention and subsequent normative development see William A. Schabas. Genocide in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2000, 624 pp.)

 

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

 

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

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Education of World Citizenships.

A Day of Deeper Peace.

Featured Image: Photo by Artem Podrez in Pexels.

21 September is the U.N. sponsored International Day of Peace chosen to mark the annual start of the U.N. General Assembly.  The General Assembly touches upon all the armed conflicts and tension areas. It can highlight the peace missions of the U.N. peacekeeper troops at work in different parts of the world.  Often, there are informal talks behind the scenes among the representatives of States in conflict. 

However, there is little or no avenue for talks with non-State armed groups such as ISIS.  Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have no direct standing with the General Assembly.  Consultative status is granted by the Economic and Social Council.  However, NGO representatives are active in the hallways and coffee bars during the General Assembly, and government representatives become aware of their suggestions.

Louise Diamond.

However, a deeper approach to peace building is necessary, and the Day of Peace is a moment when these deeper approaches can be expressed. Thus, the Association of World Citizens has stressed the peacebuilding approach of Louise Diamond.

Louise Diamond, a co-founder of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington, DC, works in areas of inter-ethnic conflict to empower peacebuilders.

Our power to empower is perhaps the most important role we can play in the 21st century. The more individuals who feel empowered to work in their own systems for peace and conflict transformation, the closer the world comes to that critical mass that will allow for a massive leap of consciousness, allowing new processes for peace that were previously unimaginable to become normative and easy.” She stresses that the Spirit of Peace is a living process, encoded in our hearts, embodied in our words, expressed through our thoughts and empowered through our choices. Peace “is the everyday practical matter of how we can live together harmoniously, dealing creatively and effectively with the inevitable differences, hurts and fears that arise in human relationships… On a larger scale, peace is a political goal of nations and peoples; on a smaller scale, inner peace is a personal goal for those of us who are trying to live more consciously within this frenzied world.” (1)

The world can seem   frenzied  as:

a new cycle is beginning, one that stems from the recognition of the fact that we are one. Favoring a relational, intuitional, opportunity-oriented way of thinking and a community, inter-connective, partnership approach to social relations, this new way of being is built on our emerging understanding of universal truths: matter is energy with meaning and motion. Life is not static; it is flow. We are not broken, we are whole. If we oppress others, we oppress ourselves…Even as the old systems disintegrate and fade away; pioneers among us are creating new ways of living and working together that honor the truth of our oneness. I happen to believe that peacebuilding is at the forefront of this wave, and that its pioneers are and will be among the greatest champions of a new era.”

 

Louise Diamond’s views will be familiar to those who deal with individual therapy .As she writes:

I found that whether I was working with individuals, couples, families or organizations, the work was inevitably about the issues of power and healing. In short, people were struggling to find peace and balance within themselves and to live and work harmoniously with each other.”

Her road map for action is based on four principles based on faith and common sense but that are also the lessons learned from experiences – her own and that of other peacebuilders whose views she shares.

These lessons have to do with our basic unity and wholeness, our interdependence, the power of love for reconciliation, and our ability through conscious thought and action, to shape the world we live in.”

Hers is n inquiry into the practical implications of these spiritual lessons.

Day of Peace

 

How do we heal ancient wounds and restore justice?. How do we ensure healthy communities?

Peace can be envisaged as having three basic aspects – the water, ice, steam analogy. The most fundamental aspect – the water stage – we could call “metaphysical” and has to do with peace as order, harmony, and unity. Then there is the “serenity” aspect, often an inner peace, which is expressed as calm, tranquillity, equanimity. This calm, however, is also a source of energy, a will to action. “For me, peace is literally a powerhouse of strength. I experience peace as a specific vibration of a dynamic state of being, which, like a song, radiates from my heart and soul.” The third aspect is that of “relationship – agreement, accord, rapport. The Spirit of Peace reminds us that these three aspects are really one.

Peace as harmony, order, tranquillity is very close to the Taoist image of the Tao. As in Taoism, there are many avenues to tap into this flow of peace: music, poetry, dance, communing with nature, making love, deep relaxation, prayer and meditation.

When we tap into that energy, we have access to vision, intuition, creativity, synergy, and the power of miracles – resources of mind, body, and spirit far beyond our day-to-day awareness. When we rest there, we are at home; we have found peace. The Spirit of Peace arises from this place. Our work, when confronted with our small-minded sense of separation, our lack of harmony, our experience of conflict, is to center home. (By ‘centering home’, I mean touching the Source within myself.)” 

By touching the Source, we awaken to what we need to carry us to new levels of thought and action.

Louise Diamond deals with the shifts in vision and attitudes necessary for the Spirit of Peace to fill our lives. There are, of course, other aspects of building a peaceful society. There are often needs to build new political and economic institutions and to formulate new policies. Yet attitude change, at a deep level, is essential. Many, I believe, will find Louise Diamond’s book both very clear and profound.

Note:

(1) Louise Diamond. The Courage for Peace (Berkley, CA: Conart Press, 2000).

 

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Louise Diamond Book Reviews

Louise Diamond. The Courage For Peace.

Featured Image: Photo by Avi Chomotovski in Pixabay 

(Berkeley, CA : Conari Press, 2000, 263pp).

Louise Diamond;  a co-founder of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington, DC;  works in areas of inter-ethnic conflict to empower peacebuilders.

Our power to empower is perhaps the most important role;  we can play in the 21st century. The more individuals; who feel empowered to work in their own systems for peace and conflict transformation; the closer the world comes to that critical mass that will allow for a massive leap of consciousness; allowing new processes for peace;  that were previously unimaginable to become normative and easy.”

She stresses in her book that the Spirit of Peace is a living process;  encoded in our hearts, embodied in our words; expressed through our thoughts and empowered through our choices. Peace:

“Is the everyday practical matter of how we can live together harmoniously; dealing creatively and effectively with the inevitable differences; hurts and fears that arise in human relationships… On a larger scale; peace is a political goal of nations and peoples; on a smaller scale; inner peace is a personal goal for those of us; who are trying to live more consciously within this frenzied world.”

A New Cycle is Beginning.

The world can seem as “a new cycle is beginning; one that stems from the recognition of the fact that we are one. Favoring a relational, intuitional, opportunity-oriented way of thinking and a community, inter-connective, partnership approach to social relations; this new way of being;  is built on our emerging understanding of universal truths: matter is energy with meaning and motion. Life is not static; it is flow. We are not broken; we are whole.

If we oppress others; we oppress ourselves…Even as the old systems disintegrate and fade away; pioneers among us; are creating new ways of living and working together;  that honor the truth of our oneness. I happen to believe that peacebuilding is at the forefront of this wave; and that its pioneers are and will be among the greatest champions of a new era.”

Louise Diamond’s views will be familiar;  to those who deal with individual therapy .As she writes:

I found that whether I was working with individuals, couples, families or organizations; the work was inevitably about the issues of power and healing. In short; people were struggling to find peace and balance within themselves;  and to live and work harmoniously with each other.”

Peace can be Envisaged as Having Three Basic Aspects.

Her road map for action  is based on four principles;  based on faith and common sense;  but that are also the lessons learned for experiences – her own and that of other peacebuilders;  whose views she shares.

These lessons have to do with our basic unity and wholeness; our interdependence; the power of love for reconciliation; and our ability through conscious thought and action; to shape the world we live in.”

 

Her book is an inquiry into the practical implications of these spiritual lessons. How do we heal ancient wounds and restore justice? How do we ensure healthy communities?.

Peace can be envisaged as having three basic aspects – the water, ice, steam analogy. The most fundamental aspect – the water stage – we could call “metaphysical” and has to do with peace as order, harmony, and unity. Then there is the “serenity” aspect; often an inner peace; which is expressed as calm, tranquillity, equanimity. This calm, however; is also a source of energy, a will to action.

For me; peace is literally a powerhouse of strength. I experience peace as a specific vibration of dynamic state of being; which, like a song, radiates from my heart and soul.” 

The third aspect is that of “relationship – agreement, accord, rapport. The Spirit of Peace reminds us that these three aspects are really one.

The Spirit of Peace to Fill Our Lives.

Peace as harmony, order, tranquillity; accord is very close to the Taoist image of the Tao. As in Taoism;  there are many avenues to tap into this flow of peace: music, poetry, dance, communing with nature, making love, deep relaxation, prayer and meditation.

When we tap into that energy; we have access to vision, intuition, creativity, synergy, and the power of miracles – resources of mind, body, and spirit far beyond our day-to-day awareness. When we rest there;  we are at home; we have found peace.

The Spirit of Peace arises from this place. Our work; when confronted with our small-minded sense of separation, our lack of harmony, our experience of conflict; is to center home. (By ‘centering home’, I mean touching the Source within myself.)” 

By touching the Source; we awaken to what we need to carry us to new levels of thought and action.

Louise Diamond deals with the shifts in vision;  and attitudes necessary for the Spirit of Peace to fill our lives. There are, of course;  other aspects of building a peaceful society. There are often needs to build new political and economic institutions;  and to formulate new policies. Yet attitude change, at a deep level;  is essential. Many, I believe;  will find Louise Diamond’s book both very clear and profound.

Rene Wadlow;  President, Association of World Citizens.

 


Learning from Practice Podcast – Louise Diamond.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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Paulo Freire Book Reviews

Paulo Freire: Popular Participation.

Featured Image: Paulo Freire Panel. CEFORTEPE – Center for Training, Technology and Educational Research Prof. “Milton de Almeida Santos”, SME-Campinas. By Luiz Carlos Cappellano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

By René Wadlow.

In the Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action;  adopted by the 1976 World Employment Conference it is stated,

A basic needs-oriented policy implies the participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice.”

          Marshall Wolfe of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) defines participation as: 

“the organized efforts to increase control over resources and regulative institutions in given social situations, on the part of groups and movements often excluded from such control.”

Paulo Freire

Photo of Paulo Freire (1977). By Slobodan Dimitrov, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Fathers of Popular Participation.

Among the intellectual “fathers” of popular participation is Ivan Illich and the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire (19 Sep 1921 – 2 May 1997) (l). Illich urged the ‘deprofessionalization’ in all domains of life − schooling, health care, planning − in order to make “ordinary people”  responsible for their own well-being. 

The strongest affirmation of the superior value of participation over elite decision-making comes from Freire;  who held that the touchstone of development is whether people;  who were previously treated as mere objects;  and acted upon can become subjects of their own social destiny. When people are oppressed or reduced to the culture of silence;  they do not participate in their own humanization.

Conversely;  when they participate;  thereby becoming active subjects of action;  they begin to construct their properly human history; and engage in processes of authentic development.  Paulo Freire stresses this inclusion of the marginalized in his discussion of agricultural extension efforts.  The ideal to be sought in agricultural extension is true communication or reciprocal dialogue;  not the mere issuance of information by expert agronomists to peasants or farmers.

Ivan Illich

 Ivan Illich. By Adrift Animal, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Participation.

“Participation”  is a term that is often used in three different ways.  It is sometimes used;  as in much agricultural extension activities;  as induced from above by some authorities;  who usually seek some social control over the process.  Such State-promoted participation usually aims at getting people to produce more effectively.  This is not popular participation in the sense that the Basic Needs Approach uses the term “participation”;   although in practice State cooperation is usually needed.

“Participation”  in the Basic-Needs – inclusion of the marginalized sense – springs from below during a crisis;  and in response to some threat to a community’s values or survival.  Often with no prior plan or precedent;  some hitherto passive group mobilizes itself to protest, to resist, to say “No”.  As the world citizen  Albert Camus wrote:

 “Any oppressed group’s refusal to accept its conditions is always the latent bearer of all affirmations of possible new orders.  To say “no” is to open up possibilities for saying “yes” in a multitude of ways.  Those who begin by saying “No” to their oppressors soon feel the need to utter some “Yes” of their own.”

 

Albert Camus     Albert Camus, Nobel prize winner, half-length portrait. By Photograph by United Press International, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Basic Needs Approach.

 “Participation”  in the Basic Needs Approach can also be used to define the catalytic action of third party change agents − technicians, community organizers, missionaries or members of a specialized NGO. Most such change agents view self-reliance of the poor and marginalized as a desirable goal.  Accordingly;  they see their own activation of the marginalized as “facilitation”;  destined to disappear after the people awaken to their dormant capacities to decide and act for themselves.

Popular participation usually  follows a sequence of steps:

  • Initial diagnosis of the problem or condition;
  • a listing of possible responses to be taken;
  • selecting one possibility to enact;
  • organizing, or otherwise preparing oneself to implement the course of action chosen;
  • self-correction or evaluation in the course of implementation;
  • debating the merits of future mobilization or organization.

If participation is to influence decision-making at a level;  where it makes a difference in national development; there is a necessary transition from the micro, local area to the macro, national planning dimension. 

A Basic Needs Approach;  provides an opportunity for previously powerless communities to enter into national development thinking.  Participation can fruitfully be understood as a moral incentive; enabling hitherto excluded groups to negotiate new packages of material incentives in areas such as food, housing and access to education.

Participation − an active role by intended beneficiaries − is an indispensable feature of the Basic Needs Approach to Development Planning.

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire Panel. CEFORTEPE – Center for Training, Technology and Educational Research Prof. “Milton de Almeida Santos”, SME-Campinas. By Luiz Carlos Cappellano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. For Ivan Illich see: Toward A History of Needs (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
  2. Ivan Illich. Deschooling Society (New York: Harper and Row, 1983).
  3.  For Paulo Freire see: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970).
  4.  Paulo Freire. Education for Critical Consciousness (New York: Seabury Press, 1973).

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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The Armed Conflict in Ethiopia Appeals

Negotiation Appeals for to end The Armed Conflict in…

Featured Image: National Ethiopia Flag. Photo by Kelly Lacy in Pexels.
 
The Association of World Citizens (AWC) now reiterates its Appeal to the parties in the armed conflict in Ethiopia for negotiations in good faith to end the fighting,  and to deal with the deep consequences of the conflict; especially the wide-spread hunger.
 
Mark Lowcock; the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; has warned that nearly five million of the six million population of the Tigray Province needed food assistance;  and the number grows as fighting spreads to other regions.
 
   Shortly after fighting began on 3 November 2020; the Association of World Citizens, knowing the fragile nature of the confederation of provinces which make up the Ethiopian state;  had made a first Appeal for negotiations in good faith;  although information on the fighting was very limited.  Journalists were prevented from going to Tigray as were most humanitarian NGOs.
 
Mark Lowcock
Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator speaks at the Safeguarding Conference in London. 18/10/2018. By DFID – UK Department for International Development, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Fighting in Tigray becomes more complex each day.

 
However by February; enough information  had been  gathered from refugee sources, that Amnesty International presented a first report on the extent of human rights violations, with multiple credible and widely corraborated reports of widespread atrocities involving mass killings, rapes and the abduction of civilians.
 
   The fighting in Tigray becomes more complex each day as Ethiopian Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces and ethnic militias face Tigrayan forces.  There is a buildup of Sudanese government forces on the Ethiopian-Sudan border and refugees flee into Sudan.  The whole Horn of Africa already fragile is in danger of greater destabilization.
 
   For the moment all efforts for mediation proposed by the United Nations or the African Union have been refused by the Ethiopian central government. The former officials of Tigray Province have fled, and it is not clear who is in a position to negotiate for the Tigray factions were negotiations to be undertaken. There may be possibilities for non-governmental initiatives.
 
 
 
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

1 2 12

The Hazara Appeals

We Must Protect the Rights of the Hazara Population…

Featured Image: Hazara people in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan 2020. By Shaah-Sultaan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is strongly concerned by possible repression against the Hazara population in Afghanistan, repression of such an extent that it could be considered genocide. While it is still too early to know what the policies and practice of the Taliban toward minorities will be now, during the past Taliban rule (1996-2001) there was systematic discrimination against the Hazara and a number of massacres.

There are some three million Hazara whose home area is in the central mountainous core of Afghanistan, but a good number have migrated to Kabul, most holding unskilled labor positions in the city. The Hazara are largely Shi’a in religion but are considered as non-Muslim heretics or infidels by the Taliban as well as by members of the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISIS-K), now also an armed presence in Afghanistan.

In the past there was a genocidal period under the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan. During the 1891-1893 period, it is estimated that 60 percent of the Hazara were killed, and many others put into slavery-like conditions.

To understand fully the concern of the AWC for the Hazara, it is useful to recall Article II of the 1948 Convention against Genocide.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Abdur Rahman Khan

Abdur Rahman Khan, King of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901. By Frank A. Martin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There have been repeated appeals to make the 1948 Genocide Convention operative as world law. The then United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said in an address at UNESCO on December 8, 1998:

“Many thought, no doubt, that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – could not happen again. And yet they have. In Cambodia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, In Rwanda. Our time – this decade even – has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits. Genocide – the destruction of an entire people on the basis of ethnic or national origins – is now a word our out time too, a stark and haunting reminder of why our vigilance but be eternal.”

The 1948 Convention has an action article, Article VIII:

Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide […]

Despite factual evidence of mass killings, some with the intent to destroy “in whole or in part”, no Contracting Party has ever called for any action under Article VIII. (1)

The criteria for mass killings to be considered genocide does not depend on the number of people killed or the percentage of the group destroyed but on the possibility of the destruction of the identity of a group. It is the identity of the Hazara and their religious base which is the key issue. Events need to be watched closely, and nongovernmental organizations must be prepared to take appropriate action.

Kofi Annan

Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan spoke with the media at the United Nations Office at Geneva following the June 30, 2012 Meeting of the Action Group for Syria. By US Mission in Geneva, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Note.

(1) For a detailed study of the 1948 Convention and subsequent normative development see: William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2000, 624 pp.)

 

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

1 2 12

Maria Montessori Portraits of World Citizens.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952).

31 August is the birth anniversary of Maria Montessori, an Italian childhood educator and world citizen. Her approaches to early childhood education are used both in Montessori schools and also more widely in other schools and home schooling.

Maria Montessori, inspired by the role of her mother was a life-long feminist breaking down barriers which tried to exclude women.  She insisted to be allowed to enter medical school in Rome at a time when the school had only men as students, thus becoming one of the first Italian female M.D. in Italy in 1896.

Casa dei Bambini.

She became known for her work with illiterate children at her Casa dei Bambini, a school set up in 1907 in a building in the slums of Rome. There she developed her own principles of learning.  Montessori had been strongly influenced by the tactile educational methods used for deaf-mutes and retarded children that had been created by two French physicials Jean Itard and his student Edward Seguin.  She took special interest in the retarded and slow-learning children who were locked up in wards without toys or learning materials of any kind.

Jean Itard

Jean Itard, french physician (19th century). By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In her Casa dei Bambini, she developed a system to help children distinquish letters, geometric shapes and colors through the use of tactile materials.  The children were allowed to move freely in the classroom and to progress at their own pace.  They became so involved with the didactic materials that they chose them over toys and began exhibiting new powers of concentration and conflidence.  As the system evolved, she also introduced child-size furniture and new elements to the curriculum that related closely to the daily life of the child, such as gardening, gymnastics, tendings plants and pets, and preparing a communal meal.

Edward Seguin

Edward Seguin By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In her writings Montessori drew from a variety of sources including psychoanalytic insights concerning the unconscious, which challenged the adult-centric perceptions of early childhood.  She argued for a child’s dignity and autonomy. In The Secret of Childhood she wrote:

“The adult has become egocentric in relation to the child, not egotistic, but egocentric.  Thus he considers everything that affects the psyche of the child from the standpoint of its reference to himself, and so misunderstands the child.  It is this point of view that leads to a consideration of the child as an empty being, which the adult must fill by his own endeavours, as an inert and incapable being for whom everything must be done, as a being without an inner guide, whom the adult must guide step by step from without. And in adopting such an attitude, which unconsciously cancels the child’s personality, the adult feels a conviction of zeal, love and sacrifice”.  (1)

“A pattern of psychical instinct of functions that will set it in relation to its environment”.

Her emphasis on developing the potential of each child was part of a then new educational current as seen in the efforts of Percy Nunn and the New Education Fellowship in England, Ovide Decroly in Belgium, John Dewey in the USA and Rudolf Steiner in Germany.  Like Steiner, Montessori believed in the existence of “sensitive periods” or critical phases for learning, largely set out by age.  She argued that children have a unique consciousness and a special sensitivity in the early years, which must be nurtured and allowed to develop along its own course. She viewed the child as a “Spiritual Embryo” that contains within itself “a pattern of psychical instinct of functions that will set it in relation to its environment.”  Montessori also placed great emphasis on the value of cooperation and of early childhood as being an important step in education for peace.

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner. By See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mussolini and Hitler.

In 1934, the Fascist government of Mussolini closed the Montessori schools in Italy as Hitler did in Germany and then in Austria when Hitler’s troops moved into Vienna.  Creative thinking among children was seen as a danger by dictatorships − no doubt correctly.  One of the Jewish teachers in the Montessori school of Vienna fled to Benares, India, the headquarters of the Theosophical Society.  Thus, in 1939, Montessori and her son Mario left for India to give an educational training course in Benares organized by the Theosophical Society.

Mussolini and Hitler

 

Mussolini and Hitler(c.1940). By Unidentified photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Enemy Aliens.

In one of those bureaucratic ironies, in September 1939, when England went to war against Germany and Italy, Montessori and her son became “enemy aliens” at first confined to the compound of the Theosophical society.  There were enough protests that the Viceroy changed the policy for the Montessoris to special reservations concerning travel within India and a prohibition on leaving India.  Thus she spent the war years until 1946 in India where her educational ideas influenced a growing number of Indian teachers.

Given the start of the war, Maria Montessori placed renewed emphasis on education as a factor of peace and of the special role that women should play in peace building, true then and still true today. In an article in 1939 “Peace Through Education” in the Visva-Bharati Quarterly edited by Rabindranath Tagore she wrote:

“ What we have to recognise is that mankind is bewildered by developments of widespred importance with which education has never dealt.  Men do not know what are the forces that draw them into war, and therefore they are absolutely helpless against them.  Society has evolved only on the material side, in this field powerful and complicated mechanisms have been built up, and in these modern man, still ignorant of the mind and incapable of cooperation is helplessly caught.  The child is misunderstood by the adult; parents unconsciously fight against their children instead of aiding them in their divine mission.  Parent and child misunderstand one another, a cloud comes between father and son at the very beginning of life.  And throughout childhood, it ismisunderstanding that makes a child sullen or rebellious, neurotic or stupid, for all these faults are foreign to his true nature.  In our experience with children, we have seen that the child is a ‘spiritual embryo’ able to evolve by itself and to give us actual proff of the existence of a better type of humanity.”

Maria Montessori

Italian ₤ 1000 banknote (1990–1998) representing Maria Montessori. By scan by F l a n k e r, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1936).
For a full biography see Rita Kramer. Maria Montessori, A Biography (Chicago: iversity of Chicago Press, 1976).

 Rene Wadlow, President, and a representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizen.

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