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?

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2 responses to “Montessori in the Public Sphere

  1. Hi, Thanks for sharing this. I’m curious: How can The Madmen can help put a billboard up in Ottawa, Canada? There are a few schools I think we, OMS Montessori, could collaborate with to make this happen. I’m wondering how you can help.

    Like

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