Retired Montessori teacher Charlotte Cushman posted a blog in the American Thinker claiming Montessori organizations focusing on social justice issues being harmful to Montessori. She then tried to apply for a conference run by the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies, but was turned down. Without providing any evidence of the reason, she went on to write that the reason was because of a poorly written article dated June 17, 2021, where she calls out Montessori for promoting equality and social justice reform. Here, we look at the article and her post about being called out, and address the importance of the social justice movement in Montessori.
So who is Charlotte Cushman and what is The American Thinker?
Charlotte Cushman is an author of several blog posts/articles on the website American Thinker. If you take even a cursory look at the articles on the page, you will see it is written for the lowest denominator of opinion pieces. Cushman has several posts on there, including one titled "Have We Moved Past Heterosexual Romance?", where she argues "Homosexuals are calling themselves married...these assertions have been pushed on us." Another article she wrote is titled "The Racist Propaganda for Teachers," claiming that white people understanding the impact of racism is coming from the "premise that all white people are bad."
This is a picture of Charlotte Cushman, but a very different one. THIS Charlotte Cushman was a 19th-Century actress and is pictured with her lesbian lover. Cushman often played male roles on stage. I just get tickled at the idea that a famous lesbian shares the same name as a person who writes so much against equality and homosexual relationships. Because if you google her name, the actress is deservedly the first thing that comes up.
She has a few books out. In her book Your Life Belongs to You: A true story about the birth of the United States, Cushman writes:
Columbus did not discover the United States of America. He saw Bahama islands on his journey, but traveled to South and Central America. She starts off her book with an easily disproven claim (and ties it in with a Don McLean song for some reason).
.. I can't comment much on her books and their quality. If anyone wants to send me a free book, I would be glad to take a look at it. But I am not addressing her book, but rather her articles I did actually read.
American Thinker is a right-wing conservative website that often prints articles based on conspiracy theories. In 2021, they were faced with a lawsuit from Dominion voting machines and ended up admitting that their articles contained false claims.
Given the credibility issues of Cushman and the American Thinker, it is hardly worth digging into the article other than to clarify some key points raised.
Charlotte Cushman claims:
"Unfortunately, some Montessori organizations are caving in to the social justice movement. Two major Montessori organizations, Association Montessori International/USA (AMI/USA) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) have supported or sponsored conferences that featured workshops or lectures on understanding structural racism, diversity, anti-bias, LGBT students, and much more. The Conferences were put on by an organization called Montessori for Social Justice."
She begins the post by saying AMS and AMI have both supported conferences on "understanding structural racism, diversity, anti-bias, LGBT students, and much more." She mentions these conferences are put on by Montessori for Social Justice. In June, 2020, the International Montessori Council and Montessori Foundation announced they working on building a Social Justic Task Force with the goals of helping with (to quote their website):
The IMC and Montessori Foundation state that it is not enough to simply reject racism, but "We must be committed to fighting it, to eradicating it on individual and systemic levels." Cushman brings that up in her article, but only to dismiss it by saying "unfortunately." In other words, it is UNFORTUNATE that all this great stuff is happening in Montessori. That is how she starts the article, and does not provide a very good basis as to why it is unfortunate.
For more information on AMI and AMS, you can read about it on my blog about deciding a training center. For the purpose of this, the main point is they are the two largest Montessori organizations.
The Montessori for Social Justice is a group that started in 2013 that teaches about diversity, anti-bias, LGBT students, and similar things that every teacher needs to learn. Despite it being important for teachers, Cushman starts her whole article by saying it is unfortunate we are learning these things.
"Well this is news to me," Cushman continues writing, as if she is shocked to hear that Montessori teachers want to become better. After her previous paragraph showing how Montessori organizations are working hard to fight racism and promote skills in their teachers to actively battle discrimination, her next paragraph goes on to say that because of this, these Montessori organizations are biased and promote a "racist educational system." It is mind-boggling to even try to form a sentence, or even a paragraph, that reconciles these differences.
Cushman claims the following to define her concept of what racism is. Her points are confusing because she doesn't try to say how racist people think or do, but rather what racism thinks or does. I think there is a good reason for this, and I'll address it after I lay out her points and her solution. But remember, she is saying what racism does or thinks, not what racist people do or think:
I want to specifically address the issue of why this is a poor definition, but before doing that, I want to point out how it shifts the blame for racism from the racist person to the victims of racism.
Cushman argues that the key to ending racism is individualism. To quote her, "(Individualism) holds that each person develops his own character by the thinking of his own mind, not by the color of his skin or other irrelevant factors."
It took me several readings of this article to finally see her point and understand it. Her definition of racism and how to end it are solely placed on the person who is subjected to racism. If we build children up to be individuals, they will somehow break through the barriers that are holding them back. It does not address the barriers that are there and, by avoiding mentioning people are racist and act in racist ways, she views racism as almost like a spiritual entity, an imbalance in the force, or some other tangible, yet mythical, entity.
Cushman does later bring up the point that "When the child is viewed as an individual, is treated as an individual, and educated as an individual, children end up viewing each other as individuals rather than as members of certain races." While I cannot necessarily agree or disagree with that (given the context), it ignores the fact that racism still exists everywhere else in the world and we still have to work to combat racism.
Cushman then goes on to excuse current racism by stating slavery ended and there are famous people of color who have done great things (Obama, Oprah, the Supremes...) Yeah. She went there. I think some things don't dignify much of a response, that included. Still, it's worth saying that they still had way more challenges than anyone white who got there BECAUSE OF RACISM! But remember, Cushman doesn't believe in or is simply too ignorant to know that racism isn't quite an impersonal, magical force out there, like she seems to address it.
Racism isn't as simple as abuse, violence, or hatred cast onto people. It isn't even as simple as excluding people from being a part of your group because of their ethnic background or skin color. Racism includes all barriers that are in the way of someone enjoying equality and dignity because of their race. And it does take a lot of work to examine, listen, and think about what we might be doing that is racist. That is why the steps the Montessori organizations are taking are crucial. Avoiding that and thinking racism is some entity or even putting the fault on the victim, like this article does, is (in a rather ironic twist from what Cushman hoped) quite racist.
I have written proposals for talks at Montessori conferences. Some got accepted, others did not. That is the nature of conferences. On March 12, 2022, Cushman again wrote for the American Thinker to make the claim that The Montessori Education Center for the Rockies canceled her speech at an upcoming conference. She claims it is because of the article she wrote that I just went through. Many conspiracy theorists use the term "cancel" to mean, "I didn't get picked for this," and that might be it. By the way the post is written, it sounds like she was scheduled to give a speech, but someone saw her article and decided against it. Either way, she says the letter she got states the organization has "plans to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all their instructors every year, and have asked their instructors to integrate those principles into their content area."
She goes on to argue the same thing we hear all the time: that not allowing her to speak means they do not believe in equality because she has a different viewpoint. She foolishly brings in the Marxism claim. The issue I see, and I cannot speak for the conference or its organizers, is Cushman has already shown an utter contempt for those values of diversity, equality, and inclusion training. She has shown utter contempt for the people and organizations that are working for them. And I think she found her own bubble with "American Thinker" that allows her to have those viewpoints and have them validated. The conference isn't the right forum for what she is trying to hang her hat on and it would be better served to have someone else in that position.
I think the conference she is talking about is the Montessori in the Mountains conference. You should check it out if you are interested. It looks like it has a lot of great speakers. Lynn Aikin would be great to hear about infant and toddlers, Betsy Coe is one of my favorite people and an amazing Montessori teacher, who is certified at all AMS levels, and Tatenda Muchiriri is a wonderful and inspiring teacher who was born in Zimbabwe. Watch a podcast with him below.
Cushman did at least point out a very basic understanding of Montessori and showing the child respect. To do that, we must understand the developmental needs of the students in our care, whether it is infants, toddlers, early childhood, elementary, or adolescents. We must respect that developmental stage and honor it. To learn more about Montessori's ideas about this, we offer a $5 webinar on the Montessori 4 Planes of Development. There are four main developmental stages: birth to age 6, ages 6 to 12, 12 to 18, and 18-24. I explore these stages and provide insights.