Le Maitre Est L’Enfant: A French Montessori Documentary

You probably know about the Montessori documentary in the works, Building the Pink Tower—maybe because you read about it on The Montessori Observer here or here, more recently on MontessoriPublic, or on Facebook, or on BPT’s own website, or via their new Indiegogo campaign.

But did you know about the other Montessori documentary in the works, in French, featuring French primary children, speaking adorable French?!  I know this betrays an American parochialism, and an exoticizing obsession with cute kids speaking languages other than English, but I think you’ll agree that this is la Montessori la plus mignonne that you will see today:

But cuteness aside, like Building the Pink Tower, Le Maitre Est L’Enfant (The Child is the Teacher) is serious business.  The director, Alexandre Mourot, is a a Montessori parent and documentary filmmaker who, like so many others, fell in love with Montessori in his child’s classroom. He started researching in 2014, filming in 2015, and during the summer of 2015 began an AMI 3-6 training course.  Filming is now complete, and after self-funding the process up to now, Mourot has  launched a crowd-funding effort for post-production and distribution.  The campaign bas blown past its first two goals of 50,000 and 100,000 Euros, and is headed for its stretch goal of 160,000, which would allow translation into English and Spanish and foreign distribution.

And the Montessori? The classroom featured in the film, at L’Ecole Montessori de Roubaix, a Dominican school in Roubaix (a declining industrial suburb of Lille in the north of France), is led by veteran guide Christian Maréchal, who trained with the Dominican sisters in 1992 and took an AMI Primary diploma in 2000.  In 2012, he entered the AMI Primary Training of Trainers program, to become a trainer of new AMI teachers.  So it’s probably pretty solid

I spoke to Vina Kay and Jan Selby of BPT about the film.  They hadn’t heard of it, but they said they didn’t feel threatened by another documentary, even one with adorable French children.  “I don’t thin the problem is too much communication about Montessori”, Kay told me.  “The more, the merrier.”

Jane (Wife of Bernie) Sanders Mentions Montessori

Jane Sanders, formerly President of Burlington College, currently with the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and spouse of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, briefly name-checked Montessori this week in a conversation with education wunderkind Nikhil Goyal.

Goyal is a 21-year old education writer and advocate for progressive education with two books to his name: One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, written when he was just 17 and still in high school, and Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice, out this year.  In an interview with Sanders, he brought up Montessori:

Goyal: Who do you think are some of your most influential heroes in education? Who are the people you’ve most been inspired by in your scholarly work?

Sanders: [John] Dewey, [William Heard] Kilpatrick, Robert Coles. One of the things I like are the people who focus on philosophy as the underpinning of their work.

Goyal: People like Maria Montessori, Dewey, Rudolf Steiner.

Sanders: I was a strong supporter of Montessori when my kids were very little. I homeschooled for a year, and then we did public school all the way through for the kids.

So there you have it.  Sanders’ three adult children are from her first marriage, they aren’t public figures, and we don’t know much more about their education (not that we should). But it sounds like she got them off to a good start.

Montessori Goes Public

MP-LogoBack in February, The Montessori Observer announced the inception of a “new voice” in the public Montessori world: the aptly named “MontessoriPublic”.  Since then, the publication, sponsored by the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, has been working tables at the AMI and AMS annual conferences, making connections and building relationships in the public Montessori world, and visiting schools and programs to find out what’s happening and report back.

Today the site is going live, with a great piece about Alder Montessori in Portland, a wealth of information and resources, and much more to come.  If you like The Montessori Observer, I think you’ll love MontessoriPublic and the great work they’re taking on.

Famous Creative Montessorian in the News (this time, it’s Beyoncé…)

A colleague tipped me off (not to Beyoncé, I’ve heard of her) to an American Public Media Marketplace piece about the business of Bey, which cited her curiosity and habit of life-long learning.  I remember hearing that too, although it’s not in the transcript up at Marketplace.org.  Also not mentioned was the pop star’s time through 3rd grade at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic School, formerly St. Mary’s Montessori School and still offering at least a Children’s House Montessori program.  But could we attribute some of that “life-long-learner” attitude to Montessori?  Yes, I think we can.

Beyoncé is on that widely-shared, often poorly-sourced list of “famous Montessori alumni” you can find on almost every school’s website, including:

I’m always a little skeptical of these lists.  Did they really go to Montessori school?  (Jimmy Wales says no.)  How Montessori was it? How long were they there?  Did it really make that much of a difference?  (The Google Guys say yes.)  What about the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Montessori children who did nothing more remarkable than go on to lead fulfilling, well-adjusted lives and contribute to their communities.  (And how long before the name gets linked to some kind of high-profile disaster or scandal?  Will it be good press then?)

And it’s hard to track down the references, since Google just brings up all the lists people have already posted, citations sorely needed.  But I have come across a pretty good list, with links to (at least!) the relevant Wikipedia articles.  It’s here, at the Post Oak School in Houston*.  For whatever it’s worth.

* Beyoncé’s home town, so put her on the list of famous creative Houstonians, if that counts for anything…

Zuckerberg? Robot? Montessori approved?

I thought the same thing when I saw the headline: “Randi Zuckerberg backs wooden, Montessori-approved programming robot”.  Which I guess is the point of headlines — to pull you in and get you to read the story.

So here’s the story: Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media (a “boutique marketing firm and production company”) and DotComplicated (a “digital lifestyle website”), who happens to have a famous brother with a well-known digital media property of his own, is an investor in Cubetto, an adorable wooden robot which can be programmed, by placing colored tiles on a wooden board, to move around a floor map representing various environments (solar system, ancient Egypt, cityscape, etc.). The activity is hands-on and doesn’t require reading, billing itself as “hands-on coding for 3 and up”.

But “Montessori-approved”? Cubetto touts Montessori no fewer than six times on its Kickstarter page. A couple of highlights:

Cubetto combines Montessori learning principles with computer programming concepts.

and:

A playful programming language you can touch. Montessori approved, and LOGO Turtle inspired.”

and then this (click through for the whole pitch):

How is this Montessori?

It’s non-prescriptive – Cubetto gives children the ability to solve problems within the world they create..

It’s child-centered – All they need to get started is a nudge in understanding that blocks = actions. After this point, even the discovery of what each block does can be led by the child, leaving adults to observe and only help when needed.

It’s auto-didactic – Solving problems with the blocks is about trial and error. Once a sequence is sent to Cubetto, the result is immediate and non-abstract, giving children concrete grounds on which to self-correct without adult intervention…

It’s designed for scaffolding – When a problem is too complex, the right sequence is easily pooled from collective knowledge of children in the play session. Each child can in turn add a block, or a suggestion, layering in their individual competence to the solution in small steps.

So, two things about this. One is, as much as we may shudder at three year olds “learning to code”, it sounds like someone got us about right. “Gives children the ability to solve problems”? “Adults observe and only help when needed”? “Concrete grounds to self-correct without adult intervention”? Almost as if our message is getting across.

And the second thing is, someone thinks Montessori is a selling point! And not just “Montessori-equals-primary-colored-blocks-on-a-tray Montessori”. The tech-and-hacker community is full of smart people who value independence, creativity, exploration, and hands-on learning. That’s how a lot of them got to where they are. If they want to get to know us better, it sounds like it might be an interesting conversation.

Puzzle Map…

I don’t know if Randall Munroe, creator of the mind-bending webcomic xkcd and author of the brilliant and engaging What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions and Thing Explainer, has any connection to Montessori — but then there’s this:

united_states_map

You know you want to try it:n023600

Public Montessori and MontessoriPublic

MP-LogoHow many public Montessori schools are the in the U.S., do you suppose? Where are they clustered? What challenges do they face? What successes have they had? How can I get one going in my town, city, or state?

There are places to go where you can get answers to those questions. The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS), covered on The Montessori Observer here, has been doing a fantastic job of gathering and sharing information. The Montessori Public Policy Initiative (MPPI), the AMI-AMS collaboration (!) covered here has information and resources as well.

Now public Montessori has a new voice: MontessoriPublic, dedicated exclusively to public Montessori news and information, bringing Montessori into the public conversation.

Or is it a new voice after all? Montessorians may remember Public School Montessorian, the quarterly newsprint publication, beloved by many, largely the tireless work of the late Dennis Shapiro, who passed away in 2014. NCMPS worked with Dennis’ family to take over the publication and relaunch it as a print, digital, and social media communications and advocacy platform for public Montessori in all its forms.

MontessoriPublic was all over the AMI Refresher Course in Long Beach this weekend, passing out buttons and collecting subscriber emails, and you can look for the publication at the AMS Annual Conference in Chicago March 10-12. There’s nothing at the website yet except a place to sign up for email updates, but if MontessoriPublic can bring Public School Montessorian’s reporting into the digital age, it should be a great resource.