Magazine article Montessori Life

Social Justice: A Perspective

Magazine article Montessori Life

Social Justice: A Perspective

Article excerpt

Recently, I had the pleasure of having dinner and conversation with Lakshmi Kripalani, accom- plished Montessori educator and octogenarian. Lakshmi, against the wishes of her parents, founded the New India School in Karachi (now Pakistan, but at that time part of India) in 1943, to protest the prevailing traditional method of education, which was very for- mal, traditional, and hierarchical. Within 6 months, her reputation as an excellent teacher and her school's status as a true place of learning had spread throughout the region. Impressed with her progress, the supervisor of the Karachi School Board decided to bring Dr. Montessori to Karachi to meet Lakshmi and to visit her school. Dr. Montessori was delighted to visit the school and, soon after, invited Lakshmi to work with her in Amsterdam.

These plans were changed radically in 1947 by the partition of the British Indian Empire into what is now Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Almost without warning, Lakshmi and her family lost their home, their school, and their belongings, and were moved to the Powai refugee camp in Bombay. They arrived, stunned, with only a couple of mattresses and a change of clothes.

On the first day at the camp, Lakshmi stepped out of her tent to see a large group of women and children crying in distress as milk was being distributed. She demanded to know who was in charge. Mr. Kothari, the financier supporting the resettlement, was startled, and challenged Lakshmi to bring order. "Is there enough to go around?" she questioned. Assured that there was, she accepted his challenge on the condition that everyone would follow her instructions.

The next morning, she addressed the mothers. "We have lost everything, but let us not lose our sanity. There is enough milk to go around. Let the children sit in front of you, and you will also get a cup of milk to take to your tent for tea." The mothers listened to Lakshmi, and order was restored.

Kothari was astounded at Lakshmi's ability to work with distraught refugees and asked her if she would like to be in charge of the camp's kitchen. Looking him squarely in the eye, she said, "Well, I will do this, but on one condition. I want permission to start a school in the camp. …

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