Just a couple of pictures:
“mouse, giraffe, elephant”
salt dough Australia
There’s a piece going around from the Business Insider: 7 Tech Innovators Who Became Wildly Successful After Going To Montessori School. It’s pretty much a rework of Peter Sims 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, The Montessori Mafia, where he identified “Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales” and asked,
Is there something going on here? Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?
It’s been well-shared, and it’s well worth the read. The Business Insider piece does a decent, if brief, job of explaining Montessori and lists the same tech giants as Sims did: Page, Brin, Bezos, Wales, and Wright, and two more: Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Wait, what? Ford and Edison went to Montessori school? Hmm, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was 43 years old in 1907—a little old for the Casa dei Bambini. Thomas Edison (1847-1932) was 60. Apparently Edison did say:
I like the Montessori method. It teaches through play. It makes learning a pleasure. It follows the natural instincts of the human being . . . The present system casts the brain into a mold. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning.
Which I did not know.
Interestingly, the WSJ article does mention Edison and Ford, but just as examples of innovative thinkers and inquisitive learners.
So this piece isn’t really news, and it doesn’t tell us anything new about Montessori. But it does tell us something about the Montessori brand in the public consciousness. Innovative. Inventors. Outside the box thinkers. Tech geniuses. Creative elite. If that’s what people are thinking when they hear “Montessori”, we could do a lot worse.
Apparently Barbara Kingsolver has quite a bit of crossover with the Montessori audience.
Seriously. After I posted the Kingsolver piece on Saturday, I got 1944 hits on the blog, the most ever. Most days I get about 100. The Facebook page got 800 views and shot to 950 “likes” from under 900. (None of this actually much by real social media standards, but still—Montessori represent!) So thanks, sagebrush, setsuko, grace, indiwind3, emanate80, balletgirl1980, and all the rest. I hope I can continue to meet your expectations.
All that is very gratifying, of course. But that’s not actually why I do the blog. (Well, not entirely. Vanity* is a Fundamental Human Need, after all.) The point is essentially to make connections—within Montessori, to be sure, but from Montessori to the rest of the world. Let’s get our story out there. And now we have a master storyteller in our camp.
Of all the people who clicked and liked and followed and shared in the last few days, surely someone has a connection to Ms. Kingsolver. I would love for her to see the post, and hear how deeply her brief remarks resonated with so many people in our work.
I’ll send her agent a letter myself. There’s no email on her website, and apparently she gets flooded with correspondence and rather values her privacy. I don’t want to impose on her. But if someone out there wanted to pass the link along, she could do with it as she sees fit. We would at least like to express our thanks for her recognition of the essence of our work, and the casual yet pithy mention.
* Not vanitas, as this post originally read. My keen-eyed wife pointed out that the Fundamental Human Needs Chart should read “vanity,” but some versions say “vanitas”, which is a genre of Dutch painting from the 16th and 17th centuries. TMO regrets the error.
Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Flight Behavior, among many others) does a wide-ranging interview in this month’s Sun Magazine touching on writing, climate change, food, and more. The interviewer asks about perseverance:
How do you nurture people to work hard enough to move all that dirt? How do you do that with your own children?
And all of a sudden there’s this:
There’s something I have said so often to my children that now they chant it back to me: “You can do hard things.” I sent my kids to a Montessori preschool, and thank heavens I did, because most of what I learned about parenting came from those wonderful Montessori teachers. They straightened me out about self-esteem. There’s this myth that self-esteem comes from making everything easy for your children and making sure they never fail. If they never encounter hardship or conflict, the logic goes, they’ll never feel bad about themselves. Well, that’s ridiculous. That’s not even a human life.
Kids learn self-esteem from mastering difficult tasks. It’s as simple as that. The Montessori teachers told me to put my two-year-old on a stool and give her the bread, give her the peanut butter, give her the knife — a blunt knife — and let her make that sandwich and get peanut butter all over the place, because when she’s done, she’ll feel like a million bucks. I thought that was brilliant. Raising children became mostly a matter of enabling them and standing back and watching. When a task was difficult, that’s when I would tell them, “You can do hard things.” Both of them have told me they still say to themselves, “I can do hard things.” It helps them feel good about who they are, not just after they’ve finished, but while they’re engaged in the process.
Not a Montessori mention, but I couldn’t pass it up.
G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.
Friedman’s piece is mostly quotes from Bock, so I don’t feel to bad about reprinting some of them here. But go read the whole piece to get the complete picture. First off,
For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.
The second thing:
is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership.
What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?
It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. Your end goal, is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.
On the role of failure:
Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.
Finally, Friedman summarizes:
The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.
Hmm. leadership, adaptability, collaboration, no grades or test scores, sense off responsibility and ownership, friendliness with error? If only there were an educational model out there that embodied these very characteristics as core values.
Larry and Sergey, your Montessori Children’s House guides from 1977 are on line 2….
I hope that got your attention.
Public comments are open on $250 million in federal funding for early childhood education, but only until 5:00 pm this Wednesday, February 26th. Let them know about a fantastic, developmentally appropriate, internationally recognized and proven early childhood education approach you might have heard of. We talk a lot about making our voice heard—this is what it looks like.
You’ve probably heard of this because it’s been all over the Montessori networks this week: an email from the AMI/AMS Montessori Public Policy Committee (yes, there is such a thing!), picked up by the Montessori Administrator’s Association and the AMI Elementary Alumni Association, and of course all over Facebook. But I first heard about in an email from Keith Whitescarver at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector back on February 13th. An email, I received, by the way, because I created an account with the 2013-14 USA Montessori Census, which you should definitely do here.
Keith mentions it again on his new blog at NCMPS, which everyone should read, follow, and share.
Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss (who has written about Montessori, as noted on TMO) has picked up an oregonlive.com op-ed about kindergarten testing in Oregon. Oregon five year-olds were able to name 19 letters out of 100 in a one-minute test. Strauss is appropriately appalled about intensive timed testing of young children, and she goes on to detail the increasing focus on academic content and testing in early childhood education. (Comments are still open on her blog.)
But from the Montessori perspective, it’s also appalling, or at least disappointing, that preschoolers are arriving in kindergarten without the ability to recognize letter sounds. Because we know literacy in young children is developmentally normal and can emerge spontaneously in the appropriate environment without traditional adult-directed instruction and intrusive assessment. It happens every day in Montessori Children’s House classrooms all over the world.
Strauss goes on to describe an ideal education model:
Research shows that children learn best when they have hands-on learning experiences, engage in structured play, experience facts within meaningful contexts, invent their own problems to explore and solve, and share their own solutions. The current emphasis on standards and testing has led many schools to over-focus on assessment at the expense of meeting children’s developmental needs and teaching meaningful content. Play and activity-based learning have been disappearing from many early childhood classrooms, and – along with them – children’s natural motivation and love of learning.
Finally, Strauss wraps up with a list of early childhood education practices to address the absence of this model. Here’s her list, annotated with observations from our world:
1. Promote programs that are based on current research on how young children learn best.
Montessori: Not “based on”, but in line with.
2. Promote meaningful, hands-on learning experiences in classrooms for young children.
3. Work to ensure that teachers provide well-thought out educational experiences that demonstrate knowledge and respect for each child.
Montessori: check, and check.
4. Work to ensure that children have literacy experiences that include storytelling, quality children’s literature, and acting out stories rather than activities that isolate and drill discrete skills.
True Stories. Literature. Reading Analysis. Check.
5. Help teachers skillfully build curriculum from what children can do and understand instead of direct teaching skills that are disconnected from children’s understanding.
Essentially describes the first principles of Montessori pedagogy.
8. Work to ensure that teachers who have specialized training in early childhood education are placed in classrooms for young children.
1. Encourage policies that protect children from undue pressure and stress and from judgments that will have a negative impact on their lives in the present and in the future.
Respect children and their natural development. Check.
2. Promote the use of assessments that are based on observations of children, their development and learning.
3. Work to ensure that classroom assessments are used for the purpose of improving instruction.
4. Support efforts to eliminate testing of young children that is not intended to improve classroom practice.
5. Eliminate labeling and ranking of children based on standardized tests.
Not a lot of classroom assessment, testing, and ranking in (mixed-age) Montessori environments.
What family members can do at home
1. Provide young children with space and time to play at home and in the neighborhood.
2. Read good quality children’s books and limit screen time.
3. Resist reinforcing the school’s agenda – drilling for skills – and replace it with opportunities for meaningful learning
Key features of parent education at many Montessori schools.
Strauss is appropriately worked up about the way reform is pushing content and testing that’s not appropriate. But we in Montessori have a time-tested approach that brings together almost all of these elements and introduces the academic content without force-feeding or intrusive testing. There is a national push on for “high-quality” early childhood education, and we have something really valuable to add to the conversation.
More in the next day or two on how we can do that.