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.

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