Montessori in All But Name: Scientific American

I had that feeling again today when you read an article about education and think, “In Montessori, we already do this.”  And I’m a little tired of writing this same post over and over. But here we go again.

Scientific American.  Scott Barry Kaufman’s Beautiful Minds blog: Profiling Serial Creators.  Kaufman is a psychologist at NYU specializing in intelligence and creativity, a broadly published academic, and a popular science writer.

The article opens with this premise:

Every single day, all across the globe, extraordinarily creative and talented students sit in our classrooms bored out of their minds.

Great, I thought—this has got to be about Montessori.  It was another case of everything but.  The piece is worth reading in full, but here’s the outline.

Creative children are not being well served.  Creative children are bored in school.  We don’t have good ways to identify and measure them.  Portfolios are ann imperfect instrument, and there are issues with the standard creativity test, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT).

What we should be doing: We can look more carefully at IQ tests.  We can use checklists. But our best be might be profiling: looking for children who have the characteristics of creative adults.  It turns out that Barbara Kerr at the University of Kansas has done this work.  Here’s how she described creative students (bullet-pointed for easy reading):

  • Creatively gifted students may be spontaneous, expressive, intuitive, and perceptive, with evidence of intellectual sophistication and childlike playfulness. 
  • They are very likely to be curious, open to new experiences, and innovative in many areas of their lives. 
  • They may express originality in thoughts, and are probably unafraid of what others might think of their ideas. 
  • Most likely, these students have a wide range of interests and abilities, and may be comfortable with ambiguity and disorder. 
  • Likely to be unconventional, creatively gifted students are imaginative, and may challenge the status quo. 
  • By late adolescence, truly creative individuals usually have significant creative accomplishments that have earned them recognition by experts in their domain. 

Umm, sound like any students you know?

The piece goes on with some excellent studies and interventions aimed at identifying and supporting these students, which is great.  Here are some selected characteristics:

  • love of play
  • openness to experience
  • prone to flow experiences
  • high levels of affiliation, nurturance, and agreeableness

 And some final observations:

These creative adolescents appeared to be very friendly, socially oriented, and socially well-adjusted.

An intriguing possibility is that the current generation of creative youth is more connected, community oriented, and affiliative than prior generations.

Déjà vu.

By this point I couldn’t help thinking what I hope you’re thinking, too:  How can you talk about all this and not mention Montessori?  Instead of digging through our current system to find the children like this who we’re not even serving very well, why not design a system that support these characteristics from the outset!  

OK—I got a little heated there. But, really. The article goes on with interventions “to help the students see their real authentic selves and the narrative of their lives, instead of focusing on the results of a standardized profile.” I just had to stop. There’s work to be done.

I Google-scanned Kaufman’s other work, and I didn’t find Montessori anywhere (or mentioned on any Scientific American blog, for that matter). But that’s not his fault, and there’s nothing to be gained by acting like it is. I’m going to send him an email and some links at, and you can too. Tell him about Stephen Hughes, Angeline Lillard, and Sian Beilock, and the Montessori connection to Csikentmihalyi’s Flow theory. Maybe his next piece will bring us in.

13 responses to “Montessori in All But Name: Scientific American

  1. Pingback: This has GOT to change…. « Tree Feathers

  2. I absolutely hear and feel your frustration,mine is mirroring it! it’s as though people are awakening from a deep sleep and realising that what is happening in the Educational system is not working..really? Instead of recognising that Montessori is right and has been for a 100 years,( including a scientific background it that is what it takes) and proving success over and over again; Instead of recognising this and helping to make it mainstream, they prefer the uphill battle of beginning at square one! Really?


  3. Thanks for your post! In my new book, Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, I feature Montessori education as a great example of a program that targets the “whole person,” including social and emotional development.

    Unfortunately, I can’t mention Montessori in every single post I write, but hopefully you can help me spread the important ideas in my book.

    Scott Barry Kaufman


    • Montessori Observer

      Thanks for your comment!

      I am very interested to read your book and pleased hear that it features Montessori. Of course you can’t be plugging Montessori all the time. I hope I wasn’t intemperate in my post. As you may have gleaned, the Montessori world, while insular in its own right, can get a bit ruffled when we feel we’re being passed over.


  4. Scott,
    We’re proud to have you on our team!
    The Montessori Mad Men


  5. I curious as to why you include Sian Beilock with the other individuals supporting Montessori. While her book “Choke” gives stereotyping, pressure, and worry as obstacles to best performances; she also suggests that is some situations learning under pressure prepares one for better performances for the big “tests.” Is there a more recent work of hers that I am missing?


    • Montessori Observer

      Thanks for the comment, Marianne.

      I haven’t read Choke yet, but I posted recently about a Beilock article which mentions Montessori in the headline. As I dug into her academic work, I found a number of connections to Angeline Lillard, who cites her in (among other places) the American Journal of Play article I posted about here.


  6. Thanks. I’ll have to read more.


  7. Hi, you’ll be very happy to hear I plugged Montessori education on New York Public Radio in my recent discussion with Leonard Lopate: Best, Scott


  8. Unfortunately, if you go and look at many of the Gifted will find that Montessori schools are in fact failing gifted children. It should not be, but it is. Time and again, parents are reporting that their experiences with Montessori education is not as advertised, and their creative and talented young people are being held back academically. Montessori education is wonderful at nurturing the emotional needs of most children, but when a child needs to accelerate beyond the prescribed montessori formula…many schools are failing to be adaptable enough to meet their needs. So, either montessori’s methods are failing, or the training is failing to teach the educators how to be flexible enough to accommodate the different learning styles of the gifted student. I am one of those parents. I believed in Montessori, and have been disappointed. So, pat yourselves on the back for what is right, but take a look at what is not working in your own classrooms, and see what can be made better. I still believe in Montessori, but my child will not benefit from it.


    • Montessori Observer


      Thanks for the comment. I wonder if you could pass on a link or two to the forum posts you’re referring to—I would love to get in the conversation.

      The one thing you say that is puzzling to me is “the prescribed Montessori formula.” That doesn’t really describe the Montessori approach I’m familiar with. Certainly, AMI Elementary teachers are prepared with 6 years of elementary curriculum that extends well into typical middle school territory, and there’s no prohibition against going further. “Follow the child” and all that. It’s hard to see how a gifted child, certainly in the early grades, but even towards 5th and 6th (in the elementary) could feel held back or stifled in well-implemented Montessori. Of course there’s a range of practices out there under the name.


  9. Hi,

    I have seen the posts on many of the gifted forums, an other parenting forums from parents looking for good schools for their children. Not active discussions at the moment, so nothing for you to jump into right now to help. What I mean by the “montessori formula”, which was poor wording, was the repetition that is required to prove mastery in montessori…or simply the repetition required by the montessori method. The Follow-the-child method should work so well with children with different needs, but only if the work itself can be modified to accommodate children who learn an individual task at a different rate that the “normal” child. Unfortunately, it seems that Montessori teachers are not particularly well educated in the unique needs of gifted children, and so do not understand that they are not simply smarter kids, but children with unique learning modes, often explosive and creative that is not well suited to the very structured and methodical montessori methods. I think if there were classes in school for the teachers, and perhaps at the annual meetings…teachers could be educated, but at this point it seems Montessori schools are missing a great opportunity to use this educational method with gifted kids whos parents are often having a difficult time finding good schools for them that care for their academic and emotional needs.


    • Montessori Observer


      Thanks for the reply.

      This topic was so interesting, I went ahead and did a short post on it, which you can find here.

      Thanks for bringing this up!


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