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!

One response to “The Education Reform That Dare Not Speak Its Name

  1. I tweeted Friedman’s article with the comment that what he is advocating is already happening in many Montessori schools around the country.


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