Fads come and go, and those in education are no exception. In the past few decades, I’ve watched the rise and fall of educational models such as The Phonics Method, The Open Classroom Approach, and New Math. But as we all know, fads rarely last.
Then there’s the Montessori Method. Despite being over a hundred years old, it has stood the test of time. According to this recent report, “Nearly 5,000 of the 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide are in the United States…. Public U.S. Montessori schools have doubled in the last 15 years to roughly 450 programs that serve 112,000 students.”
Over the years, countless studies have confirmed that the Montessori method gives students a distinct advantage in both academic and social development. In fact, some of today’s most innovative thinkers started out as Montessori students, including Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, Peter Sims, founder & CEO of Parliament Inc., Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Nobel Prize recipient Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Will Wright, creator of Spore and Sim City.
Given all this compelling evidence, you might be wondering why isn’t the Montessori Method the educational standard in public school systems? Unfortunately, America’s public school systems are often under-financed, over-sized, and deeply-rooted in tradition, thus resistant to change.
The Montessori Method requires radically different teacher training, learning materials, and even classroom structure, all of which would mean a hefty up-front investment, not to mention a major over-haul in mindset.
Another progress-slowing factor is our country’s over-emphasis on Common Core curriculum and standardized testing. The Montessori Method focuses on individual learning, not “one-size-fits-all” and academic mastery, not “teach-to-test.” Old-school thinking makes it difficult for people to accept the idea that grades and test scores are not the only (or best) indicators of academic achievement.
Nevertheless, things are changing. Slowly but surely, more and more schools are rethinking their methodologies. According to Jack Rice, director of Loyola University Maryland’s Master of Education program, “We’re starting to see a change in values. I think the pendulum is swinging away from high-stakes testing and the prescriptive curriculum used over the past 30 years that we realize is ineffective.”
As the current school trends still lean toward rising dropout rates, falling literacy rates, and students that aren’t learning the social skills they need, it’s good to know that teaching styles can and do change. As with any fashion, it’s the ones that work–like the Montessori Method–that really last.
Education should not limit itself to seeking new methods for a mostly arid transmission of knowledge: its aim must be to give the necessary aid to human development…. If ‘the formation of man’ becomes the basis of education, then the coordination of all schools from infancy to maturity, from nursery to university, arises as a first necessity: for man is a unity, an individuality that passes through interdependent phases of development. Each preceding phase prepares the one that follows, forms its base, nurtures the energies that urge towards the succeeding period of life. (Maria Montessori, Childhood to Adolescence)