A Montessori Quilt

by Paul Dosh, LCS '88
Paul Dosh, '88 LCS alumnus, poet, and professor, wrote and performed this poem for the opening of the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota in September, 2008. To hear Paul perform Montessori Quilt, click here.

Montessori Quilt

Paul Dosh -performed by the author at the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota -September 27, 2008

to say that I’m addicted to Montessori
may be an understatement
when my mother / father / spouse / daughter / brother / sister-in-law / and both nephews
ALL worked or studied or both at Lake Country School
my wife thinks we need a 12-Step group

to glimpse the indelible Montessori imprint
that carries me / every day
imagine a patchwork quilt
sewn by tailors (Italian tailors)

each bold colorful square
captures a unique gift in its weave
diverse gifts
joined into a self-assured whole
by one thousand golden stitches
each sewn by a Montessori guide
who believed that when stress
stretched
this work-in-progress
her stitch
was the one that had to hold

allow me to unveil
four squares of my quilt:
the rough canvas / of education
the vibrant textiles / of poetry
the societal fabric / of activism
and the sleek silks / of scholarship

each square of cloth / traces a trajectory
from San Lorenzo slums
through my Children’s House, Elementary, and Adolescent guides
to me / and the self I continue to discover, craft, and remodel

1. Maria Montessori weaves the rough canvas of education
Montessori perfected the science
of preparing a classroom to spur discovery / and peer teaching

decades later
Doug Alecci led a team of pedagogical pioneers
roughing out a new method
to prepare the environment outside the classroom
Doug took us from Mesa Verde to Appalachia
and our bicycles devoured hundreds of miles of pavement

and I observed / how Doug did it
meticulous planning / anticipating detours on the road
and detours within our adolescent community
staying up until sunrise to make sure everything was prepared
so that he could focus 100% of his energy
on us

I observed how he did it
and I took notes
since then / I have led students on 35 journeys
in the Midwest / Canada / South America
each grounded / in the Odyssey Method
which integrates science / art / humanities / wilderness / and community
and its shining results rule the nostalgia
of all Odyssey alumni

from Practical Life through Doug Alecci to me
I am a Montessori educator

2. Montessori knits the vibrant textiles of poetry
for Maria Montessori
every child is a scientist / every child is a musician / every child / a poet

for three years in Elementary II
Zoe St. Mane knew what we were capable of: anything
she never said no / she only said “GO!”
I took charge of my curriculum
I set deadlines / initiated projects about Chemistry / about Marsupials
when I decided to write about slavery / I decided that 5 drafts was enough

14 years later / I was teaching at San Quentin Prison
and a guest Spoken Word poet
lit up the room with his spectacular performance
many gasped: “I wish I could do that”
I smiled: “I’m going to do that”
it didn’t occur to me / that I had no skill! / no training in poetry
it didn’t matter / I knew I was a poet
I began writing that night
and a year later performed for a crowd of 5,000

from the Movable Alphabet through Zoe St. Mane to me
I am a Montessori poet

3. Maria tie-dyes the societal fabric of activism
at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Rome
Montessori approached children of all incomes and abilities
with profound respect

in our society / which buries the poor / before they are dead
I name that respect / ‘radical egalitarianism’
and it seeps down / through generations of training portfolios
flowing into the arteries of Anne Luce
a Montessorian who insists on putting social justice first

in 2008 Anne helps lead a breathtaking generation
of public Montessori schools
but I noticed Anne two decades ago
and though I doubt she realized I was watching
my adolescent mind / perked up / at her activist example
teaching elementary kids to write letters to officials
about Minneapolis kids / that need nutrition

and that egalitarianism
seeps down another generation
pumping activist impulse up into the chambers of my heart
preparing the environment of each chamber
for the impolite choices
that activism demands

so when I stride through the shantytowns of Peru
I am at home among the poor / I make friends easily
despite the economic ravine / that threatens to shove us apart
dollar bills fluttering into its dark chasm
but we reach across that gorge / forge partnership
based on dignity / complementary skills
and the Montessori fundamental
that everyone / not only has something to learn
but something to teach

from San Lorenzo through Anne Luce to me
I am a Montessori activist

4. Dr. Montessori spins the sleek silks of scholarship
Dr. Montessori was a scientist who published her discoveries
and spread her answers / and her questions
around the globe

steeped in the history of a Method
borne of the unlocked brilliance
of Rome’s rejected minds / disposable children / imprisoned in prison-like rooms
persecuted by a post-Facist prejudice
against all things Italian
Montessorians were driven into the shadows

locked out of U.S. public education
Pink Tower pioneers like Pat and Larry Schaefer
found refuge in the inadequate nooks and underpaid crannies
of independent education

30 years later
many of these brilliantly successful learning environments
cater / to a wealthier crowd
like… me
but don’t let that crowd / out our vision of the humble beginnings of these schools
schools now bejeweled with Mercedes parking lots
were furnished by a generation that spent not discretionary dollars
but volunteer sweat / hand-crafting / hand-painting thousands of classroom materials
that each child urgently needs

for decades we’ve been pounding on the gates
of an educational approach that warehouses students by the thousands
pleading for a slice of their bottom line
pleading for the privilege
of working with special needs students
who we scientifically know
have Absorbent Minds that thrive / within this landmark Pedagogy of Discovery
but whose deep challenges / bust our budgets

clawing our way into the flawed niche of charter schools
bold experiments given just enough money
to fail

from Dr. Montessori
through Patricia and Lawrence Schaefer
and Molly O’Shaughnessy / and Kathy Coskran
and so many others / to
us
we / are Montessori scholars / educators / parents / students

we have done our research
and we / want / in

for a century this country’s educational system
has twisted / turned / formed / reformed
major strides forward / major steps back
unable to find an enduring and successful model
why are they looking so hard?

the model / is
here

Paul Dosh, now a political science professor at Macalester College, graduated from Lake Country School in 1988.
Visit him online.

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