I recently attended a Montessori seminar featuring Dr. Steven Hughes, a pediatric neuropsychologist and Montessori parent.
One thing that Dr. Hughes described is that conventional schools are organized around the idea that teaching is telling. So reform or improvement efforts tend to revolve around trying to attract better tellers, determine how to tell better, or trying to tell things in a better order.
Readers from Iowa may recognize that this is the path that the education reform conversation has largely taken in Iowa. Whatever it is we are doing is fine we just need to attract “better” teachers to do it (higher GPAs or test scores); to have those teachers collaborate, peer coach, or mentor each other more about it (new career pathways); to pay those teachers more to do it; to evaluate and assess the teachers doing it and the students they are doing it to differently or more often (annual teacher evaluations, end-of-course exams, Smarter Balanced Assessments, ACT for all students); and more time for the teachers to do it (longer school days/years, year-round calendars).
But what if the problem isn’t the teachers doing it, the amount of time they have to do it in, or the assessments? What if the problem is that whatever it is we are doing just can’t produce the results that we want?
What if the problem is the compulsory nature of schooling or organizing children into grade levels by birth date without regard to each individual child’s rate of growth and development? What if a system that ranks students against same age peers (or even against standardized expectations based on age) necessarily results in some children being labeled “struggling learners” or “not-proficient” no matter how many rewards are offered or punishments are threatened?
It doesn’t seem likely that we will have that conversation any time soon. But I hope that an interest in choice and competency-based education might open the door for a conversation about public Montessori and how public Montessori programs might serve Iowa students and produce the results that we want: more students not only proficient in math and reading, but who are also kind, self-motivated, curious, creative, and capable of self-control, concentration, and perseverance.
Dr. Hughes recommended that we each prepare elevator speeches, which I think is good advice. I’m still working on mine for the upcoming legislative session (on both the education reform proposals and in favor of public Montessori programs) but here’s one from Montessori parent Trevor Eissler (author of Montessori Madness!: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education):
If you had a few minutes to talk to parents, teachers, administrators, or elected officials what points would you like to make about current reform efforts? Are we headed the right direction? Is there another conversation you’d like to be having instead?