Monthly Archives: September 2013

MontessoriForward.org Tackles QRIS

The State Advocacy work I wrote about previously now has a national presence with a new website: Montessori Forward, a collaboration among AMS, AMI, and the Montessori Leadership Collaborative (MLC).

From the website, it seems that the AMS Public Policy Committee has been renamed the Montessori Public Policy Committee (MPCC) “to better reflect the action of greater inclusivity with representation from AMI/USA and MACTE, and with the future intent to include more Montessori organizations in its membership. ”  Now, a subcommittee  of  the MPPC  has launched the website as a clearinghouse for state organizations.  The site is hosted by Montessori Schools of Maryland and the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools.

Montessori Forward launches with an issue many state organizations are wrestling with: QRIS, or Quality Rating and Improvement System.  QRIS is a star rating system for childcare and early education centers, and the rating rubrics, while well-intentioned and safety-oriented, often miss what’s great about Montessori and penalize for large group sizes and the absence of dress-up, fantasy play, plush toys,  praise and rewards, and conventional teacher certification.

Montessori organizations in several states are working with regulators to develop Montessori-friendly ratings systems and incorporate Montessori training into certification standards.  Montessori Forward links organizations and collects information so states can share their work and successes.

The new site has lots of information and resources.  There’s a lot more to say about QRIS and the ratings systems it uses, so stay tuned!

Homeschooling Advocate Gets Montessori Wrong (And She’s Not So Great on Boys, Either)

Penelope Trunk, an outspoken and provocative businesswoman, author, blogger, and career adviser who is also a homeschooling advocate, has a take on Montessori up on her blog (Montessori schools don’t work for young boys) that, unfortunately, gets Montessori wildly wrong.  (Maybe she’s been reading the Economist?)

For starters:

Many people ask me what I think of Montessori as an alternative to public school.

Of course, this is a false dichotomy.  Many public Montessori schools exist, and most private schools operate on the traditional, content-delivery model that Trunk (rightly) deplores.  But that’s a quibble, in a way.  Further down:

Montessori is about going from station to station, focusing on a task, and using indoor voices.

Um, no, it’s not, as even cursory research would have shown. From the Wikipedia article she cites, here’s what Montessori “is about”:

Montessori education is an educational approach … characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.

OK, I wrote that paragraph (thanks for the cite!), but I think it holds up under scrutiny.  Proper Montessori (she seems to be thinking of Children’s House) doesn’t really have “stations”—that’s more of a play-based education thing.  Fostering children’s natural ability to focus and modeling civil behavior—that we can admit to. Next up:

Does not have enough outside time.

In fact, many Montessori schools put an emphasis on just that, ideally providing for a seamless transition between inside and outside.  Montessori’s seminal work in Kodaikanal, India during World War II (described in interviews here) took place in just such an environment.

Finally,

Overemphasizes sitting still.  Every station is different, but every station is small motor skills.  The stations encourage talking with friends, making alliances, and cooperative behavior.

Again with the stations, which don’t exist in Montessori.  “Sitting still,” in total ignorance of the unprecedented freedom of movement in a Montessori classroom, and the many activities which don’t just allow, but require, gross motor activity.  Red rods?  Golden beads? In the elementary, we have grammar commands and Going Out.  Walking on the line, for crying out loud! And let’s not have any of that cooperative behavior.

All this is to say nothing of the gross stereotyping of boys, which is what really detracts from Trunk’s credibility:

Boys like video games, they like violent games, they like screaming and they all look like they have ADHD.

Montessori is about going from station to station, focusing on a task, and using indoor voices. None of this is what a little boy would choose to do if you gave him free reign over his learning.

The stations encourage talking with friends, making alliances, and cooperative behavior. Girls do this very well. Boys don’t care.

Now, I’ve read enough of Trunk’s work to get that a big part of her approach is to be wildly provocative and let the outrage roll in.  But many readers know this isn’t even an overgeneralization—it just plain doesn’t fit our experience.  Many Montessorians have seen exactly what little boys choose to do if you give them free reign: concentrate, focus, collaborate, and engage.

So go ahead and make factually unsupportable claims about an education approach you obviously know very little about.  If you don’t believe in school in any form, go ahead and say that.  But gender stereotyping–any stereotyping–just for the sake of provocation doesn’t help make your point.

Montessori Makes the Economist (look a little foolish)

So, last week, the Economist ran an uncharacteristically wrong-headed and glib piece titled Montessori Management about what a bad idea it is to run businesses like what the (unsigned) author sort of thinks a Montessori school looks like, complete with slides, “learning-through-play”, and “Kum-Bay-Yah style togetherness.”  One reader said the article has been taken down, but I found it at the link above.

Poor Schumpeter (the Economist’s Business and Management blog) took quite a drubbing in the comments: 30 so far, pretty much all critical and spot on.  That’s an impressive number: recent Schumpeter columns picked up 12 (a post about the Twitter IPO), 5 (electric cars), 7 (crowdfunding) and 74 (the new iPhone).  So if that makes Montessori almost half as exciting as Apple, we’re doing OK.

But here’s where it gets interesting.  Nationally recognized educator, speaker, and advocate for progressive education Rick Ackerly picked up on the piece and posted about it on his blog, The Genius In Children.  (He’s got a book out as well.) He pretty much nails it on what’s wrong with the original article and what’s right with Montessori.  Example:

When you observe a Montessori class, you see all 20 to 30 students increasing their own authority in mathematics, literacy, geography, biology and the disciplines of being a responsible member of a community. They are working hard, but no one is making them! How do they do that?

Now, Ackerly is a friend of Montessori, but he’s an outsider, not a cheerleader.  If you search his blog for “Montessori”, you get seven articles, of which four (including the one I read today) mention Montessori—and three do not.  The ones that don’t?  They talk about happy, independent, responsible children, about hands-on, student-directed learning, and schools where teachers respect children’s natural paths of learning and discovery.  Ackerly doesn’t think this can happen only in Montessori schools.  But he gets it. And he knows it when he sees it.

Happy 143rd Birthday: Montessori About As Outdated as Einstein

mm1933Maria Montessori, Italian educator and physician, and founder of the education method that bears her name, was born 143* years ago yesterday in Chiaravalle, Italy, a village near Ancona on the Adriatic side of the peninsula.

Italy in 1870 had only recently become a unified country, and traditional values dominated much of society and culture.  For women, public education for women, the right to manage property, and entry into professional life may have been permitted by law, but were limited in practice.  Nevertheless, Montessori attended elementary, secondary, and technical school, and became one of the first** women in Italy to earn a medical degree.  She went on to develop and refine a comprehensive model of human development and a corresponding education model that has spread to every inhabited continent.

The Montessori story is well documented in two biographies (Standing and Kramer) and fairly well represented on her Wikipedia page.***  I want to address a question that comes up from time to time when Montessori’s name and history comes up: Why are we using an educational approach that’s now more than 100 years old?  Has nothing been learned in the intervening century?

So let’s look at a few of Montessori’s rough scientific contemporaries and the relevancy of their work.  Montessori was a scientist, after all, with degrees in medicine and anthropology from the University of Rome, and she debuted her method in 1907, 37 years old and already prominent in her field.  What other century-or-more-old scientific models are still relevant?

Charles_Darwin_by_Maull_and_Polyblank,_1855-cropWell, for starters, there’s Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his fairly well -regarded theory of evolution by natural selection, published 154 years ago in 1859 and still going strong.

James_Clerk_MaxwellThen you have James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), whose equations published in 1873 “form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits.” (Wikipedia)

Marie_Curie_c1920And Marie Curie (1867-1934), whose term “radioactivity” is a foundational concept in physics, and whose namesake element radium (which she discovered, along with polonium) is in wide use.

Max_Planck_(Nobel_1918)A bit later, Maxwell’s equations laid the foundation for the work of two more Montessori contemporaries you may have heard of: Max Planck (1858-1947), who formulated quantum physics in 1900, Albert_Einstein_Headand Albert Einstein (1879-1955), whose 1905 work, including his famous E = mC2, has been validated to multiple decimal places.  In fact, Einstein’s most fundamental work, general relativity, was developed in 1907—the same year as Montessori’s groundbreaking work in San Lorenzo.

So the next time someone asks you, “Why are we following a 100 year old theory?”, remind them that gravity and the speed of light have been around for a long time, too, and they seem to be working just fine.

* Yes, a previous version of this post had this as her 133rd birthday.  Must have dropped a ten bar.

** Contrary to what you will often see published, but documented by Paola Trabalzini in the NAMTA Journal, Montessori was not the very first female Italian M.D. Readers of this site will have had the correct information all along.

** Full disclosure: I made substantial contributions to that article in 2010, although, Wikipedia being what it is, revisions and maintenance have continued under other hands.