Tag Archives: news

Make it Montessori

So this happened:

Make It Montessori

In January, New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio announced a huge expansion for pre-K in NYC.  The Montessori Observer had a cynical take here, on the scale mismatch between New York’s 100,000 4-year-olds and an estimated 200,000 4-year-olds in Montessori schools in the rest of the country.

The Montessori Madmen cast cynicism aside and took up the challenge of leveraging this news for Montessori, launching an indiegogo campaign (now successfully closed) to fly the banner shown here over New York City for three hours on Friday, May 2nd.  The project got picked up on the New York Daily News politics blog and the Albany TimesUnion’s Capitol Confidential blog by reporter Annie Karni.

The a scale problem remains.  I imagine deBlasio looking out the window of his office, seeing the banner, and barking to his secretary, “Get me Montessori on line one!”  Who would he call, and what could we deliver?

But once again the Madmen network is getting results.  People in the New York Montessori world are contacting the Mayor’s office, and  a meeting with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector and the folks at New York City Montessori Charter School is in the works.   

Contact info for the Mayor’s Office:

Online: http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/contact-the-mayor.page

By mail:

City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Phone:

311-NEW-YORK
212-NEW-YORK outside NYC 

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Montessori Makes the “Meh List”

Meh ListSo, the New York Times Magazine has this thing called The One-Page Magazine which runs a feature called “The Meh List: Not Hot, Not Not, Just Meh.”  (“Meh”, Wikipedia tells us for those of us without teenagers in our lives, is “an interjection used as an expression of indifference or boredom.”)  Today’s list:

  1. Unsalted trail mix
  2. “ . . . is in talks with Yahoo”
  3. CNN ratings jokes
  4. Closure
  5. Dandelion greens
  6. Montessori schools (emphasis added)

Oh boy, are they going to get some letters! (magazine@nytimes.com)

You can see the kind of thing it is: started in 2011, it’s meant to be a weekly hit list of the bland—snarky, cheeky, and pitched to the in-crowd. Previous “Meh-listers” include Brita filters, the Seattle Mariners, and recently—and controversially!—pizza.  Here’s a “visual encyclopedia” of 126 entries if you want to get the sense.  Of course the list itself has made the list: did you think you were the first person to think of that?

But what does it mean to make the list? For its creator, Adam Sternbergh, the list was meant

to celebrate all those things in life that exist at the top of the fat middle of the bell curve of taste: neither adored nor reviled, but, simply, meh.

Elsewhere in the magazine, it’s been described as: boring, mediocre, just not interesting – overgood, but rarely great; fine, but seldom badall that is beneath our regard, a corrective to hype, excitement or outrage over things that are ultimately unimportant, unworthy of being discussed. Really, the list’s tagline says it best: neither hot nor not.

Now I know there’s nothing to be gained by getting all worked up about how we are so not meh!, but still: How could they get us so wrong?  Montessori is rarely boring, occasionally mediocre, always interesting.  It’s good, often great, and sometimes quite bad. “Beneath our regard,” “ultimately unimportant,” and “unworthy of being discusses are unbelievably condescending to childhood, but whatever.  And Montessori is definitely hot.

But that’s not really the point—the point is that they got us at all.  If only Montessori were as widespread and uncontroversial as Sierra Mist, elliptical machines, and pizza!  To be mocked as irrelevant by the style-setters of the New York Times Magazine is to have arrived in the cultural consciousness in a way no amount of advertising can ever acheive.  It might not be too much to say we’ve started to go viral.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley Gets A Taste of Montessori

The headline says it all: Governor Haley visited Coastal Montessori Charter School in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, as reported in the Coastal Observer.  It sounds like she got a pretty good picture of Montessori—the article mentions children working in mixed-age groups, at desks or on the floor, with large class sizes (“we like big classes”), using manipulatives that might have looked like games, and enjoying their work.  “The adult is not the center of attention; the work is.”

Coastal Montessori, like many public programs, is elementary-only, limited by state funding which doesn’t cover kindergarten or younger.  So it’s remarkable that they can have the quality of Montessori described in the article, and it show that it can be done.  Still, funding for Montessori Children’s House is an issue in many states.  Haley said she “”wouldn’t object” to it, but she didn’t make any promises.

The Governor’s visit  came about as part of Montessori Education Week, a project of South Carolina’s thriving South Carolina Montessori Alliance.  The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector’s Montessori Census lists 50 public programs in the Palmetto State, more than any other state listed.

Montessori: “Hands-On” with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD; wiki), “a global community dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading” with 175,000 members in 100 countries, membership $29 to $189, is a pretty big deal. (Note to Montessorians: this is what an international educational organization looks like. It’s all about scale.)

So it’s great news that their monthly member newsletter, Education Update, has an article about Montessori education by ASCD Managing Editor Sarah McKibben, with extensive quotes from NCMPS’ own Jackie Cossentino. The article is behind a paywall, but I saw a copy and I can tell you a little about it. I’m afraid I have to be bit critical, which is a shame, as it’s not a bad piece and we’re always happy for the exposure. But it’s important to get things right.

The article gets some things mostly right, and a few things exactly right, but it also represents the general vagueness the education world has about Montessori. McKibben mentions student choice, which is good, and Cossentino gets in some early licks with the importance of the prepared environment. Children’s House areas are referred to as “stations,” which isn’t quite right, but it’s language conventional early childhood educators understand.

Montessori materials are described, and described well. But let’s remember: not just any “intentionally inviting,” “self-correcting,” and “multifaceted” objects are Montessori materials! There’s a deeply consistent, experimentally described set of materials that are designed with those characteristics in mind, to be sure. But you really have to say, it’s not really Montessori unless Montessori developed it.

The description of “the teacher as guide” is good, and guide Nancy Rawn of the Annie Fisher Montessori School gets a word in about developmental needs. The nature of the child’s work is less well-understood, as young children are being “tasked with wiping down tables” in order to “instill good habits.” Not much suggestion that children might want to wipe down tables for their own purposes, or of Montessori’s observational work which led to including practical life activities. Then again, it’s a short article.

When the article moves on to Montessori elementary, things get a little more vague, talking about “project-based learning.” Montessori elementary students take on projects, certainly, but there’s a lot more to it than that. A follow-up article about how the elementary really works, covering cosmic education, the great lessons, and work journals, would be a welcome addition. 90-minute blocks and projects with teacher-set parameters don’t really do justice to the elementary work. Is it possible to consider that children might develop their own standards of age-appropriateness and academic rigor, and that they might go much farther than what the adult might impose?

The article closes with ways teachers can “be more Montessori”: they might not be able to provide uninterrupted work time, but they can at least strive to be more project-based and hands-on (even if that means no more than having protractors and rulers available). Cossentino scores a few more points in the last few paragraphs as well, suggesting that teachers ask students questions, learn to listen and observe, and rethink the adult’s role in the classroom.

All in all it’s not a bad treatment, and certainly positive. You can’t help thinking that if teachers want to “be more Montessori,” they should take a training course, and that the article might have addressed the foundation of Montessori’s work, the Montessori landscape in the U.S. and around the world, and the training available. But I guess that’s why you have The Montessori Observer to turn to.

Note: McKibben has a follow-up piece on the publicly available ASCD blog, In Service, where she interviews Cossentino further about the effect of student autonomy in high-poverty schools. It’s great exposure for Montessori in low-income populations as well as research linking choice and student engagement:

Studies have also shown that teachers’ orientations that are supportive of autonomy contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation in students—and controlling orientations deter intrinsic motivation

So that’s good..

Bettelheim and the Montessori Research Agenda

A piece on the Huffington Post in January, “Doing Pre-Kindergarten Right”, by a (sort of) non-Montessorian, Dr. Ruth Bettelheim, points out that

Preschool children think and function differently than school-age children, which is why primary school typically begins at age 6 or 7 everywhere in the world.

She calls for educational experiences to maximize young children’s potential, going on to say:

This maximization requires different educational methods than those developed for older children. Fortunately, several methods have been developed during the past century to enhance learning for young children. Most prominently, Dr. Montessori developed her method by investigating which approaches could best educate the severely impoverished slum children of early 20th century Rome.

The Montessori Method systematically teaches independent problem solving, starting at age 18 months, using hands-on learning and the native interests of preschoolers. She demonstrated that, given adequate food, regular health checkups, and the right full-day program, virtually all of even the most deprived children could learn to an equal or higher standard than their more privileged, traditionally educated peers.

That sounds good!  She continues,

Other methods, such as Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Dewey, Abecedarian, and Bank Street, also address the unique needs of this age group. Unfortunately, sufficiently rigorous, longitudinal trials of these approaches have not yet been undertaken to determine which ones best serve the developmental needs of very young children.

Emphasis added.  So, what is necessary for “sufficiently rigorous longitudinal trials”?  How about a broad-based, comprehensive data set covering Montessori schools in the U.S.?  Such as the 2013-2014 USA Montessori Census, 1049 schools and growing, perhaps?  (You see how everything is interconnected…)

Biographical note: Dr. Bettelheim, a pyschotherapist, executive coach, writer, and lecturer, has written about Montessori before: Time For Schools to Stop Damaging Children.  Dr. Bettelheim is also the daughter of now-controversial child psychologist and writer Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990) and his second wife Gertrude, who was a Montessori teacher in Vienna in the 1930s.  In fact, Gertrude apparently worked at the Montessori school started by Bettelheim with his first wife, Gina Alstadt Bettelheim Weinmann.  (Per The Creation of Doctor B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim and Suicide And the Holocaust)

Credit where due note: The piece came out in January, and I’m not sure how I missed it, but fortunately the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, the Montessori Madmen, Montessori Northwest (the AMI training center in Portland, Oregon), Montessori Partners Serving all Children (a project of the Montessori Center of Minnesota ,  the AMI training center in in St. Paul, Minnesota), and a number of Montessori schools were all over it.

Montessori: The Innovation Brand

There’s a piece going around from the Business Insider7 Tech Innovators Who Became Wildly Successful After Going To Montessori School.  It’s pretty much a rework of Peter Sims 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, The Montessori Mafia, where he identified “Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales” and asked,

Is there something going on here?  Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?

It’s been well-shared, and it’s well worth the read.  The Business Insider piece does a decent, if brief, job of explaining Montessori and lists the same tech giants as Sims did: Page, Brin, Bezos, Wales, and Wright, and two more: Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.

Wait, what?  Ford and Edison went to Montessori school?  Hmm, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was 43 years old in 1907—a little old for the Casa dei BambiniThomas Edison (1847-1932) was 60.  Apparently Edison did say:

I like the Montessori method. It teaches through play. It makes learning a pleasure. It follows the natural instincts of the human being . . . The present system casts the brain into a mold. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning.

Which I did not know.

Interestingly, the WSJ article does mention Edison and Ford, but just as examples of innovative thinkers and inquisitive learners.

So this piece isn’t really news, and it doesn’t tell us anything new about Montessori.  But it does tell us something about the Montessori brand in the public consciousness.  Innovative.  Inventors. Outside the box thinkers.  Tech geniuses.  Creative elite.  If that’s what people are thinking when they hear “Montessori”, we could do a lot worse.

Montessori, Scentist—Now in Forbes

OK, this is interesting.

Intelligent conservative business and economics writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gorby has a great piece up at Forbes, The Future of Education Was Invented in 1906. It’s a take on a Wired article from October about a “radical new teaching method”: self-directed learning.  Only, as Gorby points out, there’s nothing new about it.

And here’s the part I really like (naturally!)—he lays out really clearly something I’ve been saying all along, an insight at the core of what makes Montessori special:

Montessori education was so groundbreaking because it was the first (and, to my knowledge only), scientific education method. By which I mean the following: every other education method is based on an abstract model of the child and then derives education methods from that. Maria Montessori, a doctor and a researcher, went the other way around: she experimented with methods and, based on the results, built up a theory of the child, which she then tested and refined through experiment.

The reason why everything is the way it is in a proper Montessori classroom is simple: it has been shown through repeated experiment to work, in countless classrooms, across cultures, etc.

Preach it, Gorby! At the core, it’s not what we do that makes Montessori special—it’s why we do what we do.

Now, Gorby is definitely a voice from pretty far outside of the Montessori movement.  He’s a staunch conservative business and economics-oriented thinker and writer, and a committed Catholic. He would be at home in some segments of the Montessori world and an unlikely guest in many others.  All the better!  The more smart, connected, articulate people talking about what really makes Montessori tick, the better.

More on Gorby: His Forbes bio can be found here, his eminently sensible and (and decidedly non-mainstream conservative) take on public debt here, his take on French parenting and education here. Finally, his Amazon book reviews, including excellent 5 star reviews of Montessori books here.