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Kyle Herman

How exciting to see this forum making the explicit connection between Big History and Montessori’s Cosmic Curriculum. This is the most important work that needs to be done in Montessori education right now because the philosophy and practice for primary and elementary is well established and fairly consistent, but the same is not true for secondary programs. I agree that in the third plane, the shift toward personal responsibility and action must take place, but it’s important to keep in mind that especially for public Montessori high schools, Big History and Cosmic Education must inform the intellectual development of adolescents as well as their practical experiences in the “supreme reality of social life.”

I think Montessori educators at this level (and again, most notably in a public school setting) have to remain committed to weaving together the cosmic story with the otherwise disconnected threads of isolated subjects in high school. A typical teenager in high school – even one who has had the benefit of a Montessori education in primary and elementary – can easily become myopic when dealing with the academic demands at this level, losing sight of the cosmic story that so inspired their imaginations in the second plane.

Despite Montessori’s injunctions to the contrary, academic pressures increase immensely at this age. Many students become primarily concerned with GPAs and SAT scores, getting a high enough grade in Pre-Calculus or Physics, and making sure their transcript can hold its own in the highly competitive arena of college admissions. As educators, we also get swept away in this current, doing our best to prepare our Montessori students for their pursuits after high school.

To counteract this tendency, and to ensure that Montessori outcomes remain predominant over standardized education’s outcomes, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on Big History and Cosmic Education in every Montessori adolescent training program. The Montessori world needs to be more candid about the reality that public adolescent programs are opening and need much more philosophical guidance in how they reconcile Montessori philosophy and state standards.

The truth is that these public programs cannot achieve the optimum experience of a private Erdkinder program (optimum only because they are free from the mandates of state standards, but certainly not ideal in their limited socioeconomic demographics). This is not to say that we ought not strive to incorporate the Erdkinder model as much as we possibly can in a public school setting, but rather, it is to say that the academic focus in these programs – which can easily become paramount despite the staff’s best efforts – must be seen through the lens of Cosmic Education. In this way, we can ensure that even if a teenager in high school does not get to experience the valorization engendered by running a farm or building a shed or managing a hotel, they will at least experience the intellectual enlightenment that comes from seeing themselves as an integral part of the cosmos, from being reminded that they are the inheritors of every human accomplishment and innovation that has come before them, and these human accomplishments are represented by and told through the story of every subject they study in high school, from Chemistry to Language Arts, from World History to Anatomy, from Chorus to Algebra II.

We cannot ignore the fact that our students are being made to earn credits in all of these courses, which takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy during the school day, so we must infuse all of the subjects with the grand cosmic story that holds them together and gives them deep meaning and significance. Secondary Montessori education is the next frontier in our mission to bring Montessori’s vision to fruition, and Big History as an extension of Cosmic Education can help us retain philosophical integrity in any setting, public or private, but it must become a much more prominent component of our training and programming decisions at this level.