education: a cooperative goal

 "My vision of the future is no longer people taking exams and proceeding then on that certification . . . but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher stage - by means of their own activity through their own effort of will - which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual."
                           ~Maria Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence

Over labor day weekend, I attended a wedding. Many toasts and speeches were given to the fact that these newlyweds (dating for 11 years) answered to their own timeline for their relationship. Pressure to follow tradition was not their motivation. Stories the newlyweds shared were about development. They traveled, explored, adopted pets, fixed problems, and started hobbies together - grown together. These two allowed themselves to mature together.

We don't live in a culture that generally values maturity. We send the message that quick results and a straight timeline to success are the goal. The culture of education has been overridden for 20 years by demands for 'accountability' - immediate measurement for results, percentiles, rankings, and the impression that racing to the finish line is the only valid goal.


I appreciate the moments when humanity shines through our experience and reminds us of how sane, humane, and joyful we can be. I included here a picture of my daughter raking the school zen garden. I like this picture for many reasons, but specifically it reminds me that we're all happiest when we're engaged, challenged, and allowed to be ourselves. No one intervened here in this picture to correct my daughter raking. There isn't a percentile score for her, and I didn't have parent anxiety about whether or not she would be a 'good raker'
or how she compared to her classmates. She's enjoying learning, and she's feeling good about independence with her new skill. She's respected and challenged. She's rising to the occasion in an environment that's engaging her. 
It's a Total. Montessori. Moment. {insert tears and sniffles for nostalgia here}....


I was asked over dinner at the wedding reception "What's Montessori?"
Typical Montessori conversations like this usually start with "So, it's just letting kids do what they want, right? How do they learn to read or do math?"

I find the need to be simple and direct in my explanation of Montessori. Even when I say "It's about treating kids as human beings, and trusting in their developmental stages." A colleague recently reminded me that it's simple to say "what kind of skills do we want this child to have available to help live a fulfilling life at age 30?" I also remind people immediately that Montessori children learn to read, we learn to understand math, and we learn these things very well by respecting stages of development. We also learn to organize our time, to respect each other, and to care about justice.

Some examples I shared at the dinner table of the wedding reception:


  • Respect humans, and support stages of development. 
  • Trust that a student wants to do their best, trust that they are trying their best with the tools they have available. 
  • Understand that percentile scores on exams and how quickly a student reads or computes on a standardized test is not a skill that makes them happier at age 30.
  • Specifically, Montessori believes that all humans develop, and we should trust in the goodness and desire of children to develop as moral, social, whole beings. 

I realized that in explaining respect for the natural developmental stages of human development - that children absorb, process, and mature naturally - I was mirroring the story of the newlyweds. That we should have faith that things develop in their own time, and that the stages of development don't need to be manipulated to go faster or farther right now.

For instance, no one is going to remember if a student was a "good speller" in 2nd year, but that student will internalize the patterns and feelings of being encouraged to love language in their Montessori environment.

Our children are doing the good work of growing, and our job is to maintain a rich environment for them. At Great River, this is through the elementary classroom, through exposure to the world at large, and through an aspiration to always trust that people - regardless of their age - are going to do their best to rise to the occasion and expectations of their environment. And so, we do our best to prepare a rich and engaging environment for growth. The growing happens thanks to nature.


P.S. I couldn't resist adding in a little video addition here (below).
There's a young person (named Adora Svitak) who travels speaking to adults about learning from chilren. The points she makes here include trust, innovation, and how children must be trusted to build a future that will be better than what adults can currently manage. In case you're interested in being provoked to thought.... enjoy!




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AuthorSam O'Brien