"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."- Albert Einstein
One-hundred years ago, Dr Maria Montessori, the first Italian female medical school graduate, developed the Montessori Method: A philosophy based on biology and the universal principles of human development - science, tried and tested the world over. It's not school in the way that you may think of school. It's not something to "get through" in order to make it to the next level or the next holiday break. Rather, a Montessori environment centers on the universal needs of children so that they can discover, create and become inspired by their place and their responsibility in and to this world. Montessori children want to come to school. It is a space where a child can move around instead of being tethered to a desk, can collaborate with classmates without fear of scolding from the teacher, can talk without raising his hand and use the bathroom whenever she has to go. It is a place where if you say you are going to do something, you are expected to follow through - a place where the student is an active, accountable participant in his or her own learning process - right from the start.
One-hundred years later, in 2011 the world looks very different, yet Dr. Montessori's Method endures and during our current educational crisis, is as pertinent as ever. History has shown and modern day clinical research supports that Montessori children become the critical thinkers and mindful world citizens that the 21st century needs. With a solid inter-disciplinary academic foundation, prepared, at every level, Montessori children are curious and innovative, ethical and kind. Listen to Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google founders, talk about the role their Montessori experience played in their life. The industrial-age school model with its one-size-fits-all approach, in which most parents and unfortunately most of our children continue to be schooled, no longer prepares students to become tomorrow's innovative and forward thinking leaders. We need doers not memorizers - a work force that has the self discipline and ethical backbone to not only function in, but to change the "results only work environment".
So what is it that makes a school Montessori? What we call Montesssori education is a complex of philosophy, psychology, educational theory and instructional materials. Yet the essence of Montessori is a vision of the child in society - an understanding of human development that demands a new view of education. Maria Montessori clearly saw education as much more than merely the transmission of knowledge. Rather, she re-envisioned the purpose of education as aiding the full development and release of human potentialities. In other words, "Montessori" is about life - about development and human evolution. Its purpose is not to transmit a specific curriculum; rather, the curriculum emerges from understanding and working with the natural laws, or key principles, of human development. - The Whole School Montessori Handbook by David Kahn
So if it is not exclusively about academics then what is it about?* It is about instilling a love of learning and aiding today's child to become tomorrow's independent, concentrated, coordinated (in mind and body), accountable, responsible, ethical, and kind adult. To a great extent it is about what we've come to call the skills of 'executive function'. Regardless of the label the "discovery" of the importance of these "skills" or "characteristics" for today's work force is a hot topic. MBA programs tout cutting edge courses in "business ethics" and stress the importance of being a critical thinker, not just another cog in the wheel. The September 2009 Harvard Business Review stirred up discussion by citing research that shows that the most innovative and successful entrepreneurs posses a series of "discovery skills". Their findings are consistent with Montessori's who discovered that these skills are key to leading happy, rewarding, successful lives which is what we all wish for ourselves and for the future of our children.
*Academics are absolutely necessary, of course - but in the 21st century, not sufficient in and of themselves. Particularly when subject matters are not truly internalized by students, but, simply memorized to pass examinations or activities are engaged in simply to beef up a college applications.