Critical Montessori Education: Centering BIPOC Montessori Educators and their Anti-Racist Teaching Practices

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While many BIPOC Montessori educators engage in anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching, Montessori education remains predominantly race-evasive. As a philosophy, it is rooted in colorblind perspectives in its focus on "all children" and lack of explicit centering of BIPOC students’ experiences. Teaching must account for race and racial lived realities in order to better support BIPOC students’ ways of knowing in culturally relevant and sustaining ways. This study seeks to center the voices of BIPOC Montessori educators and disrupt the pattern of Montessori research conducted without a critical racial lens. Framed by Critical Race Theory, this study focuses on the strengths, assets, and anti-racist teaching practices that one BIPOC educator brings to her classroom. I use critical ethnographic methods to better understand how a BIPOC Montessori teacher at a public charter Montessori school interprets and enacts the Montessori method to support BIPOC students. I consider how her racial identity informs her practices, and the structural barriers she faces at her school when enacting anti-racist and strength-based approaches. The guiding research questions of this study are: How does a Black Montessori teacher interpret the Montessori philosophy to more relevantly support her BIPOC students? How does she practice the Montessori method through culturally relevant and sustaining practices? What are the structural barriers that continue to challenge her as a Black educator doing her work? My analysis suggests that the teacher maintains her classroom space as a tangible and intangible cultural space that reflects and maintains her students' identities; that her own identity as a Black woman deeply contribute to the school's work around anti-racism and culturally responsive pedagogy; and that there are external barriers that both the teacher and the school face, that prevent them both from fully achieving culturally responsive teaching practices. At the core of the study, I seek to understand the possibilities and challenges of Montessori education from the perspective of BIPOC Montessori educators, and how we could learn from them to better support BIPOC students. I hope to begin a path toward more counter-stories in the Montessori community to specifically support BIPOC Montessori educators and understand the structural barriers they face to anti-racist teaching in Montessori programs in the United States.