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Why We Call It “Wisdom of the Elders”

2015 Wisdom of the Elders


This year’s 2015 Wisdom of the Elders Ceremony recognized the leadership and guidance our recipients have given over their lifetime to the Montessori community as educators, writers, and innovators. This year we recognized: Teri Canaday, D’Neil Duffy, Michael Duffy, Rebecca Keith, Abbie Kelly, Frank Murray, Molly O’Shaughnessy, Joyce Pickering, John Snyder, and Sybil Taylor.  We would like to give a special thanks to John Snyder for his reflection on Why We Call It “Wisdom of the Elders”…


“Good evening, everyone. I wish I could be with you in person, but, in fact, I’m very happy to be here at all! I would like to send heartfelt thanks to Rebecca Pelton and the MACTE board for giving me the opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “wisdom of the elders”. I think it reflects the common understanding that wisdom, whatever else it is, is a sort of distillation of a lifetime of experience and that it takes time to accumulate such experience. On the other hand, we also know that advanced age alone is no guarantee that wisdom will manifest.

So what is wisdom? One contemporary account goes like this. First one encounters the world as data. You keep your eyes and ears open and live fully into your experience. From data, one can learn to extract information – to focus more on what is important in the stream of experience. Information, when it has been properly interrogated, tested, and organized becomes knowledge – that which one can reasonably and with some degree of success take as true about the world. And, over time, with insight born of reflection, knowledge can mature into wisdom.

Wisdom, then, shows up as the ability to see into the essence of something. This vision of the essence then frees one from slavish adherence to convention. It allows one to work in new and changing situations at the edge of what is known or understood. It seems to require having a certain kind of healthy relationship with both the power and the limitations of one’s knowledge.

In this regard, it is gratifying to think of the many passages in Dr. Montessori’s works where she describes the characteristics of the fully prepared Montessori teacher. Grounded in observation of the child, always open to new things the children have to show one, reflecting on one’s observations in a spirit of humility and wonder, guided by the universal truths of human development, and always ready to learn from the larger community of like-minded practitioners, the new teacher’s feet are firmly set on the path toward wisdom.

I am deeply grateful to my Montessori trainers, mentors, colleagues, and communities of children and parents for filling my life with opportunities for learning, self-reflection, and self-improvement. If I have been able to pass along to others a bit of what I have learned and a little of the joy with which I have learned it, that will be enough for me.

Thank you again to MACTE, and congratulations to my distinguished fellow elders.”


– John R. Snyder, Recipient of the 2015 Wisdom of the Elders Award


John Snyder