At the conclusion of the Lakeland Montessori Elementary School’s annual “Multi-Cultural Festival,” which it holds each year in lieu of a Christmas party, a couple of hundred students, teachers, and parents gathered around a 20-foot copper pole festooned with ribbons and asked for world peace. There are worse things to do during the holiday season.
Peace Poles are the brainchild of Masahisa Goi, a Japanese poet and writer, who began erecting them in the post-World War II Japan. Today there are thousands across the planet. Most of them look like miniature Washington Monuments, with an obelisk-type shape. And each carries the phrase, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” In Lakeland Montessori’s case, the phrase appears in multiple languages. On Friday, the kids took turns reading the message in the various tongues. It was very cute.
The school’s Parent Action Committee raised the money for the pole. And here’s the official explanation, from Lakeland Montessori director Josie Zinninger, of how it fits into the Lakeland Montessori mission.
Our copper Peace Pole is a non-religious, non-political reminder to humankind of the importance of a non-violent, peaceful path on earth and a tolerance for all belief systems. In the spirit of uniting communities, Peace Poles were originally specifically designed not to be religious or political symbols. As a diverse group committed to these principles, the Lakeland Montessori School community will erect a physical, monolithic marker to represent our commitment to the path of peace.
That offers a pretty nice sense of the school’s ethic.
My youngest son attends Lakeland Montessori, which I’ve jokingly, and affectionately, referred to a “hippy school” in this space and elsewhere. That’s not really why we sent him there, but for us, it’s a nice byproduct. And it points to one of the potential benefits of charter schools.
Obviously, Lakeland — and Polk County — are very publicly religious communities. We have no shortage of prayer breakfasts and national days of prayer and prayers before government meetings. After all, institutions tend to reflect the values of the majorities of their participants. A school district is no different. It’s hard to imagine a peace pole self-consciously described as “a non-religious, non-political” symbol rising at a more traditional public school in the county. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.
When executed in good faith, charter schools, in addition to encouraging educational experimentation, can allow for a sort of cultural federalism. Rather than seething over the role majoritarian cultural values may play in guiding a particular school, we may reach a day when parents can turn to a charter school to attend a place that better reflects their values. People may lament the cultural fracture of the country, but I would argue that we were never very culturally unified anyway. (Go read a newspaper from 1923.) And public education, arguably, is the prime battlefield of the so-called culture wars. I don’t know that charter schools provide a magic bullet for ending them — and, frankly, I’m not terribly reluctant to fight them. But maybe Lakeland Montessori’s Peace Pole, in symbolizing a longing for world peace, shows a means for a more tangible peace at home.