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.


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.

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

  1. Penelope Trunk has just written complete rubbish, I am struck by her ignorance of Montessori and have come to the conclusion that it is a “Mylie Cyrus” type plea for attention and best ignored! Really? c’mon! And well done to you for having the patience to set things straight.


  2. It is no secret that ‘click generation’ comes in many forms, and now that literally anyone can manage their own keywords and eyeball generating strategies and tactics, we can expect that the Warholian 15 minutes of fame will become more competitive. Alas, some are not as subtle as others, and the bomb-throwing capacity becomes tiresome as the ruse is discovered. “All boys want violence, naturally!”, isn’t true, but some won’t care. Tsk.


  3. An important point to note is that she is generalizing a Montessori school to represent all Montessori schools. She is mistaken that this one school she is speaking of represents an ideal school. Her truth may be that the kids there don’t go outside freely. Some Montessori schools unfortunately have become controlling environments that do not have undirected gross motor play (jump on trampoline, do jumping jacks, etc) which is definitely a need for kids this age. Walking to get the rods or beads is a very controlled movement, and kids need other kinds of gross motor, too, like hanging bars, trampolines, and good old fashioned running. I have seen Montessori schools in which children get none of the above.


    • Montessori Observer

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yeah, we get that a lot: “Well, in this one school I saw with Montessori in the name, the kids were watching the Lion King, so Montessori doesn’t work.” Umm, OK. Fortunately there are more well-defined criteria, if one cares to really look.


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