Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Education Reform That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Columnist Thomas Friedman’s piece in the NYT Sunday Review today highlights “Harvard education specialist” Tony Wagner‘s  call for Montessori education in all but name.  Author, speaker, educator, and Harvard fellow Wagner cited Montessori in his 2012 book, Creating Innovators, excerpted here on the Huffington Post

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? … They all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. … In the 20th century, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others did groundbreaking research on the ways in which children learn through play. Montessori integrated her understanding of the importance of play into her curriculum for schools. Today, Montessori schools can be found around the world.

Well, not exactly—although Montessori did say, “play is the child’s work,”* Montessori classrooms and play-based learning environments look pretty different. But listen to Wagner’s education reforms quoted by Friedman.  The goal of education should be to make students “innovation ready,” rather than “college ready.”  Per Wagner:

  • employers are looking for “skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration” and students who know how “to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’
  • students need:  “basic knowledge, … skills, and motivation. … Motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.”
  • But that’s not happening in our system: “The longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school.” 
  • We need to “bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
  • Finally, Wagner cites current progressive education darling Finland: “students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, … all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. “

Hmmm…critical thinking, communication, and collaboration? Intrinsic motivation?  Play, passion, and purpose?  Minimal homework and testing?  Does this sound like an education model you might have heard of?

* Can anyone help me find a citation for this quote?  Let me know in the comments—Thanks!

Face-to-face Article in the New York Times

A commenter on the Atlantic article put me on to this from the New York Times Sunday Review: Your Phone vs. Your Heart, by leading social psychology scholar Barbara L. Fredrickson.  No Montessori mention, but a lively, science-y piece suggesting that our absorption in screens and virtual interactions crowds out face-to-face interactions with proven health benefits and positive feedback loops.  I’ll give away her last sentence so you’ll go read the whole thing:

Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.


Hello, everybody!

world mapThank you to all 459 unique visitors yesterday!  We’ve had hits from 37 countries and every inhabited continent.  Many from the U.S., of course, but 50 from Canada, 35 from Australia, 20 from the U.K., 20 from Laos, 17 from Mexico, and on down the line.

Thanks also for the feedback and corrections—I’ve already updated a few pages.  Your input helps make the site a better resource for all of us.  More news and information to come.

Several people asked about the photo at the top of the page—what materials are those?  Why are they so jumbled and worn looking?  The image is from an exhibit last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York (posted here).  I thought it was an interesting take on what we usually expect from the Montessori materials—a reminder of their history and context.

The Touch-Screen article in The Atlantic

The Touch-Screen Generation. On the cover of the paper edition, actually.  Hannah Rosin (a prominent, occasionally contrarian journalist at The Atlantic, Slate, and elsewhere) has a 7-page piece about young children and touch screen devices such as tablets and smartphones. Two points of interest caught my eye.

First, a Montessori reference in the second paragraph. At a children’s app developers conference, she reports that several developers

paraphrased a famous saying of Maria Montessori’s … “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

It’s not clear from the article whether the developers were citing Montessori themselves, or their words put Rosin in mind of the quote (from The Absorbent Mind, as it happens).  She goes on to contrast poking fingers in the sand with tapping a screen, asking “what Maria Montessori would have made of the scene.” She also mentions the developer of an app which “teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling,” which seems a bit of a stretch in that the Montessori method is distinctively analog.

But, even with the prominent mention of Montessori, with an essentially representative slant, the article left me unsatisfied.  The takeaway seems to be, “the digital transition has taken place, there’s no escaping it, and interactive apps are almost like interacting with the real world, so just go with it.”  Read the piece for yourself, by all means, but in my view she doesn’t really end up anywhere.

Look, I get it, I’m old, and it’s already happened, and the technology is just going to get more interactive and sophisticated, and intertwined with our lives.  But I just can’t bring myself to believe that we’re going to improve on the interaction between the brain, the body, and the real world as the appropriate developmental activity for young children. Plenty of time for virtual interactions later, when the foundation has been laid down.

Montessori on Google News

It turns out that it’s a simple matter to set up a personalized section in Google News on a subject you follow—such as Montessori.  Mostly what you will see is local reports from small digital outlets, showcasing a school in their coverage area.  I’ll be highlighting some as they come by.  Check out how schools are promoting themselves, and how Montessori comes across in the public eye.

This week: The Montessori Children’s House of Franktown on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a 5 year old AMI school offering Primary and Elementary— Montessori builds foundations for learning.  From the article:

While the Montessori Method has been around for well over a century, there has been a resurgence of interest and growing popularity in the approach to early learning and education created by Dr. Maria Montessori.

It represents a counterpoint to conventionally organized-by-age, taught-as-a-group, factory-styled schooling that was developed in an age of early industrialization.

Pink Tower (and more) on Amazon

pink tower cubeVia my facebook feed, I discover that the smallest pink tower cube is available on here, for $1.50.  With a little more digging, a wide range of items under the heading “Montessori materials” can be found, some familiar from your albums, some perhaps less so.  Obviously this goes to the question of authenticity, but that’s not really the point—the point is exposure, and Montessori’s dispersion into the public consciousness.  Searching “Montessori” on Amazon (including books, materials, toys, and everything else) gives 5,410 results.  By way of comparison: Waldorf—8,467. Reggio Emilia—1,793.