By Jim Fitzpatrick
I don’t know about you, but…the Un-ness of everything stepped in front of me twenty plus years ago and more or less became the All-ness of what’s been happening ever since. It’s not that Un-ness wasn’t part of The Plan, it’s more that we were younger, we were savagely enthusiastic about our All-ness, and now, suddenly, movement is limited by pain and thoughts are crowded out by an internal noise seemingly being dialed up to a point of genuine distraction.
What is this?
A wise person told me recently, “It’s always about you! You make EVERYTHING about you!” And I didn’t necessarily disagree but internally I was hearing what another wise person had previously suggested to me, “EVERYTHING is personal! You must personalize everything you do, if you don’t relate to it, then how can you expect to relate it to anyone else!?!”
Am I confused? Not to make it all about me, but I spent the better part of three days with noted YouTube TED star Sir Ken Robinson in Houston, TX, as we discussed surfing, skateboarding, the counter culture, culture, education, limps, polio, Cabo San Lucas, and Einstein. Sir Ken said, “You can do this.” And I believed him.
Not because he was Sir Ken, but because he and I were relating to each other because of who we were—we made EVERYTHING about each other! And we ended up with a relationship—we laughed. We astonished. He’d just returned from Cabo. I’d been in Cabo for a SIMA conference. What’s SIMA? Surf Industry Manufacturers Association. Do you surf? For 50 years. Do you skateboard? For 55 years. My sons want to surf and skateboard. Of course they do. I live in Santa Monica Canyon. I live in Santa Barbara and went to Santa Monica High School. Amazing. The Un-ness of personal connections brought about by personal narrative.
Why was I there? Because my Montessori-ness plunked me into that role. That moment. It’s not that it wasn’t part of The Plan, it’s more that it just seemed to progress naturally from a point of…Un-ness?
Who are these people?
Some are well-meaning happily exuberant youthful individuals, often with their own young children, who’ve wandered into this wonderland of philosophy merged with practical things one can actually do with others—not just talk about or above or beyond, but do, “Here, you try…” and the child takes the object and does with it what is intended, or not, and the smiles and the warmth spread and suddenly a new Montessori school is being opened, right? Not necessarily part of The Plan, but there it is! Un-ness is busy.
I didn’t realize at the time…I mean, after I graduated from the training I was just so…what? How can I describe it? Motivated? It was way beyond motivation, though, I was so excited, I felt like I might explode I was so filled with purpose and focus…I just couldn’t wait…and those first few years in the classroom were so challenging, because I knew it would work. I knew it was right ‘there’ and then these weird things would happen, but I knew. I knew.
Then the church said, “Yes, we’ll consider the possibility,” and the possibility begins. How do you do this? Where do you go? Who do you ask? Sir Ken says, “You can do this!” It’s not what he meant, but it’s true, in the bigger picture, right? You do what has to be done because it has to be done.
Or, maybe not.
Maybe if we make this about you and your own Un-ness? What if it wasn’t you who asked the church if they had a vacant classroom. Maybe your growth and expertise and administrative chops took place in the classroom, in the boardroom, in the operation of other enterprises, or, maybe your involvement began in the parking lot? The drop-off line. WTH? Who is in charge of this place?
There I was. I was thinking, How is this even possible? What were we thinking? Who is going to do this? And that became the thing. The Thing. The Challenge to overcome, the answer to discover, the issue to resolve…and the challenge became opening up and asking for help or perspective or experience—I can’t do this, how can it be done? And it turns out we were surrounded by talent. Solving that thing meant relating to people and discovering how they were essential to our success, and that became a new thing—the people. Relating to the people, and suddenly those people were part of the thing, too. And here we are, this community of people dedicated to helping children.
“It’s all about the children,” claimed Steve Cushman. He’d brought Santa Barbara’s Chamber of Commerce out of the 17th century to become a vibrant resource in our community when he addressed a group of parents and community leaders. “EVERYTHING is about the children.” He wasn’t shaming anyone, simply stressing his point that traffic patterns and zoning restrictions and tourism and council policies could all begin with what’s best for the children in the community and not go wrong. Steve has a great laugh. He’s 6’4”. He could hammer a baseball. He played minor league for the Dodgers, his manager was Tommy Lasorda. Steve can talk story.
All of them. They can all talk story. They’re successes. They’re the mayor. The council. The chamber. The parks and recreation folks. Traffic. Planning. The priest. The vicar. The rabbi. The chamber people. Invariably all of these people have friends or even their own children, and inevitably the question arises, “So, what is ‘this,’ anyway?”
Montessori was a real person, she developed hands-on learning more than a hundred years ago. The classrooms are filled with activities the children can work with. They develop independence, and creativity, all in a child-centered atmosphere that’s calm and nurturing.
“I don’t know what any of that means, what makes you different? Why would I choose your place rather than another one?”
George Clooney? Sergei Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, they went to Montessori schools…they say ‘Google’ is a Montessori tool meant to help anyone find answers to their questions. And Julia Child, she went to a Montessori school when she was a little girl. And Jeff Bezos, he developed Amazon, he also claims his idea was the result of his being in a Montessori school.
“My wife knew Julia, interesting lady, but you’re not suggesting these success stories are because they were in your school?”
There are Montessori schools today that are institutional. Businesses. Engaged. Thriving. 25 years later. 30 years later. 50 years later. Decades of developing systems and protocols and procedures and documents and committees and meetings and structures that all come tumbling into or out of focus when a moment develops around a child, in a moment of Un-ness. The Un-done, yet. The Un-accomplished. The Un-finished. The Un-prepared.
That was interesting, for 20 years we didn’t have a lease, nothing in writing. Just a handshake. Then, the man whose hand I shook passed away, and no one else would shake my hand…a lease was drawn up, and from that point forward EVERYTHING has been different. We had an attorney, a parent in the school, who did all of our legal pro-bono. At one point it seemed we were overstepping and I asked, ‘We need to start paying you for your services.’ ‘Oh, you could never afford me!’
Let’s make this about “us.” About “Montessorians.” About taking the road less traveled and the other one, too. Taking them all. Doing it all. If we’re looking into the unknown, we don’t have to go it alone. We can do this. We can address the Un-ness. We can question the Un-ness. For that matter we can throw the Un-ness under any bus and kick any can we want down the road. EVERYTHING matters. Especially the impossibility of EVERYTHING. The model for embracing Un-ness is the success of every other thing we do. The accomplishments. Daily. The baby steps. The incremental steps, the leaps and bounds leading up to the unknown. Because, when it gets right down to it, when EVERYTHING is on the line, who better than us to rely upon for success?
Co-founder of Santa Barbara Montessori School, along with his wife, Frances, Jim was a classroom teacher at both elementary levels, and launched SBMS’s Erdkinder class 14 years ago. A founding board member of the AMI Affiliate Montessori Administrators Association (MAA), Jim works closely with Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and AMI-USA in the ongoing development of teacher-training programs, administrative development, and the globalization of AMI’s activities. His interests include the arts, video and film production, writing (Jim's bibliography), and sports involving boards that are stood upon.