Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful
A look at the inclusive classroom, and a new book by Austin Montessori educator, Donna Goertz
by Connie Watson

In todayís tumultuous world, we find tolerance to be one of the most important lessons we can teach our children; tolerance for people who are different due to ethnicity, religion, age, or just different in how they behave. Yet, in most classrooms where children learn their first lessons, they often are separated from others who are different, thus deprived of the experiences gained by learning to understand and respect an alternative way.

Donna Bryant Goertz, Founder, classroom teacher, and Director of Austin Montessori School, as well as mother of five, knits together experiences from her thirty years of teaching to demonstrate the multiple benefits of an inclusive classroom environment in her new book, Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom.

As the title implies, the book outlines the benefits of including children labeled as "disruptive" or "difficult" into the elementary classroom, rather than segregating them into their own learning environment -- benefits, Goertz says, that apply to both the labeled child as well as the other children in the classroom, as both learn how to get along with others who are different.

Goertz beautifully weaves the tales of fifteen children who came to her school with a wide variety of "problems." Children who were previously prescribed medication or whose behavior would have put them into a special, segregated class in a public school, were understood, allowed to advance at their own pace, and showed inspirational progress in Goertzís Montessori environment.

In a recent interview at Austin Montessori School, Goertz said she feels the issue of school violence starts when children are little and donít know how to get along with other children. She feels that children donít know what to do with kids who exhibit difficult behavior, so they exclude those with problems. These kids, instead, need to be integrated into daily life.

"Children need to learn how they can draw a line on these behaviors," Goertz says, "expressing outrage in a respectful way. They need to contend with each other, learn about conflict and make it constructive and creative. Children all need one another in order to be the most capable, dynamic people in the community as adults. They are each otherís materials for emotional education, so if we leave out children who promote controversy, then we are depriving them."

Before integrating a new child into an existing classroom, Goertz feels it is vital that the classroom has an experienced, qualified staff member, or "guide" as they are called in a Montessori school, and that the classroom currently is proceeding well. "There needs to be a balance," Goertz says. "The addition of the student needs to be a gift to the class."

Does this embracing, integrative concept naturally make Montessori a veritable catchall environment for what seems to be the ever-increasing amount of children deemed emotionally volatile, unmanageable or violent in a public school setting? Not necessarily. Goertz is quick to point out that most children enter Montessori when they are 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years-old, so they have not been in a public school environment, or were too young for any problems to surface and be diagnosed. "Because Montessori is a private school," Goertz says, "they can decide not to take a student; however, you cannot get kicked out of a public school. They have to take you no matter what."

Goertz explains that the integration process always should be monitored closely, and that there are definite boundaries -- acts of physical or verbal aggression are never tolerated. Occasionally, children integrating into a classroom have problems that are larger than can be handled by the guide and child alone. Sometimes the degree of difficulty is such that the staff feels the childís family needs family counseling in order to help the child become integrated into the classroom culture. Goertz says that it's not unusual for the school to form a team with the family and familyís counselor in these cases. In addition, if other parents express concern about the inclusion of a new student, she encourages them to come and observe the classroom. She assures them they are working hard for each child to develop balanced relationships with one another, and that her foremost priority is ensuring that the classroom remains a safe environment.

Even though a private school such as Austin Montessori can be selective as to which children they accept, Goertz prefers to serve a broad cross-section of children Ė not just children with labels like "quick learner" on one end of the scale or "unmanageable" at the other. "I donít feel it's good for children to be in a concentrated group," she says.

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful isn't a book just for those with "problem" children. Any parent will find value in these inspirational integration stories, and from Goertzís "Ten Tips for Supporting Your Child At Home." Tips range from advice on toys, to talking to your child about feelings. And although it's not an instructional book on the Montessori system, Goertz's book does give the reader a sense of what one can expect from a Montessori system, and can whet the appetite for those who want to learn more.
Connie Watson, a freelance writer from Georgetown, Texas, is a regular columnist with The Williamson County Sun, and the mother of two preschool-aged boys.


Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classrooms
by Donna Goertz

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Donna Goertz received a Montessori elementary diploma from Fondazione Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani in 1982. Austin Montessori School is accredited by Association Montessori Internationale.

All proceeds from the book go to establish a permanent endowment for Austin Montessori School.