Monthly Archives: July 2014

Forward, Adovcacy! Now With ECERS-R

That comment the other day about advocacy for public Montessori obviously caught my attention. More people should know about the outstanding advocacy work at Montessori Forward, a website, blog, Google group, and community of Montessorians which make up a crowd-sourced yet deeply researched source for the latest advocacy and public policy news.

Now the MForward community has come out with a tool that could be a huge boost for Montessori Primary programs engaging with QRIS (Quality Rating and Improvemt Systems) policies in their states.  You may have heard of the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, or ECERS-R, a widely used instrument for rating pre-school programs under QRIS.  Montessori schools can do badly on the ECERS-R for lacking multiple sets of materials, plush toys, and dress-up.

MForward’s The Montessori Guide to ECERS-R, professionally written and incorporating successful work from several states, aligns Montessori practice with the goals of the ECERS-R standards and explains our developmental theory and pedagogy. It’s available on the site for anyone to use.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from Montessori Forward. Here’s a sampling:

  • Montessori Forward was first on the scene with QRIS and keeps a running narrative of Montessori schools’ struggles, strategies, and successes. There’s a great page of resources here.
  • Ohio recently passed charter school legislation allowing children under 5, as well as providing state teacher credentials for AMI and AMS trained teachers.
  • The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), a multi-billion dollar piece of legislation will be revised this year for the first time since 1996 with huge implications for all of early childhood education. Here’s the post; here’s a deep dive. Amendments specifically mentioning Montessori were under consideration, but may not make into the final draft.

Follow the blog for so much more. It’s an incredible resource.
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Montessori and Google: Early Influences Count

Comes now an article (h/t Madmen) in The Guardian: How Google’s Larry Page became a responsible entrepreneur, by Carol Sanford (actually an excerpt from her new book The Responsible Entrepreneur). Excerpts from the excerpt:

To understand Google’s orientation toward creating global change, it’s helpful to know a bit about four influences that helped shape Larry Page’s world view: his grandfather’s history in the early labor movement, his education in Montessori schools, his admiration for the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, and his participation in the LeaderShape Institute … These helped build in Page the desire and confidence to take on large-scale systemic change. (emphasis added)

An unconventional education was a second significant influence in Page’s life. Like his Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, Page attended Montessori schools until he entered high school. They both cite the educational method of Maria Montessori as the major influence in how they designed Google’s work systems. (emphasis in the original!)

This we’ve heard before, although corroboration is always great. But what’s also great is how she gets Montessori:

The Montessori Method believes that it has a “duty to undertake, in the school of the future, to revolutionize the individual.” Montessori’s ultimate goal of education was to create individuals who could improve society and were unafraid to take on seemingly impossible tasks. In fact, Montessori spoke at length about education for peace. “Everything that concerns education assumes today an importance of a general kind, and must represent a protection and a practical aid to the development of man; that is to say, it must aim at improving the individual in order to improve society”

Sounds about right. (The first quote is from long out-of-print Pedagogical Anthropology, believe it or not.  The second is in From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 59 in the Clio version.) Continuing on:

Maria Montessori believed that the liberty of the child was of utmost importance. For her it was imperative that the school allow a child’s activities to freely develop. Without this freedom, children could not grow the personal agency that would allow them to serve a social purpose as adults. Thus, Page’s childhood education promoted independence. It encouraged students to grow at their own rate. They were allowed large chunks of uninterrupted time to work on projects they created themselves. Students were encouraged to take on small-scale but real-world challenges and to invent ways to solve them.

It’s easy to see how Google’s well-known policy of encouraging all engineers to dedicate 20% of work time to projects of personal interest grew directly out of this educational history. And why collaboration without supervision is core to Google’s work culture. And why Page repeatedly exhorts his colleagues to generate “10x returns” with regard to the social benefits they are striving to create. He is recreating the inspiring learning environment he had as a child, where the focus was on growing free people with the capacity to transform society.

This nails it. It wasn’t about early literacy, clever and intuitive materials, or a comprehensive approach to the study of the universe—although Montessori has all that. It was liberty, freedom to develop, independence, uninterrupted work, and  growing “the personal agency that would allow them to serve a social purpose as adults.

Comments are open on the Guardian piece. More about Carol Sanford at her website. More about the book here.

Montessori in the Public Sphere

So this is happening in St. Louis, once again thanks to the Montessori Madmen:

Montessori billboard

It’s an advertising collaboration among five St. Louis area schools—$4500 for the billboard, so $900 each.  (The Madmen can help you put one up in your town, if you want.) A great investment if it brings in even one new student.  Beyond that, it puts Montessori in the public eye.

Why is that so important? Private businesses join together to advertise their product to families who can pay the price—why is that news? On Facebook, someone asked if there was similar advocacy for Montessori in the public sector. Regular readers will know of many such efforts: the Madmen themselves, with their “Make it Montessori” campaign, the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, Montessori Forward, the joint AMI-AMS Montessori Public Policy Committee, and more.

But it’s true-most Montessori teachers work in, and most Montessori children attend, private tuition-based programs. Why is that? It’s not a lack of motivation.You’ll hardly find a stronger advocates for children than Montessori teachers, who will be quick to remind you that the first Montessori Casa dei Bambini in San Lorenzo served 50 poor children from working families. “All children deserve Montessori,” my Facebook commenter said, and that’s what we want out movement to be about.

But there are significant challenges for public Montessori. People who work in these environments can no doubt say more about this than I can, but here’s what I see.

Before you start, there are challenges to even getting to implement public Montessori.  First, there’s negotiating the bureaucracy and politics surrounding charter, magnet, or other alternative school programs where your Montessori model might happen. Beyond the red tape, there’s the enormous challenge of bringing in a huge change of culture for school systems and teachers. Montessori can be transformative—that’s what makes it so important to bring to children. But that’s also what makes it so threatening.

Once you get a program going, there’s the challenge of keeping it going and doing it well. The holistic nature of Montessori makes it hard to implement one grade at a time—but that might be all you get to start. Even if you can bring Montessori children up through the system, you may not have funding for 3 and 4 year olds, so you may be starting with kindergarten or 1st grade. You’ll face ongoing bureaucracy and politics, and school practices (such as testing) that get in the way of your work. Teachers can get demoralized, programs can go downhill, and before long you may have people saying, “see, Montessori doesn’t work.”

So lots of people are doing private Montessori because that’s what there is nearby. Lots of people doing it because they would rather do great Montessori now than fight like crazy to do something Montessori-like only to see it compromised out of existence. “Children of privilege deserve progressive education too,” we tell ourselves. And lots of people, in Hartford, in Milwaukee, in D.C., and all over (check the NCMPS for a comprehensive census), do great public Montessori against all odds.

But those outstanding, highly visible, private programs, with their NPR spots and their billboards serve another purpose. An indirect preparation, if you will. They put Montessori in the public eye, if not in the public sector. People see those billboards and visit those schools, and they say, “There is a better way. How can we have this in our school district, for our children”

John Dewey laid down the cornerstone for public education over a century ago when he said:

What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.

But how can they know they want it if they don’t know it exists?