Thank you to everyone who shared their opinions on modern Montessori and some of the criticisms made against it. While I agree I could have found a better starting point; it generated conversation, which was my intention. I should put a disclaimer: I’m not Montessori trained, nor do I pretend to have all the answers. My aim here is to bring awareness to something that many of us are passionate about, to inspire, and to dispel the common myths about Montessori.
There are so many misconceptions surrounding Montessori and many great experts and teachers in the Montessori blogosphere. My hope with this Montessori Mythbusters series is to bring the two together, as well as Montessori-loving parents like myself, to educate and inspire.
From what I have read in Maria Montessori’s works, her methods stem beyond teaching poor children practical life skills. Whilst her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) was created in one of the very poorest areas in Rome, her educational methods were based on her observation of children of all races and cultures in many countries around the world.
Her philosophy stemmed from a great foundation in pediatrics, psychiatry and anthropology . Maria Montessori continued her research throughout her lifetime and found that many of the laws of human development were universal. That’s why, I believe, many of her discoveries and beliefs are timeless.
Every Montessori school (even those who aren’t AMI accredited) produce “more than just learning to stack blocks, wash his hands, and listen to a story”. This generalisation negates so much of what Montessori was about. It is true that some (not all) academic outcomes are – for the most part – unaltered between mainstream schooling and Montessori schooling. However, the core of Montessori education is much more than educating purely academically.
Modern Montessori is backed by numerous studies into neuroscience. The talk “Good at Doing Things” by Dr Steve Hughes, a pediatric neuropsychologist and Montessori advocate, explains the significance of Montessori education in neuropsychology. He speaks about the study published by Angeline Lillard, who compared mainstream schooling (control schools) to a Montessori school (randomised via lottery).
The children in Montessori education scored higher with regards to social cognition (empathy, perspective), and social problem solving (more fair, positive outcomes). The Montessori educated children also demonstrated more favourable interpersonal behaviours, such as increased positive shared play and remarkably less ambiguous rough play.
The most significant area, I believe, that Montessori children excel in are executive functions. If you are unfamiliar with executive functioning and control:
Executive functions together play the role of executive director of the brain — making decisions, organizing, strategizing, monitoring performance and knowing when to start, stop, and shift gears (Cox, 2007, Zelazo, 2010). Executive functioning is essentially the conscious regulation of thought, emotion, and behavior (Zelazo, 2010). It is different from what we usually think of as intelligence, because it is independent of how much we know. It is an aspect of intelligence in that it involves expressing or translating what we know into action (Zelazo, 2010). One can be exceedingly bright but not be able to access and apply knowledge if there is limited executive function. (source)
On the topic of parental stress with respect to their child’s education and abilities, I haven’t came across this in my Montessori circles (through like-minded friends, our Infant Playgroup or the online Montessori community). I would also say that this is true of many parents in general, and not a result of Montessori.
I do agree, however, that the fact that ‘Montessori’ and the materials/methods are not copyrighted means that there are some schools and companies who use the name incorrectly. I think this is where the elitism and injustice can come into play.
“Since the beginning Montessori pedagogy has been appropriated, interpreted, misinterpreted, exploited, propagated, torn to shreds and the shreds magnified into systems, reconstituted, used, abused and disabused, gone into oblivion and undergone multiple renaissances.” (Renilde Montessori)
There are various reasons why this should be so. Perhaps the most important is that although Montessori pedagogy is known as the Montessori Method, it is not a method of education, in other words, it is not a programme for teachers to apply. Maria Montessori was not a teacher …. the Alpha and Omega of her pedagogy lies with the children.
Maria Montessori was a scientist, and as a good scientist, she was earth-bound and highly spiritual in her pursuit of truth. She studied medicine, specialising in psychiatry and anthropology. She was also an outstanding mathematician. Although she would never have considered being a teacher, she studied educational methods for many years and found them wanting, possibly because none of them took into account the two seemingly paradoxical extremes which are at the centre of her pedagogy: the universal characteristics of the human child, and the child as a unique, unrepeatable, respectable and admirable individual to be unconditionally accepted as one of life’s most marvellous expressions. (source)
Here are some of my favourite comments:
I agree with Aubrey’s (from Montessori Mischief) comment:
There ARE a lot of Montessori schools for the rich (simply a product of being a private school), but there are also many, many Montessorians working in public schools, in small town country homes, and in the inner city ghettos. Not to mention all the Montessori homeschoolers. Let’s not exclude them from the conversation.
Jessie’s (from The Education of Ours) comment highlighted the positive attributes of Montessori and how to find them:
In fact, schools are everywhere in the USA in public sector and in cities and tough neighborhoods. It is a method, not a group of people. Parents need only ask if a school is a member or accredited by AMS or AMI to see if the Montessori name is used in avoid practice. Further questions or tours in a school will reveal that the teachers are vigorously trained. I hope those questioning a scam unplug long enough to see what is truly out there, not toys or elitism but child-centered environment surrounded by beauty, with the goal of teaching children to think for themselves instead of rote regurgitation.
Go visit a school or homeschool co op, or contact AMI or AMS to see what where the truth falls.
I really enjoyed Stephanie’s (from Discovery Moments) closing paragraph which talked about the other inspiring educational methods and the value of Montessori:
Its not so much about the materials as it is about the space to learn. This can be done at home and in a school, and Maria Montessori is not the only person to use this concept as a means of education. Charlotte Mason has similar goals, as does Unschooling, and Reggio Emilia. In fact every basic preschool out there is heavily influenced and inspired by the Montessori method in their hands on, toy based learning. Just look around and you will see it. There may be many schools out there that are a scam or even fatally flawed, but the basic method holds value to any child anywhere~ a nurturing, environment where learning is an important and fun part of their lives.
Melissa (from Vibrant Wanderings) made a point that I didn’t think to mention:
Also, as a side note, the Montessori materials may look like little more than expensive toys, but there’s so much more to them. There’s also so much that parents can do at home without them.
See this article for more on the significance and purpose of the materials.
I also read a comment on facebook that Montessori is becoming ‘popular’ and to that I say “great”! The ever-expanding Montessori online community to me is indicative of the awareness that mainstream schooling just isn’t cutting it and more parents are looking elsewhere.
The issue of accessibility to Montessori education is certainly a real one. Montessori can be expensive (on par with most private schooling, like several commenters pointed out) and good schools can be scarce. I know this all too well, with only one Montessori school in our city. I think this could be a topic of it’s own.
Ultimately, it is a gross generalisation and to group all of ‘Montessori’ under the negatives of a minority (which is what it is, a minority). There is a variety of credible evidence out there. One of the best ways to see the real benefits is to go to an accredited school and see for yourself. Sure, there are some bad eggs out there but they are a mere smudge on the hands of an incredible educational approach.
Follow this ‘Montessori Mythbusters‘ series for more insights into the reality behind common Montessori misconceptions.