Throwdown Thursday: The Great Montessori Debate
For the last 15 years, my children have been at a great Montessori school. My daughter (who is now in college) attended Montessori from K-8th, and my son started as a Toddler and is currently in the 6th grade. As you can imagine, I adore this school and have become an enormous proponent of the Montessori approach to learning. Momus is a steadfast supporter of our town’s excellent public schools (where his two daughters attend), and finds the whole Montessori thing a bit “woo woo” for his taste.
Cassandra: Montessori education allows each child to move at their own pace. This means that kids who are strong in, say, math get to learn their next math lesson as soon as they master the last lesson. If they are weaker in grammar, they can take all the time they need to work on their skills there. I can’t even imagine my son having to sit in a classroom where everyone is stuck going at the same pace.
Momus: Allowing children to move at their own pace is akin to letting convicted criminals decide their own sentences – “I’ll take the probation option please.” In theory this may work for some motivated kids, but the truly smart ones can figure out early that if they set the progress bar low, no one is going to be expecting much. Granted, this is basically my life philosophy, but not one I want to pass on to a new generation.
Cassandra: A potato bug has more internal motivation than you do. You are not an accurate norm for the rest of humanity. Most children are naturally wired to explore their worlds and maximize their capabilities. Montessori encourages that and allows children to dive deep into the areas that they are interested in. The result is a lifetime love of learning that is priceless.
Momus: Children are wired to seek candy at all costs, tell poopy jokes, and touch themselves at inappropriate moments. Why don’t they just let the children dive deep into that for one of their “specials.” Oh, and when all is said and done this priceless experience for your two kids is going to have cost you about $400,000. You could have funded a small business for each of them at that price.
Cassandra: First of all, what better investment is there than the education of our children? I don’t even want to think about our collective college bills once all four children have reached maturity. Secondly, the kids aren’t just thrown into the classroom and told to do what they wish. Teachers are guiding them in their choices and ensuring that they make reasonable progress in all academic areas (as well as important things such as being a responsible member of a community, learning pro-social behavior, and peace education). That’s a pretty good bang for my buck.
Momus: This Montessori guided learning thing is a scam. As you have taught me, there are prescribed ways you have to use “the Montessori materials.” Use that abacus the wrong way and a Montessori teacher will come down on you like a 1950’s parochial school nun! And you know there’s a back room where the staff are sacrificing small farm animals at an altar to Maria Montessori. But I bet they do use the tecpatl in the Montessori approved fashion.
Cassandra: The reason that there are prescribed ways to use the materials is that Montessori has a beautifully intricate system of learning through doing which makes difficult concepts very concrete and accessible to young minds. That cube puzzle your child is solving as a four year old will come back around in the 5th grade and be used to learn the Pythagorean Theorem. You heard me: there is a puzzle that teaches the Pythagorean Theorem! If that is not the coolest educational concept ever, I don’t know what is.
Momus: First of all, cool and Pythagorean Theorem used together is an oxymoron. But, herein lies the great dilemma: Montessori is this child centered learning paradigm, that allows free movement and expression of self, and self-paced, self-directed blah-de-da-blah. Then the child grows up, gets her first real job, and is told “Shut up, do what I tell you to do, get it done by tomorrow, and now go sit in that 5’x5′ cube for the rest of your miserable, no-one-outside-of-your-parents-really-thinks-you’re-special life.” Do the first jobs for Montessori grads come with anti-seizure medication? Hope so – has to be a pretty big shock to their systems. Maybe a little desk time and a due date or two would have prepped them a bit better.
Cassandra: Just because we torture adults doesn’t mean we have to torture our precious children as well. They will learn to sit at a desk and be bored out of their minds just fine in high school (my daughter can attest to that). Don’t worry, there’s always time to turn children into wage slaves once they’ve gotten a little happiness behind them.
Momus: As you well know, happiness is overrated. No reason to have an extended tease of that illusion.
One final recollection I just had. Remember that teacher (or are we required to call them guides or maybe soul sherpas?) conference for your daughter when they informed you that she had self-guided herself to avoid doing about two years worth of geography lessons? Did it make you feel all warm and fuzzy about her natural curiosity when she thought China was somewhere south of Mexico?
Cassandra: Okay, that was maybe a gap. However, that was an issue with that teacher in that school. Not with the overall philosophy (and they’ve closed that loophole now, smartypants).
It may just be that you are not sufficiently enlightened to see the beauty before you.
Momus: Enlightenment is a core part of the Montessori curriculum as well? Figures. Just skip the multiplication tables and grammar lesson, and go right to the transcendental meditation.
Cassandra: I wish I knew transcendental meditation about now.