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This page contains resources pertaining to Teacher Education, Parent Education and School Promotion. The site is used by educators from more than 60 countries and averages about 1800 views per month.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

The Great Divide: The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Education

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The Great Divide: The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Education
By: Wendy Calise, Educational Director, Countryside Montessori School

At first glance, you might think that defining this difference is insurmountable, unrealistic, impossible to achieve: the Holy Grail of Montessori practitioners. And if I were to try to answer it in its totality, I would have to agree. But, if I were asked to pick the seminal parting of ways between Montessori and traditional education? This I think I could do. Deceptively simple, really.

Maria Montessori observed that children had a natural drive, an inner directive, to learn. Given the right conditions, one would not have to teach, or impart knowledge. In the right environment, children would learn spontaneously, of their own volition, thank you very much. Autodidacts by their very nature. Not the exception, but the rule.

Traditional educators, however, have not shared this view of the nature of
the child - quite unfortunately. Bengt-Erik Andersson and Kerstin Strandy
from the Stockholm Institute of Education conducted a longitudinal study in
which they found, in summary, that when asked how they felt about school,
adults aged 18 – 25 fell into three groups. Approximately one third were
very satisfied and felt connected. One third felt school was of limited value
and wished they could have learned other things. And one third were
dissatisfied. This means two thirds felt neutral or worse about their time in
school. Two thirds. I recently read an article by Peter Gray, a research
professor of psychology at Boston College and specialist in developmental
and evolutionary psychology. Gray suggests that there is a profound
unspoken truth about traditional education that everyone knows, but no one
wants to say: “School is prison.” Why is this so?

A fundamentally misguided perception of the child, that of one who must be
forced to learn, spawned the traditional educational system as we now know
it. That first step, or misstep, was unfortunately a lethal one. And without a
profound paradigm shift, all the work for educational reform will just be
rearranging the deck chairs, so to speak. From the ground up, traditional
education has been struggling to overcome the defect in the nature of the
child rather than recognizing the defect in the nature of the school.

With the knowledge that children want to learn comes the freedom to allow
them to make choices, to set the course of their own day, to learn from their
mistakes, to learn by doing rather than by listening, to be active rather than
passive, to work collaboratively, to be relieved of the need for constant
evaluation, to learn instead of memorize, to dig deep instead of scrape the
surface. In a phrase: to feel joyful instead of torpid.

Montessori boldly chose a different road: one less traveled by. She saw a
different child: one who desperately wanted to learn. And with this distinct
and brilliant understanding, she meticulously established the model of an
environment that let this natural desire run its own course – to the good
fortune of children the world over.

“And that,” as a great poet said, “has made all the difference.”

Wendy Calise graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in psychology in 1988. A Montessori student herself, she is now the Educational Director at Countryside Montessori School in Northbrook, IL, where she has taught classes of children ages three to twelve for nineteen years. She holds Association
Montessori Internationale diplomas at the Primary and Elementary Levels. In August 2009 she founded the Montessori Teachers Institute for Professional Studies which offers a variety of continuing education opportunities for Montessori teachers as well as support for teachers and schools in the form of mentorship and consultation.

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