During the days of unrest around Ferguson in November and December of 2014, Carol Swartout Klein, a native St. Louisan who grew up in Ferguson, was touched by the spirit of hundreds of volunteers who came together to bring hope to a hurting community. Many people hoping to express their love of St. Louis and all its rich diversity came out to local Ferguson businesses to paint messages of peace, unity, hope, and healing onto the boarded up windows. Swartout Klein took images from this movement to publish the children’s book Painting for Peace in Ferguson in February 2015. Some of our own Villa di Maria community were involved in this message of peace and agreed to talk more about their involvement, plus a bit about how the family became involved in Montessori education. Below, the interview with Blaine Deutsch and his daughter Julia, a current upper elementary student here at Villa di Maria.
Villa di Maria: Thank you, Blaine and Julia, for agreeing to meet! Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with Painting for Peace?
Blaine Deutsch: After the rioting in Ferguson, a lot of the store fronts were damaged and boarded up. There was then a call to the community to come and re-beautify Ferguson, looking for messages of hope and peace to be painted on these boards that were covering the windows. Through some mutual connections, we heard word about it and our whole family headed down right after it happened. Our family participated in painting a few of the boards there, and it was just a really neat community event. There were people from all over the city, and all over the country really, who came out to show their support. It was really nice to see a community function the way it can and should.
After the businesses were able to be repaired and reopened, the boards were taken down, collected, and now they sit in a number places as exhibitions. Some are at the History Museum, some are at COCA. The book Painting for Peace in Ferguson was made to document what happened in the community and on the street. Our family is in the book, in photographs that were taken during that time, as we painted two panels.
The book is a good representation of what happened and what lead up to the events, as well as sharing some great photos of the community and the work they did. It was neat, because there was no direction given other than just come out and support your community. All the messages were just beautiful. The book came out a few months later, after the painting had taken place, and then a coloring book came out awhile after that.
VdM: Can you share a bit about how your family got into Montessori education?
Julia: This is my third year here at Villa di Maria. I started at another school in fourth grade. Before this, I was homeschooled, then tried a public school.
Blaine: Laura, my wife, is an educator, and had been homeschooling both our girls. Our older daughter decided to attend public school for high school, so that’s where she is. But we needed the next step for Julia. Laura took a very holistic approach to education, which is what I feel Montessori provides.
Julia: I was struggling in school. It’s really hard for me to read, but I’m good at math and science. I had trouble keeping up because they would switch subjects so fast; we were only allowed 45 minutes per subject, so we only learned one or two parts of it. I had trouble understanding what was going on.
Blaine: The problems were compounded because Jules is so good at math, so good at science, but she was falling behind because of the reading. We had known about Montessori through my wife, who had been involved in Montessori as an educator through the years. We thought that given our daughter’s needs and desires for education, this seemed like the perfect next step, and it has been.
I wish my parents had known about Montessori when I was a child. I think there’s this impression to the outsider about Montessori that it’s easier or slower, or a free-for-all, but it’s really quite the opposite! To give outsiders the amazing examples like MMUN, and the fact that they are working on some pretty advanced stuff; not only is it advanced, but it’s self-directed. They’re absolutely motivated to do it. I truly wish this had been available to me as a child!
VdM: Thank you, Blaine and Julia, for sharing your story of Painting for Peace and also your take on Montessori education.