Montessori Builds Innovators

There are strident disagreements these days over every aspect of American educational policy, except for one. Everyone thinks it would be great if we could better teach students how to innovate.

So shouldn’t we be paying a great deal of attention to the educational method that produced, among others, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Wales, Peter Drucker, Julia Child, David Blaine, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs? They were all students in Montessori schools. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Peter Sims, there’s a “Montessori Mafia” among the creative elite. So maybe there’s something to the method Italian physician Maria Montessori came up with around the turn of the 20th century.

The cornerstones of this method, according to Wales’s brainchild Wikipedia, are:

  • mixed-age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½-or-3 to 6 by far the most common,
  • student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options,
  • uninterrupted blocks of work time,
  • a Constructivist or “discovery” model, in which students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction, and
  • specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators

That list rings true to me. I was a Montessori student in northwestern Indiana from a very early age through third grade, which was as high as the school went at that time. The teachers were an earnest group of the biggest hippies that could be found in small-town Hoosierland in the 1970s, and they gave us a lot of room to explore stuff that we found interesting.

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