A previously published white paper proposed that Montessori is the educational method for developing the skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century knowledge economy. Specifically, it argued that the accelerating rate of both technological and social innovation will require our children to “reinvent” themselves more than once during their lifetimes; thus children need more than anything to be able to think creatively, which Montessori fosters more so than other educational methods. This means that choosing a Montessori education for your children sets them up for greater potential of economic success as adults, more so than conventional education, which is still situated within the factory model framework generated by the now defunct industrial economy.
But there is another and, arguably, even more important reason why Montessori is the educational method for the 21st century: Montessori education fosters a systems view of the world, which is necessary for the sustainability of our planet and, hence, our species.
When I was the head of a Montessori school many years ago, a prospective parent who came to tour the school greeted me by saying, “I’m only here because my husband went to a Montessori school as a child, and he insisted I visit. But I don’t believe in ‘work’ for children. I believe in ‘play.’”
Needless to say the meeting did not go well.
Her assumption that work is bad while play is good for children kept her from seeing what was really happening in the classroom. But who can blame her? Articles abound in the media extolling the virtues of play on children’s cognitive development while demonizing work. What no one seems to notice, however, is that these articles rarely define play, and they only seem to define work as the didactic instruction found in conventional schools. But when we really examine the constructs of play and work, we see that there is far more to this picture than “play is good” and “work is bad” for young children – especially within a Montessori context. In fact, we find that the dichotomy of work and play as usually presented in the mainstream media by well-meaning child advocates is actually a false one.
The Pink Tower is an iconic Montessori Sensorial material that helps children to (among other things) discern the differences in weights and sizes as each cube is carried to a working mat to be rebuilt. Even the process of weaving one’s way through the busy classroom, cube in hand, while avoiding chairs, tables, toes of other children, and others’ work mats is an important part of this material because it trains the child to move carefully and with purpose.
But all of this movement, from carrying the cubes to navigating one’s way around the classroom, is not just essential to developing good coordination – it’s essential to developing higher-level thinking.
During my tenure as head of a Montessori school, parents often asked questions related to reading. A common concern was, “My child doesn’t know her abc’s! Why doesn’t she know her abc’s?”
Because we all grew up learning to sing our abc’s and few of us remember how we actually learned to read, we assume that naming the letters of the alphabet is evidence that a child “knows her letters.” In actuality, it is only evidence that she knows the names of the letters, which actually doesn’t help her learn to read. In fact, knowing the names of letters without knowing their corresponding sounds may actually delay reading.
When most of us think of trauma in schools, we think of singular, horrifying events like natural disasters, school shootings, or catastrophic accidents. In these cases, schools spring into action: time is set aside to process the impact of the event, counselors are deployed to speak with children, families are directed to local resources for addressing anxiety and grief, and both teachers and families are informed of how to respond to signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The entire organism shifts its focus to attentive care, healing, and love.