Category Archives: News

Le Maitre Est L’Enfant: A French Montessori Documentary

You probably know about the Montessori documentary in the works, Building the Pink Tower—maybe because you read about it on The Montessori Observer here or here, more recently on MontessoriPublic, or on Facebook, or on BPT’s own website, or via their new Indiegogo campaign.

But did you know about the other Montessori documentary in the works, in French, featuring French primary children, speaking adorable French?!  I know this betrays an American parochialism, and an exoticizing obsession with cute kids speaking languages other than English, but I think you’ll agree that this is la Montessori la plus mignonne that you will see today:

But cuteness aside, like Building the Pink Tower, Le Maitre Est L’Enfant (The Child is the Teacher) is serious business.  The director, Alexandre Mourot, is a a Montessori parent and documentary filmmaker who, like so many others, fell in love with Montessori in his child’s classroom. He started researching in 2014, filming in 2015, and during the summer of 2015 began an AMI 3-6 training course.  Filming is now complete, and after self-funding the process up to now, Mourot has  launched a crowd-funding effort for post-production and distribution.  The campaign bas blown past its first two goals of 50,000 and 100,000 Euros, and is headed for its stretch goal of 160,000, which would allow translation into English and Spanish and foreign distribution.

And the Montessori? The classroom featured in the film, at L’Ecole Montessori de Roubaix, a Dominican school in Roubaix (a declining industrial suburb of Lille in the north of France), is led by veteran guide Christian Maréchal, who trained with the Dominican sisters in 1992 and took an AMI Primary diploma in 2000.  In 2012, he entered the AMI Primary Training of Trainers program, to become a trainer of new AMI teachers.  So it’s probably pretty solid

I spoke to Vina Kay and Jan Selby of BPT about the film.  They hadn’t heard of it, but they said they didn’t feel threatened by another documentary, even one with adorable French children.  “I don’t thin the problem is too much communication about Montessori”, Kay told me.  “The more, the merrier.”

Jane (Wife of Bernie) Sanders Mentions Montessori

Jane Sanders, formerly President of Burlington College, currently with the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and spouse of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, briefly name-checked Montessori this week in a conversation with education wunderkind Nikhil Goyal.

Goyal is a 21-year old education writer and advocate for progressive education with two books to his name: One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, written when he was just 17 and still in high school, and Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice, out this year.  In an interview with Sanders, he brought up Montessori:

Goyal: Who do you think are some of your most influential heroes in education? Who are the people you’ve most been inspired by in your scholarly work?

Sanders: [John] Dewey, [William Heard] Kilpatrick, Robert Coles. One of the things I like are the people who focus on philosophy as the underpinning of their work.

Goyal: People like Maria Montessori, Dewey, Rudolf Steiner.

Sanders: I was a strong supporter of Montessori when my kids were very little. I homeschooled for a year, and then we did public school all the way through for the kids.

So there you have it.  Sanders’ three adult children are from her first marriage, they aren’t public figures, and we don’t know much more about their education (not that we should). But it sounds like she got them off to a good start.

2013 International Montessori Congress

The Montessori Observer has been offline for a while, loyal readers will have noticed, as the author moves across the country, settles back into the old house, and starts a new job.  But there’s something happening in Portland, Oregon that is too momentous to pass up.  That would be the 2013 International Montessori Congress.

Many—perhaps most!—TMO readers are here at the Congress in person.  But for those who couldn’t come, or curious as to what it’s all about, here’s a little context and background information.

The first International Montessori Congress was held in 1929 in Helsingör, Denmark, and the Association Montessori Internationale was founded by Maria Montessori and her son Mario at this event.  Since then, 26 Congresses have been held, including the current gathering in Portland.  Recent Congresses were held in Chennai (2009), Sydney (2005), and Paris (2001), and it last took place in the United States in Palo Alto in 1972.  (The complete list can be found at AMI here.)

The Congress features keynotes, breakouts, receptions, materials displays, school tours and more—in other words, much of what you will find at a typical AMI-USA, NAMTA, or AMS conference.  But historically the Congress has had greater significance than that.  As an international gathering of the Montessori movement, the Congress is intended, in the words of Congress organizers,

to cause movement and action in the international community; evoking the constant evolution of the Montessori movement by building on the intentions and accomplishments of the proceeding Congress.

Previous Congresses have marked turning points in the development of the international Montessori movement, such as the re-organization and revitalization of the Australian Montessori movement following the 2005 Sydney Congress.

Today’s challenge for Montessori is to greatly expand the method’s reach beyond its niche in classrooms of privileged children in Western developed economies, and to reconcile the differences which divide the Montessori world and prevent the movement from being a more powerful force in the world education crisis.  AMI President André Roberfroid spoke directly to these issues in his opening address, specifically welcoming the President of the AMS Board of Directors, Joyce Pickering, clearly stating that the Congress, although organized by AMI, was a Montessori event open to all, and challenging attendees to banish the idea that Montessori is only for those who can afford it.

There’s much more to share about the Congress: Brian Swimme’s inspiring keynote, the Glass Classroom in the middle of downtown Portland—and that’s just today’s events.  More to come as the event unfolds.

100 years of Montessori in Pasadena

From my Montessori Google news feed (which I wrote about here), an article from the Pasadena Star-News about the 100th birthday of the Aria Montessori School, founded in 1913, visited by Maria Montessori in 1915, and alma mater to prominent Montessori graduate Julia Child.

This has got to be the oldest continuously operating Montessori school in the country, although (per the article) neither AMI nor AMS could confirm the claim.  The school website does not mention an affiliation with any Montessori organization, and doesn’t say much about the background of the administration or teachers.

Still, a pretty remarkable milestone.

The Education Reform That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Columnist Thomas Friedman’s piece in the NYT Sunday Review today highlights “Harvard education specialist” Tony Wagner‘s  call for Montessori education in all but name.  Author, speaker, educator, and Harvard fellow Wagner cited Montessori in his 2012 book, Creating Innovators, excerpted here on the Huffington Post

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? … They all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. … In the 20th century, Maria Montessori, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and others did groundbreaking research on the ways in which children learn through play. Montessori integrated her understanding of the importance of play into her curriculum for schools. Today, Montessori schools can be found around the world.

Well, not exactly—although Montessori did say, “play is the child’s work,”* Montessori classrooms and play-based learning environments look pretty different. But listen to Wagner’s education reforms quoted by Friedman.  The goal of education should be to make students “innovation ready,” rather than “college ready.”  Per Wagner:

  • employers are looking for “skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration” and students who know how “to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’
  • students need:  “basic knowledge, … skills, and motivation. … Motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.”
  • But that’s not happening in our system: “The longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school.” 
  • We need to “bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
  • Finally, Wagner cites current progressive education darling Finland: “students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, … all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. “

Hmmm…critical thinking, communication, and collaboration? Intrinsic motivation?  Play, passion, and purpose?  Minimal homework and testing?  Does this sound like an education model you might have heard of?

* Can anyone help me find a citation for this quote?  Let me know in the comments—Thanks!

The Touch-Screen article in The Atlantic

The Touch-Screen Generation. On the cover of the paper edition, actually.  Hannah Rosin (a prominent, occasionally contrarian journalist at The Atlantic, Slate, and elsewhere) has a 7-page piece about young children and touch screen devices such as tablets and smartphones. Two points of interest caught my eye.

First, a Montessori reference in the second paragraph. At a children’s app developers conference, she reports that several developers

paraphrased a famous saying of Maria Montessori’s … “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”

It’s not clear from the article whether the developers were citing Montessori themselves, or their words put Rosin in mind of the quote (from The Absorbent Mind, as it happens).  She goes on to contrast poking fingers in the sand with tapping a screen, asking “what Maria Montessori would have made of the scene.” She also mentions the developer of an app which “teaches preschoolers the Montessori methods of spelling,” which seems a bit of a stretch in that the Montessori method is distinctively analog.

But, even with the prominent mention of Montessori, with an essentially representative slant, the article left me unsatisfied.  The takeaway seems to be, “the digital transition has taken place, there’s no escaping it, and interactive apps are almost like interacting with the real world, so just go with it.”  Read the piece for yourself, by all means, but in my view she doesn’t really end up anywhere.

Look, I get it, I’m old, and it’s already happened, and the technology is just going to get more interactive and sophisticated, and intertwined with our lives.  But I just can’t bring myself to believe that we’re going to improve on the interaction between the brain, the body, and the real world as the appropriate developmental activity for young children. Plenty of time for virtual interactions later, when the foundation has been laid down.

Montessori on Google News

It turns out that it’s a simple matter to set up a personalized section in Google News on a subject you follow—such as Montessori.  Mostly what you will see is local reports from small digital outlets, showcasing a school in their coverage area.  I’ll be highlighting some as they come by.  Check out how schools are promoting themselves, and how Montessori comes across in the public eye.

This week: The Montessori Children’s House of Franktown on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a 5 year old AMI school offering Primary and Elementary— Montessori builds foundations for learning.  From the article:

While the Montessori Method has been around for well over a century, there has been a resurgence of interest and growing popularity in the approach to early learning and education created by Dr. Maria Montessori.

It represents a counterpoint to conventionally organized-by-age, taught-as-a-group, factory-styled schooling that was developed in an age of early industrialization.