Monthly Archives: January 2014

Montessori, Scentist—Now in Forbes

OK, this is interesting.

Intelligent conservative business and economics writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gorby has a great piece up at Forbes, The Future of Education Was Invented in 1906. It’s a take on a Wired article from October about a “radical new teaching method”: self-directed learning.  Only, as Gorby points out, there’s nothing new about it.

And here’s the part I really like (naturally!)—he lays out really clearly something I’ve been saying all along, an insight at the core of what makes Montessori special:

Montessori education was so groundbreaking because it was the first (and, to my knowledge only), scientific education method. By which I mean the following: every other education method is based on an abstract model of the child and then derives education methods from that. Maria Montessori, a doctor and a researcher, went the other way around: she experimented with methods and, based on the results, built up a theory of the child, which she then tested and refined through experiment.

The reason why everything is the way it is in a proper Montessori classroom is simple: it has been shown through repeated experiment to work, in countless classrooms, across cultures, etc.

Preach it, Gorby! At the core, it’s not what we do that makes Montessori special—it’s why we do what we do.

Now, Gorby is definitely a voice from pretty far outside of the Montessori movement.  He’s a staunch conservative business and economics-oriented thinker and writer, and a committed Catholic. He would be at home in some segments of the Montessori world and an unlikely guest in many others.  All the better!  The more smart, connected, articulate people talking about what really makes Montessori tick, the better.

More on Gorby: His Forbes bio can be found here, his eminently sensible and (and decidedly non-mainstream conservative) take on public debt here, his take on French parenting and education here. Finally, his Amazon book reviews, including excellent 5 star reviews of Montessori books here.

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Universal Pre-K? That’s What We Do

Universal pre-kindergarten is all over the news today, thanks to Bill deBlasio, newly elected democratic mayor of New York City, who turned down Governor Cuomo’s $1.5 billion-with-a-b offer as too stingy. DeBlasio won 73% of the vote with a plan to tax city incomes over $500,000 to pay for a huge expansion, and he seems to think he can get it.  However the chips fall, early childhood education in New York is about to get super-sized.

This ought to be great news for Montessori, right? A titan of money and influence is about to go looking for the best early childhood model going and implement it with national visibility and a budget we don’t even have a concrete material for!  (A thousand cube made up of million cubes will give you a rough idea.)

But that’s not what’s going to happen.  Bill deBlasio may have heard of Montessori, or not.  But it’s not likely that he’s going to look to an internationally practiced, developmentally based approach with a hundred-year pedigree to implement in New York City. There are two reasons for that.

First, even if he wanted it, Montessori doesn’t have the scale to meet his needs.  The New York Times reports that there are about 100,000 4-year-olds in New York City.  At 10 per class, that’s 10,000 classrooms.  At a guess, that’s more primary teachers than were ever trained in the U.S. It’s very likely more primary classrooms than currently exist in this country. That’s not just out of our league—it’s out of our universe.

Second, you can be sure that whatever he implements will have reams of research and documentation to back it up.  Now, this is a bit tricky.  The research on early childhood intervention (basically Head Start and the Perry study) is mixed at best: academic gains tend to wash out by 8th grade or before, and the Perry study included just 123 children.  This suggests a couple of things.  First, even if cognitive gains are lost with later schooling, let’s not forget that improving children’s well-being while they are still children is a net reduction in human misery, and  could be considered an end in itself.  Second, if the gains of supportive and attentive education are lost when children enter the traditional model, maybe it’s the traditional model that has the problem!

But that’s all moot, because Montessori doesn’t have much data one way or another.  And why is that? It goes back to Montessori not having a well-documented population, or even agreed-on definitions.  And what would help with that?  How about a national survey of Montessori schools, documenting number, distribution, demographic profile, Montessori practices, professional affiliation, etc.?

Oh wait—someone’s on it!  In case you somehow haven’t heard, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector has a census out, and anyone—well, any Montessori school—can play.  If your (U.S.) school is not on the census, stop reading and click on over now.  Or send that email to your head of school.  Here’s that link again: montessoricensus.org. Jackie Cossentino said it.  Keith Whitescarver said it.  Stephen Hughes said it.

The Montessori census will serve as a gateway for collaborative, wide-scale Montessori research in the US. We need high-quality schools to get involved so that they can be asked to participate in future Montessori research.

More Montessori for more children?  Step one: More Montessori.  More awareness, more children enrolled—even if they pay tuition! More teacher trainers, more trained teachers, more schools.  Step two: reaching more children.  More Montessori for more children who can’t afford tuition.  More studies for policy makers.  More data for school boards.  More great stories for decision makers.  More great Montessori.

Montessoricensus.org: 100,000 strong and growing

ImageThis just in from the Montessori Census:

831 schools are now listed, serving over 100,000 students.  Just over half are public schools, which means that about 400 private schools have signed on to the project.  That’s great, but that means there’s still more than 3,000 schools out there if what we’ve been saying is correct.

It’s critical that we get every single school we can represented here.  100,000 is a number that makes people pay attention.  That’s how many people attended the Super Bowl last year. It’s a town the size of Boulder, Colorado. It’s more Facebook fans than the French Winter Olympics team.

But what if everyone got on board?  That could be 400,000 children.  Now we’re talking Minneapolis, Cleveland, or Miami.  Attendance at Woodstock in 1969.  More fans than Ikea.

Something that touches the lives of 400,000 children is a big deal.  For a more serious reference, that’s how many children are in foster care in the U.S.  If people knew—if we knew—that Montessori was about 400,000 children, do you think maybe we could get a little traction?

So get your school, your child’s school, your friends’ children’s schools, to sign up today.  Sign them up yourself!  They can always fill in the information later.  Talk to your state organization, your national organization (AMI-USA, AMS), your professional organizations.  Click on the link (http://www.montessoricensus.org). Let’s take this to the next level.