I used to only think of Montessori schools as a private alternative to public school. I know one part of the method is putting children of different ages together, presuming that they will teach and influence one another, and that the children are expected to come into what they want to learn when they’re ready for it, rather than being expected to learn a particular concept at a particular age. I had no opinion for or against the Montessori method until I met some of the results of it.
My first inkling that the Montessori method isn’t the superior education its proponents claim it to be came when I spoke with the mother of one of Neil’s peers at school. She’d sent her older daughter to a Montessori elementary school, and understandably became concerned when the daughter reached the age of 9 and still couldn’t read. “Oh, she’s not ready to read yet,” she was told, as she had been told many times before. Mom disagreed and sent her daughter to Jewish day school instead. Within 6 weeks, her daughter was reading. She asked her daughter why she hadn’t even tried to learn how to read while in the Montessori school, and her daughter could only answer that she thought it was dumb there.
The next year, I volunteered in Neil’s second grade classroom. While working with the students individually in math, I discovered one of the girls couldn’t even count to 5. I was quite shocked, since I knew Neil’s kindergarten teacher had made sure all her students knew how to count to 100 before she approved their promotion to first grade. I told Neil’s teacher about that the girl couldn’t count, and she confided that the girl had transferred in from a Montessori school.
But if I only alude to the Montessori Method’s failings, even in passing, I discover that nothing will get a Montessori parent shrieking faster and louder than evidence that their expensive private school may be shortchanging their child’s educational potential. It really is like a cult against which nothing negative may ever be said.
First, they’ll trot out an example, like a 15-year-old Montessori student who just won a programming competition against experienced adults. But if I question the so-called genius, I’ll find out he doesn’t know what the Bill of Rights is, much less what it contains, and that he hasn’t read any literature more challenging than the latest Harry Potter novel. I call that being an idiot savant, not a genius.
Next they’ll insist that my examples must have come from inferior Montessori schools, renegades from the vaunted institution they’ve placed their children into. Well, I can’t bore you with all the Montessori failures I’ve run into, but they come from at least 4 different schools in 3 different states, and I find it hard to believe that by random occurence I have discovered only the bad schools.
They have to mention what attracted them to Montessori in the first place: all the happy children, of which their child is one. Well, no duh. If I lived a life of a Montessori child, in which everything was taken care of for me by my parents and I wasn’t expected to do anything I didn’t want to do, I’d be pretty delighted, too.
And when all else fails, they’ll self-righteously crow that at least they don’t send their child to (horror of horrors!) a public school. Yeah, it’s pretty tough for Montessori kids if they have to transfer into public schools. The poor little girl who couldn’t count got labelled as “slow” by the other children. If she’d started out in the public school the Montessori parents decry, though, I doubt she’d be having to play educational catch-up.
To keep the Montessori people from suing me, I’ll concede that the Montessori Method may work for some children. But overall, I think most children will get a better education in an environment that actually insists that they learn all that they need to know, whether they feel like it or not.