All around us changes are happening in the field of education. Yet within the Montessori movement, the tried and true methods prevail, unthreatened by the circular route that plagues educational thought, interrupts the children’s education, and inhibits their potential. I am speaking about the national move to emphasize mass testing.
Perhaps the problem is that the field of education, which should be founded on the science of education, appreciated as an art, and witnessed by teachers who are encouraged to do their jobs, is instead hampered by the yin and the yang of first one tired idea after another.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. I graduated from college in 1966 (were any of y’all born yet?) and began teaching in a self-contained classroom in Gainesville. The next year I moved to California and again taught in a self-contained classroom with first and second graders, but something was different there. They had just finished an experiment in a classroom organizational plan called “pods”. “Pods” were classrooms without walls. Four classes (100 children or more) were together in a very large space with four teachers. They found that the children were not able to work as productively as in regular classrooms with fewer children. They spent a lot of time and money installing walls within these “pods” and restoring the classrooms to self-contained ones. In 1974, I returned to Manatee County to find they were building schools with “pods”, citing them as the latest, greatest new idea. I wondered if they had known about California’s experiment. In time Manatee County, too, installed walls and returned to self-contained classrooms.
Montessori schools are founded on the scientific observations of children, understand how children learn, and know what they are ready to learn at each stage of their development. Since most Montessori schools are self-supporting, they do not have to compromise their beliefs in order to receive funding from the government. Consequently Montessori schools do not fall prey to constantly changing solutions with which they do not agree.
Children are not adults, and childhood is not adulthood. Childhood is filled with learning opportunities from the moment of birth. Most children learn very nicely before they come to school. They learn to roll over, to sit, to stand, to walk, to run, and to talk without the benefit of teachers, schools, testing, or grades. As parents you have probably observed as much in your own children. Did you take your child somewhere to be tested on how well s/he sat before you permitted him/her to stand? How was it that you had such faith in your child’s ability to learn and master that skill without instruction? Did you know then that your child was his/her own best teacher? Do you still believe that now? We Montessorians do. We work with your children in a manner that tries to keep from interfering with your child’s own learning.
We know that testing interferes with the child’s learning. How? It negatively charges the climate. Children learned all they did before coming to school in part because the environment didn’t interfere with what the children wanted to learn. Testing interferes by causing children to be afraid of making mistakes. Yet mistakes are a vital part of learning. We’ve got to be lenient with children as they make mistakes in learning. They’re children and they are supposed to make mistakes. For optimal learning children need to be in a school setting that accepts their mistakes as a part of learning. When children are free to make mistakes without fear of getting a bad mark or failing a test, they are not only able to achieve far more, but they are also able to feel much better about themselves. My grandson doesn’t feel bad because he walked later than one of his mother’s friend’s child, and he shouldn’t. Neither should my daughter worry about him. Instead she should trust his inner clock that regulates all his learning.
In order for schools to be places where children learn, they need to protect the learning environment of all the children. Children need to be saved from being afraid of failure. That’s something for the adult world, not for the world of children. You might be asking if not testing, then how will you know that your child is learning what s/he should? Your child’s teacher knows because she has been observing your child as your child has been working on learning. She has been doing a dance with your child. She’s been practicing the science and the art of education, and she loves it.
Montessori schools are wonderful places for children for so many reasons. One big reason is that they are safe places for children to learn, not just physically safe, but emotionally safe as well.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher