Tag Archives: news

Famous Creative Montessorian in the News (this time, it’s Beyoncé…)

A colleague tipped me off (not to Beyoncé, I’ve heard of her) to an American Public Media Marketplace piece about the business of Bey, which cited her curiosity and habit of life-long learning.  I remember hearing that too, although it’s not in the transcript up at Marketplace.org.  Also not mentioned was the pop star’s time through 3rd grade at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic School, formerly St. Mary’s Montessori School and still offering at least a Children’s House Montessori program.  But could we attribute some of that “life-long-learner” attitude to Montessori?  Yes, I think we can.

Beyoncé is on that widely-shared, often poorly-sourced list of “famous Montessori alumni” you can find on almost every school’s website, including:

I’m always a little skeptical of these lists.  Did they really go to Montessori school?  (Jimmy Wales says no.)  How Montessori was it? How long were they there?  Did it really make that much of a difference?  (The Google Guys say yes.)  What about the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Montessori children who did nothing more remarkable than go on to lead fulfilling, well-adjusted lives and contribute to their communities.  (And how long before the name gets linked to some kind of high-profile disaster or scandal?  Will it be good press then?)

And it’s hard to track down the references, since Google just brings up all the lists people have already posted, citations sorely needed.  But I have come across a pretty good list, with links to (at least!) the relevant Wikipedia articles.  It’s here, at the Post Oak School in Houston*.  For whatever it’s worth.

* Beyoncé’s home town, so put her on the list of famous creative Houstonians, if that counts for anything…

Montessori—Fit for a Prince

The news blew around the Montessori world on Friday: Young Prince George of Cambridge, aged 2, only son of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton), third in line to the throne of England—will follow in his father’s path to Montessori school. In a departure from palace tradition, the young Prince William and his brother Harry attended a Montessori “nursery” in the mid-1980s, reportedly at the insistence of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, herself a one-time Montessori classroom assistant.

(It’s possible George’s parents were also motivated by a letter from a 10-year-old Dutch Montessori student which included a copy of Susan Mayclin Stephenson’s The Joyful Child, but we’ll probably never know.)

The news coverage is pretty good, and fairly accurate things are said about Montessori schools, if without a lot of depth. You do get a sense of how tightly the British Royal Family controls the media narrative, as the brief account is pretty similar across publications. The BBC has an official announcement, the Mirror does a nice job, citing a three-hour work period and student choice, and Hello! magazine has probably the cutest picture:

prince-george--a

But the headline that caught my eye was Prince George to attend £33-a-day Montessori nursery in Norfolk in The Telegraph. The Telegraph is a reliably Conservative, somewhat populist British paper (and multimedia company), so I wasn’t sure what to make of the figure in the headline: is £33-a-day a lot, or a little? Turns out, it’s a little:

The school costs just £5.50 per hour, or £33 per day, and 23 of its 27 children are in receipt of funding. It also has some children with special needs. In contrast, nurseries near Kensington Palace can cost upwards of £15,000 per year.

£33 per day would be £165/week, or £6600/year for 40 full weeks (I bet the Royals take some time off in the summer, even though they both work). In dollars, those numbers are about $8.25/hour, $50/day, $250/week, and $9,900/year. (Those posh places near the Palace would be about $22,500.) That’s about on the middle for U.S. Children’s House programs. What’s more, it seems like there’s a commitment to access—more from the Telegraph:

… a modestly-priced Montessori nursery school in Norfolk where most parents get financial help to pay the fees.

… Prince George’s new school was opened 23 years ago and has 27 children, including 23 in receipt of funding, meaning they get 15 free hours of education per week.

… All three and four year olds get free child care but two year olds get it only if they are in the poorest 40 per cent of families.

… Westacre says it has “an all inclusive open door approach” and has in the past taught children on the autistic spectrum and physically disabled children.

The school, a small cluster of buildings down a private lane in the Norfolk countryside, has battened down its public presence, if it ever had one—probably a good idea considering the publicity this is bound to attract. But they’re happy to have the young prince among their charges:

A spokesman for the school said: “We are looking forward to welcoming George to our nursery where he will get the same special experience as all of our children.”

 

New York Times Discovers Play-Based Learning, Pretty Much Stops There

The New York Times Sunday Review has a bit of a drive-by take  (picked up by Diane Ravitch among others) on early childhood education that, I’m sorry to say, I’m going to have to send back for revisions if it’s going to get a passing grade.

The gist of the piece is in the title: “Let the Kids Learn Through Play”. I usually say, go read the whole article, but I think I can do it justice in a short summary here with some bullet points and a couple of quotes. Essentially:

  • 20 years ago, there was a lot of play in schools (a bold statement without much citation, but let that go)
  • formal, didactic instruction has worked its way down to preschool (sad but true)
  • research suggests that this may not be such a good idea

Here Kohn quotes an authority:

One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”

Heartbreaking indeed. If only there were body of theory and experimental work in how young children learn, that could be broadly applied with predictable results across cultures and classes…

Kohn goes on to ask a question:

As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?

Which kind indeed? Sergey Brin. Larry Page. Jimmy Wales. Montessori and innovation. If only there were a method…

Kohn touches on a few other points: Common Core, Finland, inequality, and (at last) cites some intriguing research: The “Marcon Study”, by Rebecca A. Marcon  at the University of South Florida, which compared didactic, child-initiated, and “blended” pre-school models. Kohn doesn’t actually come out and say it, but Marcon found the strongest support for child-initiated preschool programs. From the abstract:

By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences.

And he closes with this:

But the early education that kids get — whatever their socioeconomic background — should truly help their development. We must hope that those who make education policy will start paying attention to this science.

Indeed, education should be in the service of development, and proceed from a scientific basis. One way we can start is by calling it by name.

Stanford Daily: If Only Montessori Did High School…

What’s that you say? Erdkinder?

Alexandra Heeney, film critic at The Seventh Row and Managing Editor (Arts and Life) at The Stanford Daily, has an interview there with director Greg Whitely about his Sundance film Most Likely to Succeed, a documentary about the history and future of education. The film’s depiction of High Tech High, where students are “involved in multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects” makes her think of her own Montessori education, “an educational approach for elementary school students, which emphasizes independent learning and exploration.”

So she asks the filmmakers if Montessori ever came up while they were working on the project. Why, yes, they tell her — it kept coming up. I’ll just give you the whole quote:

“One of the key interviews in our film is [with] this economist named Andy McAfee, out of M.I.T. He was a product of Montessori schools. He gave us this great quote, where he tells this story that for the first few years of his life, [he] just developed this keen interest in x, y and z, because [he] was allowed to explore. [He] was allowed to poke at things and kind of learn in a way that Montessori celebrates. And then, because he aged out, or maybe because his parents moved, he went to a more traditional school, and he said, ’it just killed me. It was just so painful.’ ”

(Longtime readers will remember McAfee from this post. Furthermore:)

[Executive ProducrTed] Dintersmith added that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago about the “Montessori Mafia” — people like Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia founder James Wales, and Google Co-Founders and Stanford Alumni Larry Page M.S. ’98 and Sergey Brin M.S. ’95 all of whom spent their formative years in a Montessori school. The “Montessori Mafia” found that Montessori was the best education experience of their lives. So, Dintersmith asked, “Why is it in 2015, when the world begs for the characteristics that get promoted in Montessori school, [why do] we send kids to this desert called middle [school], high school and college?”

Oh dear. Because Heeney also says this:

As someone who’s a product of a Montessori School — I attended one from kindergarten to grade six, when Montessori ends

Of course, Montessori is more than “an educational approach for elementary school students”, and extends from birth to age 18. Heeney may be interested to learn of the AMI training and classrooms for ages 0-3, developed in collaboration with Dr. Montessori, the proliferation of 3-6 programs, and of the recent extension into adolescent work under the auspices of AMI and NAMTA, as well as the many other Montessori programs extending their work into secondary education since the 1970s. Actually, she is probably aware of it now, since several Montessorians have piped up in the comments on the article. Heeney even referred to the responses on Twitter, so we know she still has that spark of life-long learning we can no doubt attribute to Montessori.

 

Montessori Mentions (This Is Not About Vaccination)

A couple of “Montessori mentions” in the mainstream media this week. Warning: discussion of vaccinations ahead. This post is not about vaccination and, for the record, Montessori does not take an official position on the subject (although, generally speaking, we believe in science).

With that out of the way: First, from Tuesday, an “info-for-parents” piece in US News and World Report’s Money section, “Can I Afford to Send My Child to Private School?”. It’s a light overview of private school options for the general public, but there’s Montessori, right after religious schools and before Waldorf, as if it’s something you’ve probably heard of. Here’s what the general public is hearing about Montessori:

Montessori schools are famed for fostering environments in which children become independent learners and problem-solvers.

Which is not bad for a one-liner. There’s nice quote and a reference to the North American Montessori Teachers Association (NAMTA) tuition survey (from 2009). Bonus points for the mention of public programs on the second page.

Next, on Thursday, in the Atlantic, in How Schools Are Dealing With Anti-Vaccine Parents, 2300 words about The Children’s House in Traverse City, Michigan, is handling un-vaccinated children. Again, the school is introduced as “one private Montessori school” with no further explanation: of course you’ve heard of that. The article is a sensitive treatment of how The Children’s House, as a private school, worked to balance children’s safety, public health, and parent concerns on both sides of this divisive issue. But some Montessori nuggets come along the way. “Montessori encourages children to ask questions, to seek out information,” says one parent. Further down, we’re told:

The idea behind Montessori schools is that they’re meant to mirror “the real world,” where individuals work and socialize with people of all ages. Mixed-age classrooms are one of the hallmarks of the Montessori teaching method, which means that infants, kindergarteners, and adolescents come into contact throughout the school day.

Which isn’t quite the core of Montessori, but, hey, mom, we’re in the paper! Maybe they’ll spell our name right next time.

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.