Claire O'Neill (M.Ed., Anthropology & Education)
Published in Convocation
Life before TC
O’Neill grew up in Rhode Island and studied textile design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Today she has her own line of knitwear for women and children, and does a couple of trade shows each year – but the center of her life has long been the Montessori school in Providence that her mother founded during the 1970s. O’Neill’s twin sister serves on the board, her brother attended the school, and she herself has taught there for years. “It’s the place I love most in the world,” she says.
“I came to TC to study education through an anthropological lens. Maria Montessori herself studied anthropology. She developed her methods and curriculum by sitting in classrooms, observing children to learn by trial and error what they were interested in, what they ignored, and what they needed to learn.”
On her first day at TC, for her very first class, O’Neill attended a course on political anthropology taught by George Bond, William F. Russell Professor of Anthropology and Education. Bond, who died this past May, spent years in villages in Zambia and Uganda, and was a master of the kind of observation employed by Montessori. He believed that human beings – whether they are the rising intellectual elite of an oppressed, colonized people, or very young children in a classroom – construct their own knowledge and create their own worlds. Another faculty member, Hope Leichter, Elbenwood Professor of Education, helped O’Neill explore the role of family in her own life and that of her students.
Thanks to her time at TC, O’Neill will return to her mom’s school with better tools to understand and serve her students. She'll use her artistic skills to engage kids in hands-on experiences that do indeed help them construct their own worlds.
“My interests can seem scattered,” she says, “but they all come together in the end.”