By Warren McPherson, M.Ed.
With the emerging consensus within current brain-based research, developmental theorists and constructivist educational paradigms, it is time for Montessorians to stand up and be counted since both the wisdom and the applications of their 100 years of worldwide practice align consistently with the “new” discoveries and recommendations emanating from this consensus.
Directors must proclaim the validity of their authentic Montessori practices to all prospective parents in a way that they can immediately identify with and feel reassured that Montessori is neither outdated, cultish, foreign, experimental or a ‘fringe’ element in education. Montessori education stands at the forefront of the reform that is called for from all corners of the globe and Montessori is the most historically validated of any major educational paradigm. “Traditional education” is not a developmentally cohesive or consistent model with identifiable professional standards. As Lee Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching points out in the Stanford Educator (Fall, 2005, p.7): “The claims that there are “traditional programs” that can be contrasted with alternative routes is a myth.” He goes on to say: “Compared to any other learned profession…teacher education is nothing but multiple pathways. It should not surprise us that critics respond to the apparent cacophony of pathways and conclude that it doesn’t matter how teachers are prepared.”
So our competition for leadership in the race to reform our national education is a ‘myth’. Might I add that the Montessori Method is equally successful worldwide and across the full spectrum of cultural and economic divides.
With the basic confidence of the current validity, distinguished history, and proven practicality of Montessori education, I have striven over the thirty years of Athens Montessori School history to refine my tours for prospective parents so there are no challenges or questions unanswered as we conduct our tour. I call my presentation the Seven Pillars of Montessori Education.
Before I launch my Seven Pillars talk, I begin by asking each parent how they heard about Montessori and establish how much they know so far. When all the scheduled prospects have arrived, I explain that Montessori education is a natural method of education that follows the unfolding development of the individual child. Further, I add that they have already been practicing Montessori education at home by intently observing their child and responding to their cues. These cues are driven from within and displayed at sensitive periods for the critical formation of speech and walking. Then I point out how they have “prepared” their home environment so their child can exercise their powers during the critical period for walking by removing sharp objects and blocking stairways.
Having thus connected parents to sensitive periods, the importance of observation and of the Prepared Environment, I then go on to explain how Montessori teachers are trained to observe the emerging sensitive periods of their children and equipped with a scientifically prepared environment to allow each child to exercise his or her powers during these critical periods of formation.
The stage is set. So I outline the Five Avenues of Exploration and whisk them into the first Primary (3 to 6) classroom. Needless to say the order, richness and beauty of the environment and focus, calm and joy of the children drive the message home as we move from class to class. I only conduct these tours on Tuesday mornings and a teacher may request to be omitted from the tour if they are observing a birthday or some other atypical event or if they already have visitors.
As we transition to Elementary, I ask parents to reflect on the calls for reform in education today:
- Interdisciplinary study founded on brain-based research. Big Picture thinking which is taught by the Cosmic Curriculum and Great Lessons.
- Visual-sensorial foundation for Mathematics. Montessori weaves a continuous strand of visual sensorial presentations with manipulatives that have been refined for going on 100 years.
- Adaptation to today’s world requires global or geo-political awareness and cultural sensitivity. Beginning with the geography map puzzles at age 3, Montessori spirals into larger and larger circles of deeper and more inclusive understandings of geography, history and cultural diversity.
- Citizens’ of today’s world need to be aware of their environment and understand ecosystems. Montessori provides a richly textured biological and zoological curriculum and an intense focus on ecosystems and interdependence in nature.
- You often read about values education today. Values education cannot be taught in fourth period of sixth grade out of a textbook. Montessori teachers respect the child by focusing on the unfolding development of each individual student every day. I personally believe that “respect is what you get when you give it” and at our school we give our children total respect.
- Creative thinking is a critical faculty in today’s fast paced society. Montessori does not isolate creativity from the other subjects but weaves artistic expression into the fabric of their timeline, cultural and arts studies.
- Most importantly of all, Montessori has anticipated these reforms from the inception of her model and they have been tested worldwide and exist in a fully integrated fashion within authentic Montessori practice.
Along the way it is important to explain portfolio assessment as preferred to grading systems based on competition and narrow measures of a few of the multiple intelligences.
I explain that test taking is a life skill. At Athens Montessori School we administer the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills to provide the children with practice in expressing their knowledge in that format. However, I add that the teachers do not use the test as a measure of the child’s progress. Teachers already know each child’s mastery through the rigors and sequence of the Montessori curriculum.
My tours last approximately one and one-half hours and include 3 primary classes, 2 lower elementary (6 to 9) classes, a double upper elementary (9 to 12) and the Middle School (7th and 8th grade).
As a consequence of this tour shaped by years of constructing answers before negative or annoying questions surface, I find prospects genuinely impressed, grounded in a developmental perspective and generally thankful for my having taken the time for a full explanation with classes and students’ work to illustrate each of my points.
If a special group such as music, creative movement, Spanish or circle time is in session, I explain ahead of time that we will scan the material environment silently and discuss it outside or between classes.
Please feel free to construct your own ‘pillars’ or emphasis according to your school’s strengths.
Parents are entitled to unequivocal reassurance that Montessori education is a fully-integrated, developmentally sound, and pragmatic solution to preparing children for life in the 21st century.
Good luck in all your parent education and recruitment efforts.
Director of Athens Montessori School