I’ve been hearing a lot over the past few years about how the public education system in the U.S. is broken. I completely agree. However, I also hear a lot about how it will be SO hard to come up with a better system and will take SO much time and SO much money for research. This is ludicrous. Decades ago, Maria Montessori did all the research and developed a simple, elegant, truly educational system for children. All we need to do is make her system the norm rather than the exception.
I know many of you are thinking, “Montessori? Isn’t that the school where hippies sit around watching kids do whatever they want? That will never work.” I actually had similar thoughts a number of years ago when I heard a friend of a friend was going to get Montessori certification (she’s a bit flighty and that fed right into my stereotypical view). Then, I had children and, being a household with two full-time working parents, we needed help with childcare. I started researching and visiting daycare centers and “alternative” preschools (Primrose, Goddard, Montessori). First, I was astonished at how disorganized and chaotic the vast majority of preschools are. No wonder we have so many children diagnosed with ADHD when this is the environment where they first learn how to interact with the world! Then, I walked into Noble World Montessori School. This was a calm place of fun and learning. Kids as young as 18 months were sitting with their rugs working with materials in a completely engaged way. I knew we’d found the place for our children.
It was only after we enrolled Maggie and Kurt at Noble World that I began to read Maria Montessori’s books and the other literature available on the Montessori system. If you have young children and haven’t read The Absorbent Mind, I highly recommend it! Yes, the process is child-driven, but that doesn’t mean that the child is left hanging out in the middle of a room full of materials they know nothing about to fend for themselves. The instructors are taught to watch the children and see how they engage and to encourage them to learn in the way they are naturally inclined. This is so much more successful a plan than sitting them all in neat rows of desks drilling memorization for hours on end.
Now in Richmond at Central Montessori, I watch my kids, 3 and 5, grow in their intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning every day. They love figuring things out and looking for new questions they can answer, problems they can solve. Ashby and I have discussed moving them into public school, but I fear the current system will squash the curiosity that is thriving under the Montessori method. I am a product of the public schools and have always felt strongly if we don’t support public schools, they cannot be great. However, when faced with the choice of supporting a theoretical good for the whole or supporting the concrete good of Montessori school for my kiddos, there is no competition.
This shouldn’t have to be a competition. Many communities have already created charter Montessori schools within the public system, to great success. To begin to truly educate our children to be successful human beings and, yes, linchpins, we don’t need to start from scratch. The fix is already here, we just need to implement it.